Hearing loss is a struggle for millions of people.
The best way to improve your hearing loss is with a hearing aid.
In the past, hearing aids were bulky and cumbersome to use, but modern hearing aids can be bought over the counter and online that are low profile, effective, and inexpensive. Our research team compared all of the best hearing aids on the market and came up with these rankings.
1. Otofonix hearing aid
For the absolute best in technology you can get over the counter, it’s hard to argue with Otofonix. Yes, it’s a behind the ear design, but it’s an ultra-slim design that has the latest sound processing technology to help augment your hearing.
Adjusting the volume is trivial, and the sound transmission tube is so small it’s easily concealed. As an added perk, this hearing aid comes with free lifetime tech support from Otofonix, so you don’t have to worry about malfunctions.
2. Empower Hearing Aid
Though behind the ear designs are often criticized for their bulk and inconvenience, the Empower hearing aid manages to buck this trend.
The ultra-slim design fits snugly behind your ear, with only a translucent rubberized tube running into your ear to transmit the amplified sound.
With excellent reviews for its secure fit, battery life, and sound quality, this is a winner when it comes to the behind the ear design.
3. Hearing Assist Recharge
This high-end hearing aid comes with a large charging base that makes it easy to keep your batteries fully charged. On top of that, the Hearing Assist Recharge sports four different pre-programmed hearing modes with sophisticated sound processing technology to deliver clearly audible sound to your ear. While it can be a little tricky to manipulate the dials, once you get the settings right they are a top performer.
4. Sentire Med SM-220
The Sentire Med SM-220 is behind-the-ear hearing aid model that boast a wide range of customizable functions for optimal usability.
It has four frequency modes for different settings, and a good battery life. It’s low profile for behind-the-ear models, but it certainly isn’t discrete. You’ll have to look elsewhere for a truly low-profile hearing aid.
Angelear is a very solid and reliable behind the ear hearing aid. It’s simple to operate, long-lasting, and has built-in noise cancellation technology to make it easy to hear a conversation even when there’s background noise. Thanks to its versatility and reliability, it’s a top seller.
6. NewEar Hearing Aid
NewEar offers an ingenious solution to the irritating problem of hearing aid batteries–their hearing aid is rechargable in a dock that plugs into any standard USB plug.
This makes charging and storage incredibly easy. However, the sound quality is not the best; some users complain about crackling and distorted sound.
7. Woodland Whisper
Woodland Whisper is a hearing aid that was specifically designed for long-range, soft sounds. It’s beloved especially by hunters and archers, hence the name.
But you don’t need to be out in the forest to gain the benefit of the Woodland Whisper hearing aid. Any situation where you need to be able to hear far-off sounds more clearly is a great situation for this hearing aid.
8. Vorfreude In-The-Canal
Vorfreude makes a very solid in-canal design that fits snugly into your ear. It’s not the smallest or most discreet hearing aid, even among the in-canal designs. Instead, where this hearing aid shines is in its sound quality and secure fit.
9. MEDca Behind the Ear
MEDca offers a pretty basic behind-the-ear design that amplifies sound and transmit it to an earbud. It’s pretty large and bulky, so it’s not very discrete, and reviews are mixed when it comes to the sound quality and amplification level.
10. NewEar In-The-Canal
NewEar has a behind the ear and an in the canal model of its hearing aids, but generally this company seems to perform better with the over the ear type.
Users of the NewEar in-canal design don’t like the fit, and they find that the battery life leaves something to be desired. There are better designs out there when it comes to the in the canal design of hearing aids.
Who should buy hearing aids?
Hearing aids are made for people who are hard of hearing. While you’d usually associate this problem with older adults, there are a lot of middle-aged and even younger people who have hearing loss.
One of the problems with losing your hearing is that it is a gradual process. You are often the last person to find out that your hearing is going bad. A hearing aid is a simple solution to the gradual loss of sensitivity to sound in your inner ear, and in some ways, could be thought of as one of the first “smart devices.”
Hearing aids consist of a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker; their job is to amplify the sounds around you so you can hear them better. It’s a simple concept, but it’s very technically challenging, because you don’t want to amplify everything across the board.
For example, it’s far better to amplify voices, but not ambient noise. The quality of the microphone, the quality of the speaker, and the technology behind the amplifier are some of the technically challenging steps that distinguish between a good hearing aid and a bad hearing aid.
How we ranked
When formulating our rankings of the top hearing aids on the market, we looked in detail at each of the three key components of a hearing aid: the microphone, the speaker, and the amplifier.
For the microphone and the speaker, the dynamic range and sound fidelity were both of critical importance. A good hearing aid should receive and retransmit high-quality sound, at a volume that’s loud enough to overcome hearing loss. At the same time, you also want a hearing aid with the right technology to prevent feedback from a too-loud speaker and a too-sensitive microphone
You also don’t want a device that can’t handle a wide dynamic range of sounds, from soft conversation to loud music. We also looked closely at the technology used in the amplification process: high quality products were ones that used sophisticated noise-cancelling and anti-feedback algorithms to improve sound quality and avoid “squealing” and whistling that can be a problem with lower-quality hearing aids.
Beyond just the technology, the design of the hearing aid was also an important factor in our consideration. Broadly speaking, there are two types of design strategies for a hearing aid: in-canal and behind-the-ear.
Neither style is definitively superior; each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Behind the ear hearing aids are the traditional way to make a hearing aid: the battery and on-board computers are housed in a unit that sits behind your ear, and the sound is transmitted either via a tube or a wire to your inner ear.
These hearing aids have the advantage of being able to incorporate bigger batteries and more electronic equipment, possibly leading to better sound processing technology.
On the flip side, an in-canal hearing aid looks a lot like a wireless earbud: it sits firmly in your ear, with no outward protrusions that have to sit behind your ear.
These hearing aids are very low-profile, but face some size limitations when it comes to the battery and the on-board electronics. However, they do have the advantage of placing the speaker right next to your inner ear.
When it comes to features and functionality, we had to give the edge to hearing aids that used a behind the ear design, but we kept several of the best in-ear designs on our list because many people place a great deal of importance on a discreet appearance, or don’t want the behind the ear “bulge” from a traditional unit. Our final rankings strive for a balance between technological and design features.
When you have hearing loss, it can be alarming how much of your life you miss out on. A hearing aid is a quick and easy fix to get around the negative effects of hearing loss.
Happily, you don’t even need a doctor’s order to get a hearing aid, as many high-quality designs are now available over the counter.
The prevalence of hearing loss is staggering. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, fully 30 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss–this represents almost 13% of the population aged 12 and older (1).
Worse, the prevalence increase substantially when you consider the number of people who have “unilateral” hearing loss, which is hearing loss on only one side. When considering one-sided hearing loss, the prevalence climbs to 48 million people. That’s one in five people in the general population.
Hearing loss tends to affect men more commonly than women, and the prevalence goes up as your age gets older. Just like elderly people deal with loss of vision, loss of testosterone levels, loss of muscle mass, two thirds of adults will deal with the loss of hearing.
One troubling finding is that many people with mild to moderate hearing loss don’t use hearing aids to compensate for their hearing loss. In fact, many of them may not even recognize that they have mild hearing aid.
A study published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2011 found that only 40% of people with moderate hearing loss used hearing aids, and a measly 4% of people with mild hearing loss used hearing aids (2).
While the inconvenience of using a hearing aid might justify not using a hearing aid in mild cases of hearing loss, the fact that over half of people with moderate hearing loss don’t use hearing aids is a point of concern, especially because the effects of hearing loss are more insidious than just missing out on some auditory events in life.
There is emerging evidence that hearing loss is associated with increased risk for dementia. This was first reported by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who conducted a study on over 600 people who underwent screening for hearing loss during the 1990s (3).
The subjects were followed over the next twelve years, and the researchers conducting the study documented the incidence of dementia in the cohort of people. They found that hearing loss was a significant risk factor for dementia, and moreover, the greater the degree of hearing loss, the greater the risk of dementia.
Those with mild hearing loss were only about 1.9 times as likely to develop dementia compared to those who had no hearing loss, but moderate hearing loss conferred a 3-fold increase in risk, and those with severe hearing loss were nearly five times as likely to develop dementia.
These findings were significant even after controlling for potentially confounding factors, like gender and age at time of screening.
The authors discuss the possible implications of this finding in depth. There are two potential explanations; the first is that some unknown factor–perhaps a genetic trait–causes both hearing loss and cognitive decline.
But another plausible explanation is that the hearing loss is actually causally related to cognitive decline–i.e. Losing your hearing actually leads to mental decline. This could be because missing out on sounds, voices, and conversations results in less cognitive stimulation of your brain.
If this is the case, wearing a hearing aid could potentially negate this effect, since it would allow you to engage your brain with the auditory world again. This would result in more brain stimulation, more engagement, and less cognitive decline as you get older.
While there needs to be more research on this finding, since these results were reported less than ten years ago, the causal link is at least plausible, and since there are few downsides to wearing a hearing aid, it’s worth recommending to people with hearing loss. So, how should you select a hearing aid if you have hearing loss?
