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AirPods Pro Compete Fairly Well Against Full-Fledged Hearing Aids

At Ars Technica, Kevin Purdy writes:

study in the journal iScience suggests that, in some noise situations, AirPods, particularly the Pro model, can work just as well as far pricier prescription-only models.

The AirPods were tested against a $1,500 Bernafon MD1 and a $10,000 OTICON Opn 1. In quiet settings, AirPods Pro helped people hear as well as the Bernafon and nearly as well as the OTICON. The AirPods 2 performed the worst but still helped people hear a human voice better than without using any device.

While I would never recommend that someone experiencing hearing loss rely on a pair of AirPods Pro instead of seeing a healthcare professional, this small study gives some support to using Live Listen if you need a little boost to hear better. I must also note that, even before the advent of the AirPods, Jeff Porten suggested a similar technique over a decade ago in “iOS Hearing Aids… or, How to Buy Superman’s Ears” (8 February 2011). The next question is how the AirPods Pro stack up against the inexpensive over-the-counter hearing aids that are starting to appear.

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Comments About AirPods Pro Compete Fairly Well Against Full-Fledged Hearing Aids

Notable Replies

  1. As indicated in another post, I know someone who recently acquired high-end hearing aids after using Airpod Pros (gen 2) for a couple of weeks.
    It was never her intention to use Airpods instead of hearing aids and it is very important to see an audiologist.
    The key difference is that hearing aids are designed to amplify and adjust sound received at the ears. Airpods are mainly intended to receive streamed sound from an iOS device. Picking up “background” sounds is secondary. Conversation Boost is useful but still not optimal.
    The Live Listen feature of Airpods depends on using an iPhone as a remote microphone so is very different to receiving sound at the ears.
    Having said that I think that Airpods are a good way to get used to the idea of wearing hearing aids and play with the various options that are available (i.e mitigating tinnitus)

  2. I’m looking at this from the other side, so to speak. I have high-end hearing aids with built in Bluetooth. They are very effective and the actual sound quality for conversation and especially music is amazingly good, both listening to music sources via the iPhone etc and just going to a concert. The key correction they give me is to restore my high frequency hearing, with less amplification for lower frequencies - so the question for folks like me would be “can you upload a specific response curve into the AirPods?”

  3. I think that’s what this is: The new AirPods will read an audiogram!

    I did this for other Apple earbuds a year and a half ago or so. (I don’t need hearing aids yet myself. It’s coming, though.)

  4. Thanks. So the answer to my question was yes. It looks like there is a lack of standards in audiogramme scales. Any audiologists out there to give an informed comment?

  5. I also have high-end hearing aids with built in Bluetooth and I’m very pleased with their sound quality for conversations, concerts, etc. They do a very good job of boosting those frequencies where I have a loss. However, I was disappointed when I first streamed music from my iPhone. The music sounded weak and didn’t have much bass. When I went back to my audiologist for my 7-day checkup I mentioned this disappointment. She laughed and explained that my aids used ‘open domes’ on the end of the wires inside my ears to allow the maximum amount of ‘through the air’ natural sound to enter my ears. When I pipe music through my aids much of the music is lost out through the opening of my ears. When I used my hearing aids with a soft foam sound-suppressing ear plug inserted behind them to prevent the loss of music from my ears the sound was tremendously improved. This works great as long as I’m in a situation where I don’t need to be aware of my surroundings. For those times when I want to be aware I bought a set of AirPods (3rd gen) and went through the process of adjusting the EQ to account for my hearing loss.

  6. That’s very interesting - at least to me! I have exactly the same setup - hearing aids with “open domes” mostly for correcting high-frequency hearing. What your audiologist told you is clearly logical. I was wondering why I didn’t notice the lack of bass myself. I think I have the solution - I mostly listen to classical and pre-classical music, and nowadays almost always to small ensembles - these groups don’t generate much bass in the first place, so there was nothing to miss. I then searched my library for something with a lot of bass (it was Janacek’s Sinfonietta, which I think was scored to be heard in the open air) and sure enough it sounded weaker than I remembered. It’s been an education! Thanks.

