Soundwave Hearing, the startup behind Sontro self-fitting OTC hearing aids, was co-founded by Anthony Florek, Chris Boven and Joe Turek, three seasoned professionals with many years of experience in hearing health, auditory research and high-tech manufacturing.
Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids Combine Startup Innovation with Years of Industry Experience
This American company, headquartered in the Chicago metro area, is focused on bringing simplicity, affordability and convenience to the nascent OTC hearing aid market – OTC stands for Over-The-Counter and OTC hearing aids are a new class of medical devices that can be purchased either locally or online without the need of a prescription and that can be adjusted by the users to best address their hearing needs.
The AI Model, their first hearing aid introduced in the second half of 2022, is a small, behind the ear, self-fitting OTC hearing aid powered by disposable size-312 batteries. These hearing aids use your smartphone in conjunction with the Soundwave otoTune® app to assess your hearing and program your hearing aids to your personal hearing requirements and and to customize your sound output.
In this detailed review of the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids I will share my assessment of the product quality along my entire user journey – from unboxing the product, downloading the app and pairing the devices to my phone, to assessing my hearing, programming the hearing aids and, most importantly, experiencing their sound quality as an everyday wearer.
Why Should You Trust this Review?
That’s a very good question! Why should you trust my assessment? My Electrical Engineering degree and my Ivy-League MBA degree should speak about my analytical abilities. Many years in the medical device industry and over ten years in the hearing health industry should reassure you about my knowledge of the market, the industry and its many players.
The fact that I have owned a hearing clinic over a decade should tell you about my empathy towards patients and my commitment to help people hear better for the long term. But I think that the most important qualification that I can talk about is the fact that I have hearing loss. I’m one of the millions of people that experience the challenges of hearing impairment every day. I’ve been wearing hearing aids for many years now and can tell exactly when a device is working as it is supposed to and when it is not.
Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids Key Facts and Features
|Self-Fitting Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid
|Behind-the-Ear – Receiver-in- Canal
|Gray and Beige
|Size 312 Batteries
|Device Buttons and Smartphone App – iOS and Android
|Not waterproof but coated with a nano-coating to be water resistant.
|$749.00/pair (sold only as a pair)
- Sound Quality – The sound quality of the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids is very good. I was pleasantly surprised at their ability to reduce background noise and help me understand conversation in noisy places like crowded restaurants – They may not match your hearing loss like a pair of prescription hearing aids would do but they do a very good job given their price point
- Price – At $749/pair these Soundwave hearing aids are a great first pair of devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss – Hopefully this price point will motivate more people to take action and seek a solution for their hearing loss
- Comfort – The Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids are small – about the same size as high-end prescription hearing aids – and they sit comfortably behind the ear, allowing for no-issues all-day wear – I find that RIC (Receiver-In-Canal) hearing aids, like these Soundwave hearing aids, are the most comfortable devices
- Discreteness – With the RIC design, these hearing aids are very discrete. They sit behind the ear- usually covered by the user’s hair and the only visible part is a very thin wire that comes down from the back of your ear into the ear canal. If they’re not looking for them, it’s almost impossible for other people to notice them while you wear them
- Battery Life – I was consistently able to get 5-to-6 days out of the size-312 batteries while using the hearing aids for 14-to-16 hours every day
- Ease of Use – Simple controls via the otoTune app in addition to up and down volume control via toggle button on the devices
- Battery Operation – In this era of rechargeable hearing aids, having to change batteries every 5-6 days is not very convenient – Neither it is to have to remember to open the battery doors at night to stop the battery drain while I’m not using the devices
- No Bluetooth Streaming – Although the Sontro hearing aids use Bluetooth Low Energy to control the devices via your smartphone, this particular model of Soundwave hearing aids does not offer the ability to stream music or phone calls from your phone to your ears. We hope that they add Bluetooth streaming to their future models
Unboxing the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids
Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids arrive in an appealing package consisting of a sturdy box covered by a sleeve that slides off to the side. The box has a magnetic clasp that shows thoughtfulness in the package design for these instruments.
Once you slide the sleeve off and open the box, you find a pocket on the top cover that holds the product literature: A quick-start guide, product warranty and support information and a receiver measuring tool – in case the receiver wire length is not right for you and you need to order a longer or a shorter receiver.
