A Revealing Comparison of the Latest In-Ear DevicesComparing Hearables, PSAPs and Hearing Aids
According to the World Health Organization, around 5% of the world’s population suffer from disabling hearing loss – a condition where a person feels discomfort by (un)heard combinations of pitch (Hz) and loudness (dB) levels of sound. Disabling hearing loss refers to hearing loss of greater than 40dB in the better hearing ear for adults and greater than 30dB in the better hearing ear for children when listening to specific frequencies. To put that in context, a conversation in a quiet environment reaches to around 40 – 50dB.
However, hearing impairments below 30 – 40dB can also make a person feel uncomfortable and result in a negative impact on life quality. For a person with normal hearing, the pitch range of hearing usually starts at 20 Hz and goes up to 20.000 Hz. As far as loudness is concerned, humans start hearing sounds when they are louder than 0dB.
When dealing with hearing loss, it is important to know a person’s individual and specific hearing impairments to suggest the right treatment, as not every device will compensate for hearing loss or offer hearing loss support. In addition, there are various reasons for impaired hearing, ranging from noise induced hearing loss to congenital hearing loss – and not all types of hearing loss are the same. Noise induced hearing loss, for example, refers to hearing loss after encountering sound(s) on a dangerously loud level, while congenital hearing loss refers to the hearing loss already present at birth. In this article, we will have a closer look at three types of devices that can be worn in the ear and help to improve your hearing. Those devices are hearables, hearing aids and PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products). While all of the mentioned devices are intended to enhance your hearing experience, there are significant differences among all of them which are crucial to know before purchasing any of the products.
The word “hearable” stems from the combination of the words “wearable” and “headphone” and is a relatively new product area. Hearables are also referred to as smart headphones and electronic in-ear devices that serve multiple purposes, ranging from telephony and communication to medical monitoring and fitness tracking. Most hearables work with Bluetooth technology and use smartphones or PCs as the central computing units. In contrast to hearing aids or PSAPs, they are more a lifestyle product than a medical product, often relying on wireless technology and connecting to apps that support the listening experience. When thinking about purchasing a hearable to improve the hearing experience, it is important to know that although they can be connected to apps that support the listening experience, they are not designed to treat hearing loss. Hearables are rather everyday headphones that allow you to listen and communicate without having wires attached to them. While hearables such as The Dash Pro are perfectly designed for listening to music, tracking your fitness or communicating without wires, they are not conceived to compensate for hearing loss.
PSAP (Personal Sound Amplification Products)
PSAPs are defined by the FDA as wearable electronic products that are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers”. Many people with hearing impairments feel attracted to PSAPs agreeably, because they are usually significantly cheaper than hearing aids. The average hearing aid costs between 1000$ – 5000$, whereas PSAPs can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. However, the usability is completely different. Most importantly, PSAPs do not fall under the term “hearing aid” according to the official definition by the FDA. PSAPs are designed to amplify all environmental sounds within a given radius. If they are not regulated in any way, this could result in sound levels that in fact damage rather than help a person’s hearing. In contrast to hearing aids, hearables and PSAPs can both be considered assistive listening options. However, while hearables usually offer features such as directional microphones or streaming connectivity to other devices, PSAPs focus solely on the amplification of the environmental sound. Since PSAPs amplify all surrounding sounds, they are useful in more quiet environments where people only need to focus on a few sounds, which makes them attractive for birdwatchers and hunters for example. PSAPs can somehow be compared to over-the-counter reading glasses that will in some way enhance your vision, but not in an optimized manner to your specific visual impairment.
In contrast to hearables and PSAPs, hearing aids are medical devices that compensate for hearing loss. They are regulated by the FDA and have strict limitations. Instead of amplifying all surrounding sounds, hearing aids mostly rely on broadband technology and filters to match the amplification precisely to the individual hearing impairment. If you are in a restaurant for example, they will filter the incoming sounds so you hear the surrounding noises less loudly while at the same time perceiving the sounds from a conversation much better. Their main difference to PSAPs is that hearing aids are much more suitable to be used in environments where there is a certain consistent sound level. An essential factor that influences how well hearing aids work is the so-called “fitting”. Fitting is done by an audiologist and defines the configuration of a hearing aid to match the degree of hearing loss, physical features, and lifestyle of the wearer. That way, hearing aids are able to offer a much more diversified sound amplification than PSAPs. If you suffer from hearing loss, especially if it only occurs with certain frequencies, hearing aids are the only option that offer real compensation for your hearing loss.
Headline Picture by Starkey Hearing Technologies
Hi, I'm Lukas! Editor of the Project Ears Blog and sharing Bragi's vision of a truly wireless and enabled future for everybody.