New online hearing aid debuts; online hearing test to follow

PHILADELPHIA–One of the latest entries in the fast-growing field of direct-to-consumer hearing aid sales is Embrace Hearing. Founded by two former classmates at Stanford University, Sam Tanzer and Ross Porter, the Philadelphia-based retailer claims to offer “high-quality hearing aids” for $299 and up.

According to Embrace, its digital, custom-programmed hearing aids are manufactured in the U.S. using components from Siemens and other leading global suppliers. And, it says, they are comparable to hearing aids dispensed by audiologists for thousands of dollars.

Unlike some Internet retailers that use terms such as “personal sound amplification products” (PSAPs), apparently to avoid being subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing aid rule, Embrace calls its products hearing aids. For example, its web site advertises “hassle-free hearing aids” that are shipped free and come with a 60-day free return guarantee.

The company makes four models of behind-the-ear instruments, priced from $299 to $699. Three models are for mild to moderate hearing loss, while the other goes up to profound loss.

Like United Healthcare’s well-funded hi HealthInnovations division and several other less-publicized companies, Embrace says it is able to slash the retail price of its hearing aids by cutting out the middle man, i.e., the licensed audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. While granting that “audiologists provide valuable services,” the company web site contends that their “exorbitant markups”  “are the only reason hearing aids cost so much.”



Currently, Embrace does not offer an online hearing test, so it advises prospective customers to go to a hearing professional for a hearing analysis and then send in the audiogram so “we can fully customize your hearing aid to your hearing profile.”

However, Embrace says that it will “soon” introduce a comprehensive, hassle-free online test that people can use to get customized hearing aids.


Meanwhile, Best Buy quits selling PSAPs

While it seems that more and more companies are advertising direct-to-consumer amplifiers of one sort or another, one retailer has got out of the business—at least for now.

According to Audiology Talk, a “pod cast for audiologists,” Best Buy removed hearing aid-like products from its shelves in November not long after it began selling them in some of its stores and online. The personal sound amplifiers were made by Focus Ear and sold for $349.