Now that over-the-counter hearing aids are available in the United States, I decided to reconsider the hearing challenge. Technically, I was reminded to reconsider it. My wife knows I have a hard time hearing her sometimes. She also prefers not to watch TV with me because I keep asking her to turn up the volume. So I did some searching and in the end?
I did not buy a hearing aid without a prescription. Instead, I opted for the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro at $249 and their “auditory” magic.
Before we continue, some disclosures in order. I’m not an audiologist, and I don’t play one online. I have not visited an audiologist, although I expect to do so in the coming years. If you have, or think you may have, a hearing loss, you should consider seeing a trained professional.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to modern acoustics!
This is not my first foray into this world. In 2020, I bought a set of Nuheara IQ Buds Max earphones. Like the Apple AirPods Pro, the Nuheara product is not classified as a hearing aid. Instead, these are PSAPs, or Personal Audio Amplification Products. Although they did help improve my hearing, I eventually stopped using Nahraa. The main problem was the unpredictable feedback, which sometimes splits the ear, especially when charging.
So, are the Apple AirPods Pro a better choice? For me, so far, yes. I’ve only had a few minor feedback issues and none of them were as annoying as what I’m used to experiencing. I also have many controls to adjust the sound based on different scenarios.
This is likely due to the more modern technology in the latest Apple product.
For example, the custom Apple H2 headphone chip samples external sounds 48,000 times per second (compared to 700 times per second for Phonak certified hearing aids) and supports Bluetooth 5.3. This second generation of audiophiles also improves on the first version by adding volume boost for media playback; A feature not available in the original form when tested. And the audio processing, all done at lightning speed locally on the earbuds, is for mild to moderate hearing loss.
Using a third-party hearing test app, I was able to upload my soundmap to my iPhone and the sound was customized based on my test results.
I used the Mimi hearing test app for testing and an audiogram, and had the following preliminary results:
Mimi shows how much hearing loss I have and what frequencies I have. In my case, the upper frequencies are a challenge. Since my wife doesn’t have a low-range voice like Morgan Freeman, this explains why it can be so hard to hear her.
Armed with my sound scheme, I shared it with my iPhone, then hit the Accessibility settings in iOS. There is a whole section here for AirPods Pro with full options and features:
- Headphone settings: This is where you can adjust the incoming sound with your own sound scheme, or you can choose from balanced tone, vocal range, and brightness. There are also three levels of soft sound enhancement.
- Transparency mode: Options here include amplifying external audio and tone levels between darker and brighter; These mainly boost the bass and treble frequencies respectively. You can also enable, disable, and control the level of ambient noise reduction for this mode.
- Conversational Enhancement: This optional feature specifically enhances speech from the person you’re encountering when wearing AirPods Pro; I wish I had this ability at the crowded Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago.
Note that these photos are from my iPad, not my iPhone, to show more information with fewer photos:
Although the AirPods Pro are not certified hearing aids, I definitely hear much better. Over the course of five hours one night, for example, I heard every word in a conversation with my wife and son. This never happens. And I watched TV with my son with the volume of the sound bar set lower than my wife usually does. This was a game changer, as all the dialogue sounded clear and loud enough.
The in-ear design Apple uses almost turns me off because I don’t like things in my ear canal. However, surprisingly they fit well with the small sized rubber earcups. Apple includes several other sizes in the box. I can wear them comfortably for a full five hours. I didn’t think that would be possible.
I noticed the experiment was five hours long because that’s when AirPods generally indicate they’re running low on battery. Since people who need hearing aids wear them constantly throughout the day, this may be a disadvantage. However, the AirPods Pro Wireless Rechargeable Case, with UWB radio for finding lost earbuds, adds five more full charges. So I dress as needed: when I’m talking to my wife or watching content. When she’s in her office and I’m working in another room, I simply put the AirPods in their charging case.
I have done a great deal of research on potential hearing aids and approved hearing aids. I considered the $799 Jabra Enhance Plus, as well as the latest $1,299 Sony CRE-E10 Earbuds, which are over-the-counter hearing aids. I almost pulled the trigger on the $2,950 Eargo, which is currently on sale for $350. However, after watching this video of an audiologist testing the original AirPods Pro and reading this newer article on its hearing-improving features, I spent a lot less with good results.
Overall, I like how the AirPods Pro work Me and my hearing shortcomings. The first few times I heard it all in conversation I had a smile on my face that even my wife noticed. Everyone is different of course. After a certain level of hearing loss, I am sure I will need approved hearing aids. For now, I think I’ve got you covered for the next few years with Apple’s latest smart audio hardware.
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