Broadly speaking, hearing aids come in two styles. The first and more common variety is the behind the ear model. This is probably what comes to mind when you think of a hearing aid: a rectangular box that sits behind the ear, powered by a battery that amplifies sound and sends it into your ear canal via a speaker.
The benefits of this design include longer battery life, better sound amplification, and often (though not always), better sound quality. The larger volume of the behind the ear box allows for electronic components and larger batteries that wouldn’t fit in a low-profile design. As such, these kinds of hearing aids tend to have more sophisticated noise cancellation technology, and often have multiple different amplification settings to choose from by adjusting a dial on the back of the hearing aid.
The drawbacks are pretty obvious: they can be pretty large, and they’re hanging off your ear for the whole world to see. If your skin tone doesn’t match the standard tan that’s used by most companies, it will be even more obvious you are wearing a hearing aid.
The bulky design is less of a problem in the lastest design; some of the top behind the ear models now are no larger than a pencil eraser. If you have medium to long hair, you can effectively hide it behind your ear and hairline.
Many of the top behind the ear hearing aids have taken the innovative step of putting the speaker inside the behind the ear unit, and using a hollow tube to conduct the amplified sound into the hearing canal. Older models used to run a metal wire from the box to a speaker that sat in the ear.
The other style of hearing aid is the in the canal design. As the name suggests, this hearing aid sits inside your ear canal, held in snugly by a silicone rubber flange much like an earbud.
The only difference is that there’s no wire coming out–the unit is totally self-contained. For a totally discrete look, it’s impossible to beat the in the canal hearing aid design.
The downsides with in-ear hearing aids are primarily related to the size. Because the design parameters put a high premium on being low profile, the battery life in these hearing aids tends to be worse than in a behind the ear design.
Since there’s less room for electronic components like amplifiers, microphones, and sound processing technology, the amplification and sound quality may not be as good. One advantage in the sound quality department is that the speaker sits directly in the canal, instead of in the behind the ear unit.
Hearing aids can have negative effects when used improperly. If they aren’t cleaned regularly, the skin around the hearing aid can get irritated or even infected, and if the hearing aid is used at an improperly loud setting, you could actually worsen your hearing loss by exposing yourself to sounds that are too loud.
This is why a high-quality hearing aid with a proper method of adjusting the volume is very important when selecting a hearing aid.
A poorly fitted or poorly functioning hearing aid can cause “whistling” or “squealing” noises. These are the result of feedback: exactly the same phenomenon that happens when a microphone is too close to a speaker.
What happens in these cases is that small noises emitted by the speaker of the hearing aid are picked up by the microphone, and the sound gets amplified, emitted by the speaker, and picked up by the microphone again. There are several potential causes for a whistling or squealing hearing aid. The first and easiest is a poorly-fitted hearing aid.
Either your hearing aid is not inserted properly, or the in-ear portion of your hearing aid is too small. In either case, you can have a large air gap between your ear and the speaker, which lets sound “leak” back out to the microphone of your hearing aid.
Another simple fix is the presence of ear wax: having your ear cleaned out by your doctor could fix the issue. You could also be getting whistling and squealing because the volume is set too loud on your hearing aid, although if you need the volume to be loud to hear, turning it down isn’t much of an option.
Finally, a low-quality hearing aid with insufficiently advanced technology might be to blame. In this case, there isn’t much to do other than try a more advanced hearing aid.
You should use a hearing aid in any situation you need to hear better—for most people, this is all day long. It’s important to take good care of your hearing aids so they work properly.
You can do so by keeping them away from heat, moisture, and chemicals: take them off to shower, and make sure you don’t leave your hearing aids in your car on a hot day.
Whenever you use a spray-on product like hairspray or spray-on sunscreen, make sure you don’t have your hearing aids in, because the spray chemicals could get inside your hearing aids and damage them.
You should also clean your hearing aids on a regular basis, so earwax doesn’t clog the speaker. Turning your hearing aids off when they aren’t in use will save on battery life. It’s also important to replace dead batteries as soon as possible, even if you don’t plan on using your hearing aids.
Q: How much do hearing aids cost?
A: The cost of a hearing aid can range from pretty cheap (under $50) all the way up to several thousand dollars. The huge range in expense is due to large differences in the equipment, technology, and customizability of specific hearing aid functions.
With a cheap model, you’ll get a pretty basic setup: a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. Battery life will be sub-par, and you won’t have any bells and whistles.
At the other extreme, with a bleeding edge model of hearing aid, you’ll get bluetooth connectivity, customized ear moldings, super-advanced sound processing technology…you get the picture.
