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“I had no idea I sounded so good”

A lot of people with hearing loss leave it too long before getting a hearing aid. Swiss rock legend Toni Vescoli, who has had poor hearing all his life, has opted for hearing instruments manufactured under Sonova’s Phonak brand, and the difference for the 74-year-old is like night and day.

Hearing care professional Timo Böld from Sonova carefully arranges the headphones over the ears of his VIP customer. “Please press the button as soon as you hear the test tone in your left ear.” Toni Vescoli nods. “I know the drill – this isn’t my first hearing test,” explains the famous musician. Here, in the sound-proofed testing room of Sonova’s headquarters in Stäfa, he is due to be fitted with a hearing aid for the very first time in his life.

Vescoli has barely heard a thing in his right ear since earliest childhood. “That was actually really handy; I have always made sure that the drums were to my right,” he says with a sly smile. Beethoven, who was deaf, is ultimately the most compelling proof that a musician with poor hearing can still achieve great things. Vescoli gives an impish grin – in May 2016, the 74-year-old was presented with the Prix Walo, the highest honor in Swiss show business, as a lifetime achievement award.

You’d be talking to your band-mates and suddenly they’d look at you expectantly, and you’d realize that, once again, you hadn’t heard half of what they’d been saying.

Toni Vescoli

Toni Vescoli has been treading the boards as a performer for more than 50 years, writing musical history with his band “Les Sauterelles” (who were known as the “Swiss Beatles”) while also blazing a trail for pop music sung in Swiss dialect. The ears of this veteran of the Swiss rock scene have taken a pounding over the years, however, with tinnitus following a whiplash injury being later compounded by acute hearing loss; Vescoli’s hearing in his healthy left ear has got progressively worse over time, too. High notes in particular have been causing the musician difficulties, and this makes understanding speech more difficult as the consonants get lost. “When someone says ‘aha’, all I hear is ‘aa’,” explains Vescoli. He recognized that he had to take action in the spring of 2016, when he was on tour with his band. “You’d be talking to your band-mates and suddenly they’d look at you expectantly, and you’d realize that, once again, you hadn’t heard half of what they’d been saying.” The musician admits that this was unpleasant. This, and the fact that he had increasingly been unable to hear himself during concerts, was, he says, what prompted him to go for hearing aids.

The hearing test at Sonova confirms the musician’s suspicions: profound hearing loss in his right ear and moderate hearing loss in his left. He has said he wants the hearing aids to be as discreet as possible, and a few minutes later, Timo Böld is fitting a device to the musician’s right and left ear respectively. “That tickles a bit,” remarks Vescoli. His long and neatly groomed silver-gray locks, his trademark for decades, are now a perfect hiding place for the new high-tech devices behind his ears; you have to look very closely to make out the delicate hearing instruments.

Vescoli has chosen Phonak’s Audéo V90 hearing aids. Their biggest selling point is the unique AutoSense OS operating system, which reliably allows the devices to identify and automatically adapt to any acoustic environment. Vescoli is also having a music program uploaded that boosts the bass tones and eases off the high frequencies.

You have to get used to a hearing aid and train your hearing ability with it.

Timo Böld, audiologist at Sonova

It takes Sonova audiologist Timo Böld just a few mouse clicks to activate the two devices. “Weird,” says Vescoli, “now it sounds like someone at a service counter using a microphone to talk to me through a window.” Böld explains that this is completely normal. “You have to get used to a hearing aid and train your hearing ability with it.”

According to a national study (in German), commissioned by the Sonova brand Phonak and hearing aid manufacturers Amplifon, a lot of people with hearing loss wait an average of eight to ten years before being fitted with a hearing aid – with drastic results: over time, the brain “forgets” how to hear and takes all the longer to get used to a hearing aid as it processes incoming stimuli. Toni Vescoli is optimistic that he will quickly get used to his new accessories.

As a first test in a natural acoustic environment, Böld leads the musician to a little water feature in the foyer of the Sonova building. “Aha,” says Vescoli, raising his eyebrows, “I didn’t hear this waterfall at all when I came in.” He also discovers with astonishment that he can even hear the hushed whisper of the air conditioning.

A few days after having his new hearing aids fitted, Vescoli is standing in his rehearsal room in the little town of Wald, near Zurich. The practice space is full of history – it’s almost a mini Toni Vescoli museum, with old concert posters, a little stage with a drum kit and more than thirty guitars. The oldest is a plated steel resonator guitar from 1928, which makes it 16 years older that its owner. “That’s my Grosi,” explains Vescoli, reaching for his beloved instrument.

Wow, I had no idea I sounded so good.

Toni Vescoli

The moment of truth has come: how will he and his “Grosi” sound with the new hearing aids? Vescoli switches on the amplifier, plugs in the guitar and strums a few chords. The rehearsal room vibrates. “Wow,” he says after a few bars and breaks into a broad smile: "I had no idea I sounded so good.” Vescoli is beaming all over his face. “Now I know that I’ll be hearing exactly what my audience hears.” He’s back on stage at the end of June 2016, but he won’t be letting his band-mates in on the secret of his new hearing aids for the moment. “I’m intrigued to see if they notice any difference.”


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