Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Direct-to-consumer sound amplifiers have, historically speaking, been the most cost-effective way to remedy hearing loss. Like many hearing devices, the personal amplifier began its life as a bulky handheld device but has since evolved into a smaller, less cumbersome product. For decades, amplifiers have helped those who can't afford prescription hearing aids get the sound amplification they desperately need to effectively hear, communicate, and process daily sounds.
Pocket amplifiers like the Pocketalker Ultra Duo (also called D1) promise to remove routine frustrations that persons without hearing loss may not be familiar with, such as not being able to hear at movie theaters, live performances, conferences, meetings, or even while watching TV or conversing in the car with friends. Does this modestly priced product deliver when expensive hearing aids aren’t an option? That’s what I intended to find out during my multi-week testing period with Pocketalker.
What would you add to your wardrobe if you had a little extra money? We're giving away two $250 Nordstrom gift cards, so let's find out. Enter to win between now and Sept. 30, 2022.
About the Pocketalker Ultra D1
The Pocketalker Ultra Duo Sound Amplifier by Williams Sound is a pocket-sized personal hearing amplifier that, as its name suggests, can be carried in your pocket for easy travel. According to Williams Sound, the Pocketalker can amplify your surroundings by up to 40 decibels simply by turning the dial on the side of the device to a comfortable listening level.
This adjustment can bring a typical whisper of 30 decibels to the approximate volume of a standard vacuum cleaner, allowing the wearer to easily hear low-volume speech or sounds. The Pocketalker Ultra also allows tone to be adjusted using a finger dial on the side as well, which can help dial into lower or higher frequencies depending on your specific type of hearing loss.
The Pocketalker includes two AAA batteries, a 12-foot microphone extension cord, earbuds, headphones, a neck lanyard, microfiber cloth for device cleaning, a user manual, and a five-year warranty. The microphone extension cord allows the mic to be removed from the device and placed in a more desirable area to better suit specific situations.
Documentation suggests the device is best used in locations where background noise won’t interfere with sound amplification, as the device does not assist in clarifying specific narrow waves of sound like prescription hearing aids do. In short, this is a device meant for amplifying television sound, small group chatter, or one-on-one conversations.
What I like about the Pocketalker Ultra D1
Impressive TV audio amplification
The amplifier’s sound, when the Pocketalker microphone is placed appropriately, is outstandingly loud and clear while watching TV. I personally used the microphone clip (also included) to attach the removeable microphone to my television’s sound bar. Using the microphone extension cord, I was able to sit approximately 6 feet away on my couch and, without turning the volume up to a high level, I could listen to the TV as loud as I needed without distraction.
$156 at Best Buy
The volume and tone controls are also easy to use, unlike many other programmable hearing aids or enhancers. The clarity while amplifying is impressive, and I was quite surprised given its relatively low price and my past experience with other cheap amplifiers on the market. I have moderate hearing loss, and this device allowed me to hear the television nearly perfectly without need for subtitles.
The entire Pocketalker package, with all its included items, weighs less than a pound. Traveling with it is simple, so if you want clear and quick amplification when confronted with a meeting, presentation, or performance, all you need is an empty pocket to spare. I wish I had a product like this while in school. Despite the Pocketalker Ultra being marketed primarily for elderly consumers, individuals of all ages could find uses for this product at many different venues in myriad situations.
What I don’t like about the Pocketalker Ultra D1
Wires are conspicuous
Unlike standard prescription hearing aids, sound-enhancing earbuds, or other OTC hearing aid-style amplifiers, the Pocketalker Ultra is quite noticeable when worn. Because it sticks out, some may avoid bringing this device on a first date or a job interview, despite its potential effectiveness in one-on-one scenarios.
The Pocketalker Ultra always requires wires in some capacity, whether it be while using the included earbuds or headphones, or while leveraging the microphone's extension cord, which is obviously not very concealable. Ideally people with disabilities shouldn’t be concerned with appearing socially awkward when using assistive technology, however, I fully understand why people like me tend to prefer more concealable methods of compensating for hearing loss. Unfortunately, the Pocketalker lacks in this particular quality.
Reliance on old-style batteries
The Pocketalker has a battery life of 200 hours, which for me would last several months. However, with an amplifier like this, I would definitely prefer a USB rechargeable, and replaceable, LiFePO4 battery. This would add significant weight to the product, but I believe it would also make it more cost effective, as there would be no need for avid users to constantly purchase AAA batteries.
A rechargeable lithium battery could alleviate some of my concerns as well, though this hypothetical variant would likely require daily recharges. That said, people of all ages have become accustomed to regularly charging cell phones, so making this a requirement for a future Pocketalker model doesn’t seem overly restrictive.
Should you buy the Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra Duo Sound Amplifier?
I would, and did, buy the Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra Duo Sound Amplifier. If you or someone you know struggles with hearing the television and other hearing assists aren't working for them, this product may go a long way toward resolving the issue without having to purchase an expensive medical device.
Having the Pocketalker has made watching TV a more seamless process. I don't stress about the volume of the program I’m watching if I have this device with me, because everything sounds louder than it traditionally would. I personally don’t use it much for amplifying conversation, but, if you have mild-to-moderate hearing loss, I still think you’ll be satisfied with the Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra Duo Sound Amplifier.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.