When someone says “hearing aid”, an image of the standard Behind-the-Ear (BTE) or In-the-Ear (ITE) model usually comes to mind. Did you know that AirPods can also be used to help you with your hearing?
You might have noticed these trendy Apple products out and about, perhaps donned by a business person on your morning commute or a fellow student in your lecture hall.
Now, with the AirPod Pro's hearing enhancement capabilities, Apple is bound to see a further increase in their popularity.
What are Apple AirPods?
Even if you’re not exactly sure what Apple AirPods are, you’ve probably seen them worn by somebody in the street or in line at the store. These lightweight, white wireless headphones have taken the world by storm, quickly becoming the world’s best-selling wireless headphones after their launch back in 2016.
AirPods are extremely popular for listening to music, podcasts, using Siri, and making phone calls. Much of their appeal is due to their seamless integration with other Apple products is undeniable, making them an essential accessory for the average Apple user.
The Live Listen Feature
Apple has a strong history of supporting the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities, being the first big technology company to enable Teletype (TTY) and real-time text (RTT) calling directly on a user’s device.
Now, thanks to a feature called 'Live Listen,' Apple’s AirPods have introduced a new feature that boosts environmental sounds for many users who struggle with their hearing. You’ll be able to use these discreet wireless headphones to better hear your friends at a bustling get-together, the speaker at your debate or conference, and the attendant at the grocery store check out.
To use Live Listen you'll need to have a iOS device with iOS 12 (or later) installed. You’ll also need to connect your AirPods to your device, as your iPhone, iPad, or iPod will be acting as a microphone to send sound to your AirPods. While connected, your device's microphone is used to listen to sounds around you, which it then sends to your AirPods as amplified sound. While this may sound like a relatively simple function, it is a fantastic accessibility feature that holds an incredible amount of potential.
Can New (October 2019) Airpods Be Used as Hearing Aids?
Following the resounding success of the AirPod, Apple decided to release the AirPod Pros in October 2019. This updated model was designed to have a range of features that gave the earbuds even more hearing aid capabilities.
While some users may be unaware of any features beyond the standard headphone functionalities, those with hearing loss may view the fact that AirPods can now effectively double as hearing aids as the key reason to purchase.
You can pick up a pair of Apple AirPods Pro for around $249, making them a much cheaper alternative to standard hearing aids which can retail for up to $6000 per hearing aid.
Limitations of Using Airpods as Hearing Aids
While the AirPod Pros are an amazing piece of technology with some wonderful features, they unfortunately still have limitations.
- They don’t amplify sound efficiently enough to replace hearing aids. The AirPod Pros amplify all sounds equally, making them difficult to use in noisy environments. Traditional hearing aids can distinguish between background noise and speech, showing that AirPods are not a perfect alternative for people with moderate to severe hearing loss.
- Wearing these devices as a form of hearing aid might be viewed as antisocial as they are thought of as headphones first and foremost. Some people might not be aware of this feature, so you might find yourself having to explain why you’re wearing them during a conversation.
- In comparison to standard hearing aids, they are designed for a younger and more tech-savy demographics, meaning they lack the ease of use and simplicity of a traditional hearing aid.
- Relying solely on the AirPod Pros might lead to you avoiding seeing a professional about your hearing loss. This runs the risk of leaving any underlying conditions undiagnosed.
Finally, Apple has stated that their AirPods are not intended to replace hearing aids and has advised users to see their physician if they have serious difficulty with their hearing. It is always important to keep in mind that this product is not a dedicated hearing device.
Are AirPod Pros a Good Hearing Aid Alternative?
The AirPods Pro offer an impressive user experience and have the potential to introduce millions of people to the world of amplification. AirPods Pro or other Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) are a great idea if you don’t have hearing loss but would like an extra boost to your environmental sound and other customizable features.
If you’re looking for a popular, aesthetically-pleasing (and stigma-free) device that can function both as headphones and a hearing device in specific environments, then they might be the device for you.
If your hearing issues are more than mild, you need to make an appointment with your physician or audiologist for a hearing test.
If you’re interested in sound amplification, be sure to also check out our CES Innovation Award-winning personalized hearing bud — the Olive Smart Ear.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: