The Line between Hearing Aids and Hearables Continues to Morph

October 18, 2016

Whatever one thinks of the PCAST and NASEM recommendations to improve access & affordability for consumers, as well as any looming changes to current FDA hearing aid regulations that could impact professionals, the emerging hearable technology market continues to garner a great deal of press.

Since Apple introduced their $159 per pair AirPods, expected to go on sale later this month, several other “smart earbuds”, including the Here One from Doppler Labs and “The Headphone” from Bragi are expected to be commercially available in the near future. Both of these hearables, and a few others, like the Jabra Elite Sport (on the market now) and the Nuheara IQ (available for pre-order) are billed to include “hearing aid technology.”


Layered Listening


A common feature in many of these hearables is referred to as “layered listening”, which is the audio equivalent of augmented reality. Layered listening allows the user to filter out specific sounds or to enhance other sounds. For example, the user of the soon-to-be-released Hear One, through an accompanying smartphone app, can create a “personal listening profile” and use a 5-band equalizer to adjust the volume – a process similar to tweaking a traditional hearing aid.

As Doppler Labs CEO Noah Kraft has said, the goal of the Doppler is to “put a computer in everyone’s ears” but he is also quick to mention that “the Hear One is not a medical device and not meant to replace hearing aids.” 


Another intriguing feature of “smart earbuds” is their potential to serve as a conduit to digital assistants, such as Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri. Currently, these digital assistants reach users through the visual display on their smartphone. In the near future, like in the 2013 film, Her, users can ditch their computer or smartphone screen and talk directly to a virtual assistant via their hearable.


Hearing Aid, PSAP or Hearable?


The line between PSAPs and hearing aids also continues to become blurred. Sound World Solutions sells its Companion Hearing Aid for $449 each, while its very similar PSAP, called the SC50+ sells for $349 each. Shawn Stahmer, VP of business development for Sound World Solutions said in a recent Fast Company article, “the technology in our hearing aid and in our personal sound amplifier is exactly the same.”

At least two recent professional publications, one from Northwestern University and another from researchers at Johns Hopkins University indicated that the Sound World Solution PSAP had many acoustic properties similar to hearing aids.


Given the rapidly aging population and the low uptake of hearing aids – both worldwide phenomenon, as more than 350 million individuals have hearing loss and upwards of 86% of them don’t use hearing aids – entrepreneurs continue to look for ways to bring new products and services to the market to fill this global void. One such person is Audra Renyi a 34-year old investment banker who recently launched Hearing Access World. Their primary goal is to lower hearing aid prices by 75%.


hearing loss phone panasonic

Panasonic KX-TGM420

In yet another interesting technological development, the Panasonic KX-TGM420 Series amplified cordless phone has a feature that slows the speed of speech in real time and when checking voice messages.

In a recent article at Gizmodo Australia Business & Technology, Samantha Dawson, product marketing manager at Panasonic said, “This phone will give greater peace of mind and confidence to the hearing impaired and their care givers. The amplification features ensure you won’t be frustrated by missed calls or inaudible callers, and the large, well-lit and easy to use controls make the phone simple to manage.” The phone will cost about $100 and is expected to be available in December.


*featured image courtesy keepyourprofit

  1. Getting better, I can imagine gambling £300 on a hearable, but not £3000 on a HA and yes I do mean gamble, there is absolutely no guarantee a private HA would be amazingly better than my NHS aids.
    Also hearables adjustability really appeals to my geek edges

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