According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, hearing impairment, a worldwide health issue, impacts an astounding 48 million Americans. The effects of hearing loss can be significant, impacting an individual’s physical, cognitive, and mental well-being, regardless of age. Although older adults are more likely to experience hearing loss, it can affect people of all ages. With an aging global population and the persistent growth of noise pollution, the occurrence of hearing loss is expected to rise. Nevertheless, there is an optimistic outlook for the future.
Thankfully new technology such as sound amplifier earbuds solve millions of people’s hearing loss issues. In this article, we will discuss if sound amplifier earbuds can replace traditional hearing aids and their features.
In recent years, the world has witnessed an evident rise in groundbreaking innovations in hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive devices. For those suffering from hearing loss, myriad avenues are available to manage their condition and improve their quality of life. The most common solutions, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, amplify sounds, enhancing one’s ability to hear. Yet, the World Hearing Organization reveals that only 17% of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually utilize them. Hindered by factors like cost, healthcare access, stigma, and lack of awareness, many hearing impaired decide not to use them. But as technology advances and accessibility improves, the hearing impaired have more options.
Traditional hearing aids remain the gold standard, but the world is buzzing with excitement over the rise of ‘hearables’ that amplify sound. These cutting-edge devices contain features like noise cancellation, speech enhancement, sound personalization, and seamless integration with smartphones and virtual assistants. But how do they differ from the earbuds we’ve used to enjoy music for years?
Hearables are, in essence, the intelligent offspring of conventional earbuds. Wikipedia characterizes them as “technically advanced, electronic in-ear devices designed for multiple purposes ranging from the wireless transmission to communication objectives, medical monitoring, and fitness tracking.” Currently, there are five primary categories of hearables:
- Sports true wireless earbuds
- Voice-focused true wireless earbuds
- Commodity true wireless earbuds
- Hearing enhancement earbuds
- Hearing aid hearables
Hearables are wireless devices designed to be worn in or on the ear, offering an array of functionalities such as music streaming, phone calls, digital assistant access, and fitness monitoring. Often viewed as the evolution of traditional hearing aids, these devices contain advanced technology to enrich the listening experience for those with hearing loss. Although not classified as medical devices and not designed explicitly for hearing loss treatment, hearables can amplify sound and offer features that elevate the overall listening experience.
Earbuds with sound amplification settings may appear to possess hearing aid features, but they lack FDA approval as medical devices for treating hearing loss. Instead, they belong to the Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) category, which are designed to enhance sounds in specific listening environments for those without hearing disorders – not for compensating for hearing impairment. Furthermore, earbuds are not tailored to fit individual hearing needs and may even harm hearing if the volume is excessively loud. As a result, it is advisable to rely on medically-approved hearing aids specifically designed for hearing loss treatment.
Sound amplifier earbuds offer many intriguing features, such as:
- Wireless connectivity leveraging Bluetooth technology, enabling increased mobility.
- Advanced sound amplification settings designed to augment soft sounds for individuals with mild hearing loss.
- Tailorable amplification configurations in dedicated companion applications for sound-amplifying earbuds.
- “Live Listen” feature, facilitating external noise suppression and utilizing smartphones as external microphones.
- Beamforming capabilities, allowing the hearable to concentrate on specific audio sources within the environment.
- Intuitive touch controls for volume regulation, track navigation, call management, and voice assistant activation.
- State-of-the-art active noise cancellation for a fully immersive auditory experience.
- Robust water and sweat resistance, rendering them suitable for physically demanding activities and damp conditions.
- Integrated one or more microphones for seamless phone call handling and voice assistant interaction.
- Battery life, ranging from a mere few hours to well over 10 hours.
- Charging cases designed for convenient and portable recharging solutions.
- Adaptable fit options, incorporating various ear tip sizes and types for maximum comfort.
