By Carolyn Stern, MBA

Assistant Director of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives
Carolyn Stern, manager of Hearing Health Days for NYC seniors

Carolyn Stern, Asst. Dir. of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives

I am excited to share a new set up using a unique accessory popular among musicians that has dramatically improved my ability to work and socialize while videoconferencing with a hearing loss.

As mentioned in prior posts, I have two cochlear implants and hear better on video calls when the audio is streamed wirelessly to my hearing devices through a streaming accessory (Phonak Compilot). This streaming accessory connects directly to my computer’s external speakers or headphone jack (here’s a prior blog post about this set up). But, to do my best on these calls, I really need both real-time captions and direct audio simultaneously. And, this was once only possible by forfeiting the direct audio and instead blasting the audio of the call over the external speakers. While I wouldn’t hear as well on the calls, it enabled me to view the automatic captions generated by a speech-to-text app on my smartphone placed next to the external speakers.

This was a fine until sheltering in place continued for several weeks.  By then, my spouse, with whom I share a small home office, was getting tired of hearing my videoconferences blasting through the speakers. I tried a Y-splitter (here’s post about Y-splitters and hearing loss) plugged into a headphone jack with my streaming device and my smartphone plugged into each end, but captions did not appear on the smartphone’s screen. This created a stumbling block. I since learned that a smartphone’s direct audio input can’t “hear” the audio signal coming out of a computer (known as “line out”) because the smartphone’s direct audio input and the computer’s “line-out” signal use different voltages.

Through my network of deaf and hard of hearing professionals, I was grateful to learn how an accessory common among musicians called an iRig 2 coupled with a Y-splitter and a few other components would solve this problem.

iRig 2is a game changer

The iRig 2 is needed because it reduces the higher voltage of the “line out” signal from the computer to that of a microphone input voltage that could be used by a smartphone. The smartphone can then process that audio signal as a microphone input, which in turn enables the speech-to-text app to produce automatic captions.

Believe me, I’m not an engineer. After several explanations from my husband, whose career is in the computer and technology industry, and two very bright peers (who are acknowledged at the end of this post), I started to grasp it all.

This set up is a game changer for me. I use it to simultaneously listen and view captions on all my work and social Zoom calls, other media such as Facebook and Instagram videos, and live feeds when captions are not provided. I also use it as back up for videoconferencing sessions when captions are already provided either through real-time captioning (CART) or through platforms with embedded captions like Google Meet.

The image below shows you what the set up looks like. It starts with the Y-splitter plugged into the headphone jack that then connects to a streaming device (shown here is a Phonak Compilot) and the iRig 2. The iRig 2 connects to a smartphone with an automatic captioning app.

irig2 set up with y-splitter

Smartphone set up

I typically use it with my Android phone with Google Live Transcribe (Android only), as shown in the example below, but it works just as well with an iPhone and other speech-to-text apps such as Otter and Ava (both of which work on iPhone and Android).   

Other ways to use the iRig 2

CHC audiologists recommend trying this set up with the iRig 2 with other hearing device accessories you may have such as a Phonak Roger Pen, the new Oticon EduMic, a neck loop (if your devices are equipped with T-coil) or headphones (sometimes placed over hearing aids). CHC clinicians are available to help you with any questions you may have about this set up. Click here to contact a CHC audiologist.

Costs

Not including the hearing streaming device with corresponding cable, the entire set up costs about $60. (The iRig 2 costs $40 and the needed cables and adapters cost $20.)

If you have questions about how this set up could work for your specific hearing profile and equipment, CHC audiologists can guide you remotely through email, phone or our telehealth videoconferencing platform. 

Below are the details to make this set up a reality!

Here’s how all of the components connect together.

iRig2 with components labeled t9o show set up to elp people with hearing loss

Below are all of the parts labeled. Scroll down for a components list.

iRig2 set up with all components labeled

One important tip:  The iRig 2 has a thumbwheel.  The Gain thumbwheel must be turned all the way up so that the sound comes all the way through.

Components list


Headphone Splitter Cable (“Y-cord”): 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07RYV3TWC

1/4″ Male to 1/8″ Female Stereo Headphone Adapter:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QNFGH61

or a 3-pack for about the same cost at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XAVOW00

3.5mm Male-to-Male Stereo Audio Aux Cable, 4 feet:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NO73MUQ

Also available in 2 feet or 8 feet lengths

iRig 2: 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T631UTC/

Currently out of stock at Amazon as of 4/18/20; looks like it can be ordered direct from the manufacturer at https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irig2/.

Headphone Jack Adapter:

Depending on the model of your smartphone, you may need a headphone jack adapter (which may have come with your smartphone at the time of purchase).

For example, if you have an iPhone with Lightning input, you’ll need a Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter for $9 (https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MMX62AM/A/).

If you have an Android phone with USB-C input, you’ll need an USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter such at https://www.amazon.com/Google-Headphone-Adapter-Type-C-Phones/dp/B07J28BYT9.

If you have an older iPhone or Android phone with 3.5mm audio input, you won’t need an adapter, as the iRig 2 can connect to it via its 3.5mm audio input plug.

Please consider selecting CHC as the beneficiary of your Amazon purchase through the Amazon Smiles program. 

Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge and thank J. Tilak Ratnanather, D. Phil., associate research professor at John Hopkins University for conceiving this idea with his team and sharing how to set it up. And, thank you to Christian Vogler, PhD., director of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University for providing guidance. And, thank you to Mark Stern for all of his help!

Contact us

If you have any questions about this or other hearing tech solutions, please click here to contact us and we’ll gladly provide assistance. Also, if you have tips to add, please send them our way to share with our readers.

Remember, CHC is here for you. If you are having difficulty hearing well with any aspect of your remote work set-up, or are looking for support in any way, please contact your CHC audiologist. If you prefer, you can call our main number in New York at 917-305-7700 or in Ft. Lauderdale at 954-601-1930.

If you’re not currently a CHC client, but need assistance, we’re happy to help. Also consider reaching out to your hearing aid manufacturer’s help line which is also readily available to aid as well.

Related resources

While social distancing keeps us apart, videoconferencing continues to be an invaluable tool for helping us all stay connected. Click the resources below to learn how you can hear and communicate better when you’re on your next videoconference call.

Zoom with Captions Helps Me Connect »

Zoom and Captioning for Hearing Loss »

Zoom and Captioning with InnoCaption+ App »

Improving Audio Quality on Videoconference Calls »

Hear and Connect Better on Videoconference Calls »

Making Videoconferencing More Hearing Loss Friendly »