Inside the box is case with the hearing aids and underneath it you will find a pack of disposable size-312 batteries and a bag with a cleaning brush and various types of silicone domes – The hearing aids come with receivers and open domes already installed – they ship with the most common receiver length
Downloading the otoTune® App, Pairing and Customizing the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids
If you’re comfortable navigating the settings of your smartphone, then downloading the Soundwave otoTune app, pairing the hearing aids, walking through the self-fitting process and making sound adjustments to your hearing aids should be pretty straight-forward.
If you’re not very comfortable downloading an app from the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, pairing and unpairing Bluetooth devices and adjusting various settings on your smart phone, then these hearing aids may not be the best solution for you.
Once you download the app, it prompts you to pair the hearing aids and it shows you once they are paired.
Image Credit: HearingPeople
Then you can proceed to test your hearing by tapping “My Hearing” at the bottom of the screen. The first thing you see is a noise level measuring tool, which I find very convenient because it allows you to make sure that you are in a quiet enough environment to conduct the hearing test and get accurate results.
The hearing test itself shows you a screen with a LEFT and RIGHT squares that you need to tap when you hear a tone in the respective ear. At the end of the test the app prompts you to custom-program the hearing aids based on your test results.
Further Personalizing your Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids with the otoTune® App
Once the hearing aids are programmed to your hearing loss, you can tap the “Control” icon at the bottom-left corner of the app scree to further personalize you hearing aids. The control screen lets you control the volume of the hearing aids either individually or in tandem – This is in addition to the physical volume control button that the user has on each one of the hearing aids. Also, the control function lets you switch between four listening modes: Quiet, Noise, Entertainment and Automatic modes.
Image Credit: HearingPeople
The Quiet mode picks up sounds from all sides and directions including sounds coming from the front, back or side of the wearer. Quiet Mode can be used when a wearer is in a quiet environment such as home with a loved one or while outside walking in the woods.
The Noise mode is suggested when wearers have trouble hearing sounds because of background noise – Like understanding speech when with a large group of people like in a restaurant. Noise Mode uses adaptive noise reduction to provide more amplification to speech and less amplification to noise to improve overall understanding.
Entertainment Mode allows the user to optimize watching TV using a volume level suited for all viewers. Entertainment Mode directs the microphones to a fixed 45-degree angle in front of where the person is sitting and incorporates noise reduction to reduce unwanted background noise for better sound clarity.
Automatic mode switches between the three above-listed modes depending on the user’s listening environment.
In any of the three non-automatic modes, the user can additionally make sound adjustments via a sound equalizer (To adjust bass, mid, and treble frequencies) as well as to activate noise reduction and feedback cancellation. Feedback is the squealing sound that we hear when a microphone picks up sound from a speaker while that speaker is playing sound from the microphone.
Image Credit: HearingPeople
Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids Performance in Real Life Situations
Given that I have been wearing prescription hearing aids for more than a decade to treat my hearing loss, one of the most important perspectives that I can offer in these reviews is that of a user, that of a fellow human dealing with the daily challenges of hearing loss. That’s why I strongly feel that testing the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids in real life situations is one of the most important elements of this Soundwave hearing aid review.
I normally wear my prescription hearing aids all day, starting in the morning after I shower and dress, all the way into the evening when I’m ready to relax at home. For this review, I wore the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids instead of my prescription hearing aids for 10 days and I went about my regular life.
I used the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids in multiple real-life situations, like interacting with patients and colleagues at work, running errands, working out, talking with friends at noisy restaurants, chatting with people at the grocery store, riding my bike and walking along the beach.
Following are my key observations:
1) Very Good Sound Performance
The sound quality of the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids was very good and I kept them in automatic mode most of the time. It was nice to be able to hear conversations in a noisy restaurant where their noise reduction functionality really helped.
I did need to increase the volume and the treble adjustments after I programmed the hearing aids but once I got them set they performed well, especially for a pair of devices that retail for $749.
2) Very Comfortable and Almost Invisible
I wore the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids for 14 to 16 hours every day and I must say that they felt comfortable in my ears. They are small and sat comfortably behind my ear – I find that RIC (Receiver-In-Canal) hearing aids, like these Soundwave hearing aids, are the most comfortable devices.
The length of the receivers that came with my hearing aids fit me appropriately but Soundwave includes an ear measuring tool in case the user needs to order longer or shorter receiver wires – which the company would replace at no charge.
