Launching a prescription-level hearing aid from scratch is like building a new car brand. Tesla and Rivian have proven that it's possible, but the odds are stacked against you.
New brands are rare because five big companies set the standard for the industry with hundreds or thousands of employees and millions in R&D each year. It's tough to match.
Orka's independence and backing from the likes of Tencent and Sequoia Capital give the brand freedom to try some new things. The company's co-founders come from Apple, Siemens, and Facebook and are no strangers to technology.
After nearly four years in relatively quiet R&D, Orka has now opened up in the U.S. In August 2023 they launched their second generation product - Orka Two.
In this review, I'll share my unboxing along with everything I’ve learned about the company and their ambitions.
Let's get into it!
Who is Orka?
Orka was founded in Menlo Park in 2018 after CEO Ben Sun watched his grandmother struggle with her hearing aids. Ben was working as a product design engineer at Apple where he worked on Apple Pencil and Butterfly Keyboard.
Ben soon convinced hearing aid wearer and Stanford graduate Xinke, Facebook AI developer Chauncey, and Siemens Healthcare researcher Linkai to join him in rebuilding hearing aids from the ground up.
Ben and his team built the first Orka prototype in his California apartment and used it to raise funds from some tech players like Sequoia Capital and Tencent.
Today the Orka team is 70+ with a strong group of technical and product developers and a growing number of audiologists and hearing health professionals.
Ben's co-founder Xinke is a long-time hearing aid wearer, and her experience shapes the user experience at Orka. When I asked their team why Orka isn't planning to sell OTC, Xinke referenced her history of life-changing relationships with audiologists.
She and the Orka team want that professional relationship to stay front and center as they build a forward-thinking company.
How The Orka Process Works
Orka hearing aids are not available at local clinics. Instead the company has opted for Telehealth care.
Interested customers are paired with a hearing specialist who walks them through the entire process. The specialist guides the new wearer through a remote onboarding session and ongoing follow-up.
For self-starters, Orka has a comprehensive onboarding tutorial in the Orka App where users can set up Bluetooth, take a hearing test and schedule a fine-tuning session with Orka’s audiologists.
Customers will order Orka hearing aids online and work with a remote audiologist to program them for their hearing loss. I sent an existing hearing test to my Orka specialist who pre-loaded my audiogram into the devices before they arrived. Real-time programming can also be done during a remote care session using the app.
If you don't have a recent hearing test available, you can take an onboard hearing test inside Orka's app with the hearing aids placed in your ears.
From there, you can access remote care through the app when needed. At one point in this review, I had issues pairing my phone through Bluetooth and used the app to submit a ticket and resolve the issue. The process is convenient for anyone who doesn't prefer time spent in the clinic.
Unboxing Orka Two
Orka truly excels in the finer points of design. From the packaging to the product, Orka Two feels premium. Maybe it's no surprise given the CEO's stint as a designer at Apple. The product ships in a neatly packed box including the hearing aids, various dome tips, a recharge cord and some manuals.
The case looks like my AirPods case with the same high-sheen finish. The company shared that their design inspiration came from smooth stones in a stream - sounds peaceful. The Orka recharge case doubles as a remote control where you can click buttons for volume and mode adjustments. I use this feature more than I expected. Note that the hearing aids themselves do not have any onboard buttons, so you'll need to use the case or the app to adjust the volume.
Before I fired up the hearing aids, I selected a dome tip that felt comfortable in my ears. I opted for a slightly smaller version than the default mid-size version that my hearing aids arrived in.
Orka Two Recharge Case
Orka's charger comes with a standard USBC port. The box comes with a charger but you can find USBC chargers literally anywhere.
Orka Two hearing aids use port-based charging (instead of conduction). The Charge case does have a strong magnet that makes replacing the devices in the charger very easy.
Size and Fit
Orka Two sits comfortably behind my ears with a nearly invisible wire that drops a speaker in my ear canal. Most people would never know I'm wearing a hearing aid from the side or front of me. From behind, you can see the white product. At this time, Orka only offers their hearing aids in white.
One fun note. Orka Two hearing aids have wear-detection built-in. That means when you take off your hearing aids, they stop amplifying and pause your music. Orka Two is the only hearing aid I know of with this modern feature. Pretty cool stuff.
Orka Two is similar in size to the the market leaders (pictured above). Size and fit between various products shown above are virtually identical.
Orka Two Setup and App
With the product out of the box, it's time to pair the hearing aids to Bluetooth and set up the app. This process was truly a breeze and didn't require any of the typical extra steps that come with hearing aid streaming.
Unlike most other leading hearing aids, Orka uses universal Bluetooth connection. The hearing aids pair just like any pair of headphones in the settings section of your app.
- Open settings
- Look for Orka 2
- Hit pair
- You should now be streaming phone calls and music
I tested Orka's streaming power by walking away from my phone. The hearing aids maintained a stream for 55 feet before breaking up. That range is better than many premium devices on the market.
Worth noting, you can turn down your outside world volume via the app or your charge case buttons for a better listening experience.
The Orka app gives you control over your volume and lets you choose between "Normal" and "In Noise" modes. I personally keep my "In Noise" setting on at all times.
Access You Hearing Profile
Of course, every hearing loss is different and Orka Two customizes your sound based on your audiogram. Tap the menu icon in the left corner to access your hearing profile. If you've sent in a hearing test that profile should be waiting for you. If you choose to take a hearing test through the hearing aids, the app will walk you through the process.
I'm impressed by this new hearing aid and I'd be surprised if they aren't major players in the category a few years from now. That said, Orka is a young company and isn't right for everyone.
- Competitive price
- Beautiful design
- Convenient and tech-forward remote care
- Impressive underlying technology and noise management
- Industry-leading Bluetooth streaming
- 45 day returns, three year warranty and lifetime service
- Shorter battery life
- Not for severe/profound hearing loss
- Orka is a new company. Expect some learning along the way.
If you are an early adopter or want to save money but still get a high-quality product, Orka's is a compelling option. If you prefer to work with a local doctor in person or like only tried and true options, give this one a few years. My guess is that they'll be here for the long term.