  7. It is interesting that this has come up now because I just purchased a pair of AirPod Pro 2s to assist me with my hearing difficulties. I am a long term user of NHS hearing aids and the ones I have at the moment are distinctly better than the first pair I had but they are not very subtle. The area where I have the greatest difficulty is with the telephone (mobile or desk) and with webinars and on line conferencing. I have over the years tried to find a way to do it with the hearing aids but it does not work. The difficulty being: With iMac conferences, if I use just the iMac speakers and my NHS hearing aids, I find hearing what people are saying is very difficult. This is a lot to do with poor diction, bad acoustics in the other rooms and bad connections. There is not much that hearing aids can do to improve any of these but, control of volume and sound profile, does help. I have a pair of ordinary ear buds which allow me to hear more clearly what people are saying (instead of hearing aids) but they do not allow me to hear what I am saying, so talking one to one or in a group discussion is like talking with your fingers in your ears and hearing your own voice properly is important to how well you present your speech and how confident you feel when talking in a debate. I had a long series of discussions with the chaps at Rogue Amoeba about Audio Hijack and how I can tweak the “play through” and model the sound to better allow me to hear myself but it was not a great success. Next I was given an on-ear Poly Blackwire headset with mic and this helped enormously if I wore it with the hearing aids; I could hear myself much better but the downside is lots of feedback and, of course, it only works with things on my iMac or phone calls taken through the iMac and, if I am not ready, the faffing about getting it set up while the phone is ringing often means I miss calls.

    I can’t use the iPhone in the car. I don’t have a handsfree set up in the car so calls must be taken either with ear buds in place or left until I get back to the office and, with ear buds, I cannot hear myself. So it is frustrating and affects my ability to function at work.

    I borrowed a pair of AirPod Pros a few months ago and was impressed enough to wonder if they could offer an option for some scenarios while also giving me a great sound for listening to music. Not that I listen to music that way that much, though I do enjoy an audiobook and podcasts at the end of the day.

    I have had the APP2s for a bit over a week and and I am getting used to them but have not had a chance to fully test them in all scenarios. I have done the basic set up for my hearing limitations and this alone, before fine tuning with an audiogram, is remarkably good and, with transparency engaged, I can hear myself really well. It seems a little artificial but using this set up just in dinner table conversation is an improvement and I feel confident that I might be able to tweak a big improvement when I have more time to work on it.

    The biggest problem with the APP2s is the battery life. If you’re going to be using them for long stretches they are impractical and you need to be sure they are well charged before embarking on a webinar, unless you have a standby ready for backup. So it looks like they may be a part solution and I have to figure out where they are best deployed and mix things up a bit to make sure I am always prepared.

    I had a nice surprise when I sat down to watch TV one evening while wearing them. The Apple TV detected them and invited me to play the sound through the APP2s. I don’t yet know how to invoke this invitation but it is a boon when watching alone and my wife has gone to bed as I need the volume up quite loud normally. A perfect arrangement would be to be able to play through both the speakers and the APP2s with separate volume control, so my wife can sit next to me on the couch without being deafened! Maybe it can be done but I am focusing on the fundamentals at the moment.

    1. You can manually switch to using your APPs by bringing up the Control Center and tapping the Airplay icon. That same process also lets you direct the sound to multiple Apple or Beats headphones.

    Note that this does not work with the older AppleTV HD but only with AppleTV 4K.

    I think the issue with string to us speakers at the same time is that there is a slight delay when using headphones. I believe the Apple TV compensates by also delaying the video.

  8. The Apple Tv can only output to multiple (Apple?) hearing devices. You cannot send output to APP2 and speakers like Homepods. One problem would be that the APP2 would allow background sounds so it is likely the Homepod and APP2 would be out of sync.
    However the APP2 will enhance the Homepod sound for the wearer (just don’t let the ATV stream directly to it).

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