What are Hearables?
Discover smart hearing devices for mild to moderate hearing loss
“The impact potential of these new solutions will be enormous to the wellness, independence, and engagement of older adults.Davis Park
Director, Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing
A Revolution in Hearing Devices
Just as Fitbit and Apple Watch revolutionized how we monitor our personal health, hearable technologies are revolutionizing how we can manage mild to moderate hearing loss. This is a huge a win for millions of people dealing with mild to moderate hearing loss who don’t require prescription hearing aids or implants.
What are Hearables?
Hearables are a cross between smart wireless earbuds and traditional hearing aids that you can purchase directly online or in retail stores without first seeing a hearing health professional. Essentially, a micro-computer that fits in your ear canal, hearables utilize wireless and AI technology to improve your ability to hear in certain environments.
Also called personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), or hearing-enhancement earbuds, hearables combine amplification features with traditional hearing aid technologies. Many hearable models provide customizable hearing features via a smartphone app. Hearables offer a meaningful alternative for people who are not ready for traditional hearing aids but need help hearing in difficult listening situations like restaurants.
First step: Take a hearing test
Before you spend any money on hearing devices, get your hearing tested so you understand the level of hearing loss you need to manage. Even as hearing aids are becoming cheaper and more accessible, getting the right hearing aids for your specific hearing loss, ear anatomy, and lifestyle remains essential.
For online and in-person testing options, check our our But I’m Not Ready for Hearing Aids page.
Hearable Pros and Cons
Hearables are projected to be a multi-billion dollar industry. But the technology is still evolving and there is room for improvement. It’s important to know how they can help, where they fall short, and what features to look for. You can learn more about traditional and new over-the-counter hearing aids on our Hearing Aids 101 page.
- Lower cost: hearables cost a fraction of conventional prescription hearing aids.
- Noise reduction: models with noise reduction or cancellation may help you hear in noisy environments.
- Bluetooth connectivity: many hearables can connect to smartphones, TVs, tablets, etc. on the same wi-fi network.
- Reduced stigma: thanks to the global popularity of wireless earbuds, hearables may reduce the stigma linked to wearing hearing aids.
- Easy entry point: hearing loss is often progressive; hearables enable people to easily get help earlier.
- Improved hearing and overall health: hearables help you stay connected and engaged which may help you live a healthier life.
- No regulation: hearables are not considered medical devices, so there is no FDA testing or oversight.
- Limited amplification: for safety, hearable devices only amplify sound up to 20 decibels (dB), the equivalent to a whisper.
- Short battery life: hearables need to be regularly recharged, how often depends on your use and model. Test your hearables within the return period.
- Connectivity challenges: proprietary products may only connect to specific devices—for example, Apple earbuds don’t work with Android phones.
- Assistive Listening Systems: Your hearable must have a telecoil program to connect to assistive listening systems, like hearing loops.
- Minimal customization: hearables are not customized to your needs to the degree of prescription hearing aids.
Hearables Uses and Features
If you have mild to moderate hearing loss, a hearable should help by amplifying the sound you hear in different daily scenarios. Some hearables will also allow you to customize elements like frequency ranges or other sounds and situations via their smartphone companion app.
Of course, before buying any device, we recommend working with a hearing health professional to rule out medical causes for hearing loss such as wax build up or a tumor, and to advise the best options for managing your hearing care.
Hearing TV, Movies, Computer, Phone
The key feature of a hearable is the ability to connect directly with other electronics like a TV, smartphone, or computer. The audio signal is sent directly to your hearable via a wireless Bluetooth signal and turned into relatively high-quality sound in your ear. This typically results in better audio than the speaker on the TV, smartphone, or computer. Additionally, you can adjust the volume of the sound you hear on your hearable, without impacting others. Depending on your hearable’s features, you may be able to selectively boost certain frequencies, block background noise, or amplify speech.
Hearing in Noisy Environments
Many of us know the frustration of not being able to hear or clearly understand our companions in a noisy restaurant. Hearables may be able to help. Look for these features:
Directionality can selectively amplify sounds coming from a specific direction instead of loud or background noise.
Speech from noise separator reduces background noise while amplifying spoken language.
External microphones make it possible to place a microphone near the other diners to pick up their speech and send it directly to your hearable via Bluetooth. For example, with Apple AirPods Live Listen feature you can place an iPhone on the table to act as a microphone and relay the signal to your Hearable.
Hearing One-on-One and at Parties
If you are beginning to notice difficulty hearing conversations, newly developed hearable features may help:
Conversation mode focuses the hearable’s microphones on the person standing in front of you and amplifies their voice so you can hear them better. AirPods Pro call this feature, Conversation Boost.
Transparency mode lets you increase or reduce ambient noise. This can help you hear what someone is saying by reducing background noise.
Environment presets optimize your hearable’s amplification based on where you are. For example, quiet mode let’s you here better at home, in a library, or in an office, while a mode for noisier situations will help you hear in a coffee shop or bar.
Personal frequency bandwidth presets can automotically adjust for different ranges of hearing loss.
Hearing in a Theatre / Meeting / Lecture
Today, many settings like lecture halls, theatres, and meeting rooms have an assistive listening system (ALS), such as hearing loops or FM or IR systems. These systems send the audio signal to telecoil-enabled devices, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, neck loops, and headphones. Unless a hearable has a telecoil component, it will be unable to connect to an ASL.
Broadcast audio technologies are being developed and may enable people to connect to a sound system using the Bluetooth in a “hearable.” However, it will be many years before this system is widespread. Learn more.
Over-the-counter hearing aids that include telecoil technology. Like hearables, OTC hearing aids are much less expensive than traditional hearing aids, but they can include more features than hearables. Look for an OTC model with a telecoil.
Personal amplifiers with telecoils, such as BeHear Bluetooth headsets are auxiliary products designed to improve listening ability in difficult conditions.
What are Hearables? (ReviewGeek)