We first met Alt-J earlier this year when they came to the practice’s Musician’s Hearing Service for their on-stage ear-monitors. At the appointment, audiologist and co-founder of Harley Street Hearing Paul noticed that drummer Thom was wearing just one 10-year-old NHS aid – its pair was broken – and introduced him to literature on the latest manufacturers and digital technology possibilities. “I was blown away by how little I knew about new hearing aids,” says Thom.
Thom returned to Harley Street Hearing for a full hearing test where, along with Paul’s advice, he opted for a binaural pair of Widex Clear 440s. A couple of weeks later, in-between band commitments and touring, Thom returned for his fitting, an experience that up until that point in his life, he could never have imagined.
“The fitting with Paul was great,” he says. “It was overwhelming. I knew that I’d be surprised and it would be amazing but I couldn’t have imagined how fantastic it would be. The levels of my new aids are so good. I’m aware of my voice; I can hear the sound of my pronunciation.”
Harrogate-born Thom was born with Alport Syndrome, a condition that results in hearing loss, kidney disease and can affect eye-sight.
Because of his profession and the sheer volume of touring the band was set to take on in the coming months and years, at their initial consultation Thom decided to opt for CICs as opposed to the BTEs he had been wearing. “When you’re touring, you sleep wherever you can and more often than not, that’s in the van. If you’re trying to sleep with your head leaning against a metal pole your hearing aids get in the way. It’s amazing to now have that whole freedom away from my ears.”
During the fitting, Paul was careful to caution Thom that everything might initially sound strange, especially as Thom had auditory deprivation, having not worn the pair to his aid for over a year. “In situations like this, it takes time to get used to the new sound,” explains Paul. “It will initially feel strange and a bit surreal because the brain is re-adjusting to binaural hearing, which affects balance.”
But Thom soon got used to his new aids and the band embarked on a summer of touring and playing festivals from Japan to Los Angeles, and all over Europe.
As well as being fitted with Widex Clear 440 CICs, Thom now has the Widex M-Dex, an assistive listening device for use with the mobile phone, which has also helped in his life as a member of a Mercury Prize-winning band. “I do a lot of promo and phone interviews,” he says. “The M-Dex makes such a difference. It’s so unique.”