Brands like Bose and Jabra now offer affordable hearing aids
The audiologist's office isn't the only place to get hearing aids.
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Bose, Jabra, Apple: Over-the-counter hearing aids
Bose, Jabra, and Apple are making waves in the hearing loss market, which impacts 48 million Americans. Despite these startling stats, only one in four adults with some degree of hearing loss, that could benefit from a hearing aid, actually use one. This is unfortunate, as untreated hearing loss has been associated with serious conditions like depression, anxiety, and dementia.
One reason is likely the prohibitive cost. Audiologist Abram Bailey, who started independent hearing aid resource HearingTracker.com, surveyed over 2,000 people and found the average price of a pair of hearing aids was $4,673. When purchasing a single hearing aid, the average was $2,560. The price was also dictated by the number of advanced features it had.
But this unfortunate reality may improve with new over-the-counter hearing aid legislation that goes into effect in mid-October of 2022, as many customers will have an opportunity to opt out of cumbersome prescriptions and costly audiologist visits. In theory, these products are potentially sold at a fraction of the cost.
Large companies like Bose, Apple, and Jabra have taken notice of this need and produce products and features that can improve hearing at a fraction of the cost of traditional aids, and without a prescription. An iPhone and a pair of AirPods may be all the hearing help many need to counter mild hearing loss. Improving your hearing doesn’t have to break the bank anymore.
Making hearing aids more accessible
In 2017, Congress aimed to change the industry by passing a law to allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids. Theoretically, this would lower prices and increase competition, since the four largest hearing aid manufacturers control 84% of the market. But no further progress had been made until President Biden ordered the FDA in September of 2021 to produce rules for these OTC aids by November of that same year.
The law was officially signed into effect August 17, 2022, and is expected to be fully in place by mid-October.
In the meantime, Bose and Jabra are already on pace to change the market with direct-to-consumer aids. Apple is also hyping software features in its products that can benefit people with hearing loss.
Who are over-the-counter hearing aids for?
It is important to note that direct-to-consumer hearing aids are traditionally only meant for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Over-the-counter aids are best for people who are excellent with technology and apps on their cell phones, says Ashley Eisen Graney, audiologist at Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center in Buffalo, New York.
“The users should be good at troubleshooting technology themselves, as they won’t have the support of an audiologist to walk them through the process or counsel them on usage, care, or difficulties they may encounter (which is the bulk of what an audiologist does),” she adds.
In our estimation, while troubleshooting support help may be limited on some over-the-counter hearing aids, there are pairs that include telehealth conferencing for remote adjustment. A strong technical background definitely helps, but, with proper instruction, it may not be an outright requirement.
Other more concrete characteristics that make for a good OTC hearing aid candidate are having good manual dexterity (for inserting and cleaning the hearing aids) and being determined to succeed, says Bailey.
Bose Lexie B1 Hearing Aids
Bose, a company founded over 50 years ago and known for its innovative audio products, was once a big player in this market. While the company has discontinued its original hearing aid offering, SoundControl Hearing Aids, it’s partnered with Lexie Hearing to produce a direct-to-consumer hearing aid called the Lexie B1 hearing aid. It sells for about $900.
Though this is a fraction of the cost of standard aids and it's eligible for flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings (HSA) reimbursement, it is still a high cost for many.
Exclusively available through the Lexie Hearing website, these lightweight hearing aids are described as a “first-of-their-kind receiver-in-canal” product that are bluetooth-enabled and customizable with Bose’s special self-fitting technology. Made better with Lexie’s in-house app, the hearing aids can be tuned to improve mild to moderate hearing loss.
Jabra Enhance Series hearing aids
Another player in the direct-to-consumer hearing aid market is Jabra, which is known for making Bluetooth headsets and other business-oriented audio products. Its hearing aids are known as the Jabra Enhance Series, and it features two main products: Jabra Enhance Plus and Jabra Enhance Pro PM.
Jabra Enhance Plus
The first member of the Enhance Series is the Enhance Plus earbuds. The hearing aid features medical-grade technology for situational use and is designed to improve speech clarity. Made for hearing, entertainment, and phone calls alike, the Enhance Plus earbuds have Adaptive, Focus, and Surround listening modes to suit your personal situation.
Like many over-the-counter hearing aids, the Enhance Plus tuning is governed through an app. The Jabra Enhance app is made exclusively for iOS. Just take a simple hearing test, and the hearing aids will adapt to your needs. The Enhance Plus buds last for about 10 hours on a single charge or 30 hours with a changing case.
The Jabra Enhance Plus aids cost around $800 and are currently only sold at certified Jabra Enhance Centers. Once the new OTC hearing aid laws are in effect, the Jabra Enhance Plus seems like the most likely candidate of the Enhance Series to be sold on the mass market.
Jabra Enhance Pro PM
In contrast to the Enhance Plus, the Enhance Pro PM is a more traditional-style hearing aid described as a medical-grade solution for hearing loss. While it has dedicated Android and iOS apps, it’s not made for the user to tune their own hearing aids. Instead, Enhance Pro owners can use the app to speak to an audio professional who can tune the hearing aids remotely.
The Enhance Pro PM also features a wide assortment of accessories like additional microphones, remote controls, and a special box that streams TV audio directly into the hearing aid’s speakers. Despite these add-ons, the Enhance Pro PM runs 30 hours on a single charge alone.
Instead of going to Jabra Enhance Centers, you can buy the Enhance Pro PM at any Costco Hearing Aid Center. These hearing aids start at $1,800 and they’re meant to be a more premium solution for those with advanced hearing loss. Given the fitting process for the Enhance Pro PM requires a more personal touch, we wouldn’t expect these to be sold on the mass market in any substantial way.
Apple Live Listen and Conversation Boost
People gravitate toward Apple because its products are designed to work well with each other and often with products from other companies. iPhone-compatible hearing devices are the result of Apple working with manufacturers to make hearing aids and sound processors that work well with Apple’s phones. Users can pair with more than one device and control all of them from their iPhone.
One of the free iOS features is Live Listen, which turns the iPhone into a remote microphone that sends sound to a hearing aid or even to AirPods. Live Listen enables you to hear whatever is near your phone, which means you can set your iPhone in front of a friend in a noisy restaurant and hear them clearly through your AirPods. Or, you could hear the TV through background noise by setting your phone next to its speaker.
Apple is also hyping Conversation Boost for AirPods Pro, which is more similar to a PSAP (personal sound amplification product) than to a hearing aid. It utilizes computational audio and beamforming microphones to focus on the voice of the person in front of you. Unlike most Apple devices and features, Conversation Boost requires a lot of steps to set up each time.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.