Hansaton Hearing Systems poises itself to become a bigger fish in the pond by expanding its presence in the United States.

 Rainer Kerscheck is Hansaton’s export manager for international markets.

When Rudolf Fischer founded Hansaton Hearing Systems in 1957, it began as a family-owned wholesale company, marketing and distributing hearing instruments made by American companies in the European market. Years later, those same companies would become Hansaton’s competitors.

When Fischer’s son and current CEO, Uwe Fischer, an electronic engineer, joined the company, Hansaton began developing its own products—first behind-the-ear (BTE) products, and then in-the-ear (ITE) instruments. “We wanted to implement our own audiological philosophies into the products,” says Rainer Kerscheck, Hansaton’s export manager responsible for international markets.

Hansaton Hearing Systems is headquartered in Hamburg, Germany. That facility houses the company’s management, as well as research and development facilities. It is also where the company’s ITE production facilities and BTE repair and service facilities are based, mainly for the German market and a few other European countries.

Hansaton also has a subsidiary in France, and works with independent distributors worldwide. The company exports its products to about 70 countries.

The Hamburg facility houses 80 employees, with 160 employees in the entire Hansaton group.

On a development level, Hansaton, a member of the software union, the Connexx Group, also works in cooperation with various corporations, internationally and in Germany, as well as universities, including the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Hansaton’s main customer base in the European market is audiologists, while internationally, it sells directly to wholesale companies. “We want to be a globally operating company. We are not the biggest player in the hearing instrument market, but we also are not the smallest. We are somewhere in the middle, and we always try to be as innovative as possible to find technical features, ideas, or concepts to differentiate ourselves from the bigger players in the market,” Kerscheck says.

A Bigger Fish in the Hearing Pond
Hansaton made a move to becoming a bigger fish in the hearing industry pond when it expanded its business into the United States in January 2005. Before that, the company supplied its products in the United States under private label. “When we sold under the private labels, we felt that we couldn’t be successful entering the American market because those companies we cooperated with always merged or were bought out by bigger players, so our channels broke away and our brand wasn’t known to the audiologists and other hearing instrument professionals in the United States. Now we have changed that strategy to build up our own brand in the United States, so that the Hansaton name and products are known to the professionals in the field,” says Raymond Nibbe, Hansaton’s new business manager.

Nibbe says the types of products desired and marketing those products are different in the United States than in other markets. “The digital share of the products is much higher [in the United States] and also the structure of the market itself—the competition is much higher than in many other markets. The demand for marketing the products is much different; it’s on a much higher field,” Nibbe says. “When we compare the European market, the share of the BTE instruments is about 75%, and the share of all the different ITE versions is 25%. In the United States, it’s the other way around—ITE share is at about 75%. This is a whole new playing field and market structure.”

From Analog to Digital
Hansaton’s products include the entire line of BTEs and ITEs, from analog models to digital entry products to the latest digital high-end technologies.

In October, at the European Union of Hearing Aid Acousticians (EUHA) 50th International Congress in Nuremberg, Hansaton launched five new products: the LEONARDO II, the LEONARDO II Open, the LEONARDO II Natural, the FREE VC, and the FREE Open system.

 Raymond Nibbe, Hansaton’s new business manager notes the difference in marketing products in the United States and abroad.

The 16-channel LEONARDO II line of hearing systems combines digital technology in the smallest possible design. The system’s technology includes voice detection, noise reduction, double microphone control, wind noise reduction, and feedback management (phase inverter). All of those parameters are controlled and automatically optimized by a newly developed, intelligent situation management system. The situation management forms part of the adaptive control tool AutoSelect. The AutoSelect also includes the 4D noise chancellor, which can detect and suppress up to four frequency-specific mobile sources of noise, and the microphone manager, which is capable of optimizing microphone characteristics (omnidirectional/directional) automatically as a function of environment and situation.

“The LEONARDO II comes as a standard instrument to be fitted with an earmold, or as an open version with a mini-tube to cater to open fittings with a more natural sound experience and no occlusion effects,” Nibbe says.

