This year the FDA allowed the over-the-counter (OTC) sales of some hearing aids, due to which a lot of device developers have reconstructed their existing hearing lines to adjust to the entirely new market of OTC hearing aids.
However, people could already be holding an active hearing aid, as a study published in iScience journal this month states that AirPods by Apple meet the majority of the benchmarks set by the Consumer Technology Association, even though they are not marketed as an alternative to hearing aids.
The study compared the AirPods Pro, which is the second generation of AirPods, against the basic and premium variants of hearing aids that are presently available. Twelve people who had never used hearing aids before this test were asked to use the devices.
CTA’s five core standards were tested in the experiment; how smooth the frequency response of the device, its bandwidth, the maximum sound pressure output from a 90-decibel input, the amount of EIN (equivalent internal noise) the device generates, and the total harmonic distortion.
AirPods 2 met only two of the five standards; No harmonic distortion and acceptable frequency response bandwidth. However, Airpods Pro ended up meeting four of the five standards. The one it failed was the amount of EIN. The acceptable internal noise was anything under 32 decibels, while AirPods Pro measured at 37 decibels of internal noise, which is a lot better than the 50 decibels of AirPods 2 but still not enough to meet the standard.
A hearing-in-noise test was also conducted in which the participants were to inspect the degree to which the devices aided them in hearing speech in noisy as well as quiet environments. AirPods Pro was at the top again. Researchers claimed that there was no noteworthy difference found between hearing aids and AirPods Pro in terms of speech perception.
Where the AirPods Pro failed to impress in comparison to the premium hearing aids was the ability to hear speech in the presence of background noise, particularly when the noise and speech were coming from the same direction. However, these results were still comparable with the basic model of hearing aid.
The authors of the study concluded that AirPods Pro could potentially be used as a satisfactory hearing assistive device for people with up to moderate hearing impairment. That cannot be said for AirPods 2, which falls short on most accounts.
This conclusion could be a bonus for about 30M United States adults, only a fifth of whom are presently using such devices. The current price of the AirPods Pro is about $250 and would be lower during the ongoing holiday season, which is a blessing considering prescription hearing aids range from about $1,000 to $4,000.
FDA’s ruling for OTC hearing aids was aimed to counteract the high price tags of such prescription aids that people do not afford. Sony’s hearing aid devices start from a price tag of $1,000 while Lexie Hearing’s options that are “Powered by Bose” are a little cheaper at between $700 and $1,000.