For most people, the best is a happy medium. A few hundred dollars can get you an excellent hearing aid, such as our number one pick, the Otofonix hearing aid.
Q: How do you clean hearing aids?
A: To clean your hearing aids, you’ll need a wax pick and a brush. You can use the wax pick to clear out any earwax that accumulates in tight areas in the in-ear molding, and use the brush to clear away larger smears of wax or ear discharge.
After clearing off any remaining residue, wipe your hearing aids dry with a clean cloth or facial tissue. Some behind the ear hearing aids have removable ear molds, which can be washed in warm, soapy water.
Make sure these get rinsed well after washing, and be sure they are totally dry before putting them back in your ear. Using a device called a bulb blower to force air through the tubing will help ensure they are totally dry.
Take care not to get any water near the electronics of the hearing aid–the ear mold should be removed before washing it.
Q: How do hearing aids work?
A: Hearing aids, in concept at least, are very simple. They work just like a megaphone: they have a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker.
The microphone is on the outside of the hearing aid, and picks up ambient sounds around you. These are processed and amplified by the electronics inside the hearing aid, then transmitted to the speaker, which sits inside your ear.
The transmitted sound is louder and clearer, enabling you to hear even if you have hearing loss. Despite this seeming simplicity, there’s a lot of technical difficulty behind the scenes.
The equipment that amplifies the sounds around you needs to take into account things like feedback and potential background noise, both of which can substantially degrade the quality of sound.
A good hearing aid will use sophisticated data processing techniques and high quality speakers and microphones to reduce these problems.
Q: How long do hearing aids last?
A: A good set of hearing aids should last several years: many experts peg the numbers at three to seven years. You can extend the lifetime of your hearing aids by cleaning them on a regular basis, keeping them away from excessive heat, moisture, and chemicals that could degrade the materials (like hairspray or sunscreen), and by regularly changing the batteries.
Having a battery test kit can be very handy–these allow you to check if your hearing aid batteries are good, which can help you diagnose any potential problems that come up with your hearing aids.
Q: How often should you clean your hearing aids?
A: Most experts recommend cleaning your hearing aids every night before you go to bed. This way, they’ll have plenty of time to air out and dry off after being cleaned.
On top of a daily cleaning, it’s best to go see your healthcare provider every six months to one year to have your ears checked and, if you have excessive earwax buildup, to have your earwax cleaned out.
Your healthcare provider can also check to see if your hearing aids are still effective at countering your hearing loss.
Q: Why are my hearing aids squealing?
A: Squealing or whistling sounds in your hearing aids are the result of acoustic feedback: some of the noise being emitted by the speaker in your hearing aid is making its way back to the microphone.
This noise gets picked up, amplified, and emitted again, causing a feedback loop from which this phenomenon derives its name. A few practical changes can eliminate squealing or whistling hearing aids. First, make sure your hearing aid fits properly.
A loose or poorly fitted ear mold will make it much easier for noise to leak out from the speaker. A corollary to this problem is the volume level: since a poor fitted ear mold means a hearing aid won’t be as effective, you’ll probably find that you’ve turned the volume up too loud, which can make feedback worse.
Another source of the problem might be the hearing aid itself: older models, or lower quality hearing aids, don’t have the same noise cancellation and anti-feedback technology that a higher quality or newer model might have.
If the other more simple fixes don’t work, you might consider getting a different hearing aid if squealing and feedback continue to be a problem.
Q: Does insurance cover hearing aids?
A: Unfortunately, hearing aids are often not covered by medical insurance. Some states require insurance providers cover hearing aids, but these rules typically apply only for children who have hearing loss (though notably, a handful of states do extend this coverage to adults).
The Veterans Affairs, or VA, does provide hearing aid coverage, making it a significant exception among large health insurance providers.
Medicare coverage will cover the exam and tests for hearing aids, but not the hearing aids themselves. If you have a private insurer, you’ll have to read the fine print in your policy, though the odds are not good (despite the fact that hearing aids are known to help prevent dementia).
If you have hearing loss, you don’t have to be relegated to a second-rate quality of life. With hearing aid technology rapidly advancing and miniaturizing, you can get a hearing aid over the counter that’s got good sound quality, high amplification, long battery life, and a low-profile fit.
Choosing the right hearing aid is a matter of deciding on whether the behind the ear or the in the canal design works best for your intended use, then selecting the right model.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both design styles, but regardless of which you choose, a high-quality hearing aid will help avoid the frustration and embarrassment that can come along with trying to live with hearing loss.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 hearing aid recommendation, click here.