“We call the whole concept ‘design and go’ because it’s a designed housing with two parts—a bottom part, which is standard, and an upper part that is available in 11 colors so you can change it according to the end user’s wishes,” Nibbe says. “It’s called ‘design and go’ because you can do it on the spot.”

The LEONARDO II system is designed for individuals with a light to moderately severe hearing loss and has a new patented solution for volume control that integrates a digital volume control with a program push button (push-scroll).

Another component of the line is the LEONARDO II Natural, designed for individuals with complex hearing problems that require open fitting with the aid of a newly developed innovative external receiver that is placed directly in the auditory canal. “As the receiver is positioned in the auditory canal, you can have much higher gain and the fitting range is much more broadband. It has many advantages on the audiological side,” Nibbe says.

The diameter of the connecting piece between the LEONARDO II Natural system and the external receiver is identical to the diameter of a mini-tube system, making it completely unobtrusive. “Previously, there have been some external receiver systems available in the market, but they have had problems with the cosmetic side. For example, the lead wire that came from the instrument into the auditory canal was too thick. [The LEONARDO’s] thickness is the same as the mini-tube,” Nibbe says. “Previously, [there were] problems with the positioning of the receiver in the ear. We have found a very good solution for that, so that we can actually position it in place very nicely.”

 Hansaton’s Hamburg facility houses 80 employees. Overall, the company employs 160 in its entire group.

International Honors
In 2005, the LEONARDO received the international red dot design award for product design from the Design Zentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen, which honors outstanding international product design.

The FREE line of products is positioned in the market to target a new segment of individuals who have a slight to moderate hearing loss, but do not want to wear an aid. The product is geared toward younger people who do not want the stigma associated with hearing aids; therefore, the design is small, making it almost unnoticeable when worn.

“They wouldn’t buy a hearing aid because they feel stigmatized by the public. We have designed a completely new housing that sits behind the ear and looks more like a modern, cool-looking communication device,” Nibbe says.

“Many people have a hearing loss that’s deteriorating over time. They’re younger people who wouldn’t go for the standard hearing aid,” he says. “We feel that with this instrument, we can go a step forward in the right direction to help people understand and hear better.”

The concept behind the FREE line is “feeling free.”

“You don’t feel that you’re wearing it. The sound experience is free,” Nibbe says.

“This is not a device to put into the drawer,” Kerscheck adds. “That’s one of the big problems; people buy a hearing aid, but then they hide it in a drawer. With this device, they can perceive the merits of a hearing instrument with a device that doesn’t look like a hearing aid.”

In creating its latest products, Hansaton placed specific attention on their design. “We pay a lot of attention to the design because we think this is becoming more and more important for the hearing-impaired person so they will accept the instrument better and they will like to wear it,” Nibbe says.

Hansaton also offers certain niche products, including tinnitus instruments (Wave tinnitus noisers), a rechargeable battery system (ear.sy®3), and cleaning and care products (HADEO). Kerscheck says the company looks to niche products to “differentiate ourselves from the big players.”

 Hansaton Hearing Systems’ headquarters are located in Hamburg, Germany. The company was founded in 1957 by Rudolf Fischer.

The company plans to launch a new version of its rechargeable battery system, ear.sy®3, in 2006. The charging time for the current system is about 8 hours; Hansaton is working to decrease that to about 5 hours, with a minimum wearing time of 18 to 20 hours. The current version also has a battery lifetime of about 500 charging cycles; the goal for the new version is to have about 5,000 charging cycles—a wearing time of about 13 years. “That would be enough for the lifetime [of the hearing aid itself]. In Germany, we predict normally that a person will wear a hearing instrument for 5 to 7 years. This would mean that we could grant a person a lifetime wearing time with this rechargeable battery system,” Nibbe says.

The International Market
Hansaton’s plans for the future are simple, yet bold. The company wants to position itself further in the international market through more Hansaton subsidiaries, not just independent distributors. “We want to keep growing as we have been for the past 5 years, and continue to develop more innovative products, and expand our international cooperation,” Kerscheck says. “We want to export to more countries all over the world. Our prime target is to expand in the United States, which is one third of the world market. We definitely want to increase our share of the market.”

Danielle Cohen is editor of Hearing Products Report.