Image Credit: Soundwave Hearing
After wearing RIC (Receiver-in-Canal) hearing aids behind my ears for over 12 years now, I am not very concerned with hiding the fact that I wear hearing aids but there are many patients at our clinic for whom discreteness is a concern. The Sontro hearing aids sit behind the ear- usually covered by the user’s hair and the only visible part is the very thin wire that comes down from the back of the ear into the ear canal. If they’re not looking for them, it’s almost impossible for other people to notice them while you wear them
Image Credit: HearingPeople
3) Battery Operated
Despite the fact that I wear my hearing aids for 14-16 hours every day, I was able to get 5-to-6 days out of the size-312 batteries, which are fairly common and easy to find – That’s the good news. The no-so-good news is that having to change batteries is not very convenient – Neither is it to have to remember to open the battery doors at night to stop the battery drain while I’m not using the devices. I’m definitely a fan of rechargeable hearing aids.
4) No Bluetooth Streaming or Hands-Free Calling
Although the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids use Bluetooth Low Energy to control the devices via a smartphone, this particular model of Soundwave hearing aids does not offer the ability stream music or phone calls from your phone to your ears and that’s a functionality that I really missed during the ten days I wore these devices.
I have been steaming music and videos to my hearing aids for years now. Even more importantly, I regularly stream phone calls from my cell phone directly to my prescription hearing aids and sound quality of those calls is excellent.
I truly hope that Soundwave adds Bluetooth streaming to their future models.
Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids
“Best Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids to Try in 2023” – CNET
The Sontro self-fitting OTC hearing aids are one of the best OTC alternatives in the market today. They offer very good sound quality – including automatic adjustment to the user’s listening situation and very effective adaptive noise reduction – at a very attractive price point.
Who is the Right Buyer for the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids?
- You’re and Adult with Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss – First of all, you should be 18+ years old and have a perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. How do you know if your loss is mild to moderate? If you have trouble hearing soft sounds or if you hear conversation but can’t make out what people are saying, you may have a mild to moderate hearing loss. My strong recommendation is that you get tested by a hearing health professional or, at least take a few (more than one) online hearing tests to confirm your level of hearing loss.
- You’re a Do-It-Yourself Kind of Person – You also ought to be looking for an over the counter solution – one that does not involve getting your hearing aids fitted by a hearing health professional over 2-3 appointments – but rather a do-it-yourself approach where you are in charge of performing your own hearing test, programming your hearing aids and making sound adjustments, all through the Soundwave otoTune app.
- You’re a Technically-Savvy Smartphone User – You own a smartphone and know how to use it fairly well. You’re comfortable downloading an app from the Apple or Google stores, you can navigate through your phone settings and make various adjustments and you’re comfortable pairing and unpairing your smartphone to Bluetooth devices.
- You Want a Hearing Aid that is Discrete yet Does Not Sacrifice Sound Quality or Comfort – You’re interested in a pair of hearing aids that are almost invisible but at the same time do a good job a helping you hear better in difficult situations and are comfortable enough to wear all day long.
- Price Point is More Important to You than Rechargeability of Bluetooth Streaming – These are a pair of no-frills devices that offer very good sound quality at a price point that does not allow for extra functionalities like rechargeability or Bluetooth streaming.
Conclusion: The Sontro Self-Fitting Hearing Aids Offer Very Good Sound Quality at a Very Attractive Price
The Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids are one of the best OTC alternatives in the market today. They offer very good sound quality – including automatic adjustment to the user’s listening situation and effective adaptive noise reduction – at a very attractive price point.
They are a do-it-yourself solution for adult users with mild to moderate hearing loss who choose to conduct their own hearing test and customize the devices to their individual hearing loss with the assistance of a smartphone app instead of looking to visit a hearing health professional.
At $749/pair, these Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids from Soundwave Hearing are a great first pair of devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss who are looking for a high-quality, no-frills solution – Hopefully, this price point will motivate more people to take action and seek a solution for their hearing loss.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have been living with mild to moderate hearing loss but haven’t worn hearing aids before, you should try wearing the Sontro Self-Fitting OTC Hearing Aids.
In addition to being the Founder and Editor-in Chief at HearingPeople.com, Luis Zuluaga is the founder and CEO of Florida Hearing Institute, an innovative hearing health enterprise in South Florida, focused on bringing high-tech hearing devices at affordable prices to people with hearing loss. Before his latest hearing healthcare endeavors, Luis served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Zounds Hearing Inc., a US-based hearing aid manufacturer that introduced many technical innovations to the hearing aid market.