When someone says “hearing aid”, an image of the standard Behind-the-Ear (BTE) or In-the-Ear (ITE) model usually comes to mind. However, did you know that you can also use AirPods as hearing aids? They're more amplifiers (like the Olive Union Smart Ear) than fully-fledged hearing aids, but they can help your hearing nonetheless!
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?
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. You'll have seen people wearing them at the supermarket or on your commute.
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, making them an essential accessory for the average Apple user. As Apple increase the capacities of their headphones, it's becoming increasingly easy to use AirPods as hearing aids.
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 AirPods as hearing aids to help you better understand 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 - so you're essentially using your AirPods as hearing aids!. While this may sound like a relatively simple function, it is a fantastic accessibility feature that holds an incredible amount of potential.
We've also written a blog on the other features Apple have integrated into their devices to help people with hearing loss.
Can You Use New (October 2019) Airpods 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 mean you could use the AirPods as hearing aids with even more functionalities!
While some users may be unaware of any features beyond the standard headphone capacity, those with hearing loss may view the fact that they can use AirPods as hearing aids as the key reason to purchase.
You can pick up a pair of Apple AirPods Pro for around $249. This makes them a much cheaper alternative to standard hearing aids which can retail for up to $6000 per hearing aid.
If you still think that using AirPods as hearing aids is an expensive choice, then you can try and use your existing headphones. There are lots of smartphone apps you can try that will help you manage your hearing loss, whether it's mild or profound.
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. These are important to take into account if you are planning to use your AirPods as hearing aids.
- 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 AirPods as hearing aids 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 younger and more tech-savvy demographics, meaning they lack the ease of use and simplicity of a traditional hearing aid.
- Relying solely on the AirPods as hearing aids 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 using AirPods as hearing aids is not their intended function 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 PSAPs are a great idea if you would like an extra boost to your environmental sound.
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.
Before you start using AirPods as hearing aids, you should take our online hearing test. If you have anything more than mild hearing loss, 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: