When I mention my hearing loss to others, they often reply with an admission of their own hearing difficulties or tell me about a parent, friend or sibling with a hearing loss. And once they do, their first question is usually, “Which hearing aid is the best?” As a long-time hearing aid wearer, I know there is no one correct answer to that question. The best hearing aid is the one that combines the sound quality, fit, form factor and accessory technologies that work for each person’s specific hearing loss and lifestyle. But shouldn’t there be some way for consumers to separate the good from the bad?
Buying a Hearing Aid is Confusing
Buying a hearing device is complex, especially the first time around. There are an enormous amount of options but few objective measurements that consumers can use to compare across models or to separate quality products from junk. While the vast majority of devices offered through hearing care professionals are good quality, in the Wild West of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, it can be harder to judge. And the consequences are large.
If a new user chooses wrong, a poor quality device could derail their hearing loss journey as they assume all hearing devices would be similarly unhelpful. This could deter them from trying a different model or from seeking out the assistance of a professional down the road when needed.
A Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that helps consumers focus their search on only high-quality options would be wonderful, especially since, even in the OTC market, the purchase of a hearing device is often a big investment.
A Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for Hearing Aids
A new company, Hear Advisor has created just that—a Good Housekeeping Seal for hearing aid sound quality. The team includes multiple sound experts including audiologist and Hearing Tracker CEO Abram Bailey, audio engineer and audiologist Steve Taddei, and Andy Sabin, one of the co-creators of the first FDA-approved OTC hearing device, so they are well-equipped for the challenge. Hear Advisor calls their standard a Hear Advisor Expert Choice Award. To win one, a hearing device must score at least a 4 out of 5 on their proprietary sound quality scale.
How does the testing work?
Hear Advisor rates each device’s performance using the 5 criteria they believe consumers value most:
- Speech understanding in quiet
- Speech understanding in noise
- Music quality
- Sound of own voice
- Feedback issues
Hearing Advisor recreates each soundscape in their proprietary lab using eight finely-calibrated speakers and a specially-designed manikin that mimics the human hearing experience. Together they allow for a spatially accurate assessment of sound performance. Over 70 sound scenes are tested for each device using the five criteria above in both an initial fit (most likely setting or out-of-the-box settings) and tuned fit (fit following audiological best practices including real ear measurement). Each test assumes a moderate downward sloping hearing loss profile. A device’s final rating is a weighted-average score based on the relative importance of the five consumer-choice dimensions.
Compare the sound for yourself
In the real world, it is challenging to compare devices. Even if you trial one right after another, it is often difficult to remember the sound of the first while trying the second. Plus your brain must go through an adjustment process each time. Online, it is a bit easier. Hearing Tracker has started including device sound samples on their website when available. Since the testing is done with a moderate downward-sloping profile, the samples will be most helpful for people with a similar hearing loss pattern.
There have been some surprising winners and losers, with devices in all prices points and distribution channels scoring both well and poorly. Based on testing, Hear Advisor shares their picks for best hearing aids in background noise and best hearing aids for music, including both prescription and OTC options. Additional lists are on the way.
Choosing a Hearing Aid is More than Just Sound Quality
Hear Advisor’s ratings focus solely on sound quality because it can be objectively measured and compared across devices. And while sound quality is a critical element in choosing a hearing device—if the sound isn’t good why bother—it is not the only factor to consider.
Personal hearing needs, lifestyle choices, included assistive technologies like Bluetooth and telecoil, and form factor are also all important considerations. Trial and error is part of the process of finding the device that works best for you. Hopefully Hear Advisor’s awards will allow new users to focus their search from among high quality products, upping the chances each of us will find what works best for us.
Readers, would you find a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for hearing aids useful?