Best Sound Amplifier Earbuds
Popular earbud brands include Apple AirPods, Samsung Galaxy Buds, Sony, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Jabra Elite, Google Pixel Buds, Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus, Amazon Echo Buds, Huawei FreeBuds Pro, and Olive Pro, with prices ranging from $120 to $300. It is noteworthy that some hearing aid manufacturers have introduced products to the market that resemble hearables, but they are not classified as such. Among these products are the Phonak Virto, Starkey Evolv AI, Signia Insio AX, and Custom Made by ReSound.
Below we list some of the top hearables in the market with a showcase of some of their most exceptional features:
- Apple AirPods Pro: Boasting active noise cancellation, transparency mode, and a tailored fit, these sound amplifier earbuds are renowned for their effortless integration with Apple devices and compatibility with Siri voice assistant.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Equipped with adjustable noise cancellation and high sound quality, these sound amplifier earbuds deliver a comfortable fit and water resistance for added durability.
- Jabra Elite 85t: Sporting a compact design, these versatile earbuds provide active noise cancellation, customizable sound profiles, and exceptional call clarity.
- Sony WF-1000XM4: Renowned for their superior sound quality, these earbuds come with adaptive noise cancellation, customizable sound profiles via a companion app, and an impressive battery life.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro: Fusing active noise cancellation, a personalized fit, and seamless integration with Samsung devices, these earbuds offer a well-rounded user experience.
- Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX: Purpose-built for hearing enhancement, these hearables feature customizable sound profiles, noise cancellation, and speech enhancement capabilities.
- Eargo: Nearly invisible and designed for mild to moderate hearing loss, these hearing aid hearables offer a comfortable fit, customizable sound profiles, and noise reduction features.
- Olive Smart Ear Plus: Bridging the gap between sound amplifier earbuds and hearing aids, Olive Pro provides adjustable sound amplification, noise cancellation, and customizable sound profiles via a companion app.
When choosing a hearable, consider your intended usage to determine essential features such as sound quality, noise cancellation, and customizable sound profiles. A comfortable and secure fit is crucial, so look for models offering multiple ear tip sizes or adjustable fitting options. Battery life, connectivity with smartphones, and compatibility with specific operating systems or voice assistants are other important factors.
If you plan to use the hearable during exercise or in wet conditions, opt for a water and sweat-resistant model. Ease of use is vital, so assess the control options, such as touch controls or physical buttons. Keep aesthetics, design, price, and brand reputation in mind when making your final decision. By evaluating these aspects, you can select a hearable that perfectly fits your needs and preferences.
The hearables market is witnessing exceptional growth, driven by technological advancements, a rising consumer appetite for wireless audio solutions, and increased awareness of hearing health. Undoubtedly, today’s devices will continue to evolve, incorporating enhanced features and refined capabilities. It’s thrilling to anticipate what the future holds and whether this burgeoning market will help eliminate the stigma surrounding hearing impairment, encouraging individuals to use hearing devices in their daily life just like eyeglasses.
In conclusion, as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of sound and technology, it’s essential to understand the distinctions between earbuds and medically-approved hearing aids. While earbuds offer a plethora of attractive features, they are not designed to replace hearing aids for those suffering from hearing loss. Instead, they serve as consumer electronics aimed at enhancing the listening experience for those without hearing disorders. As the lines blur between traditional hearing aids and the booming market of hearables, it’s crucial to consult a hearing healthcare professional before using sound amplifier earbuds as a substitute for hearing aids. Together, let’s embrace the future of sound technology while prioritizing our hearing health and making informed decisions.
Eleftheria's world revolves around sound - whether it's designing high-quality audio applications, crunching numbers in audio signal processing (DSP), decoding room acoustics, listening to music or crafting the latest hearing aid technology and new features. She has a professional career spanning over 15 years and a strong research record (over 40 articles and patents) and has been the driving force behind top-notch products at leading hearing aid and audio tech companies. But what really makes her enthusiastic is sharing what she knows. As an avid writer, she loves spreading the word on the science of hearing, hearing aids and health technologies. Her ultimate goal? To give people with hearing impairments the insights they need to live their best life.