Hearing loss comes in many forms and is unique to your situation. It may be something you're born with, it may be a result of an event in your life, or it may just be due to a natural degradation of your hearing as you age. Types of hearing loss are varied, too. Whatever the cause, though, it's important for you to have the best hearing aid for your specific situation. Also, hearing aids aren't a one-size-fits-all solution.
The best hearing aid for you may not be the best for your spouse. It's important to meet with an audiologist to diagnose your hearing loss and receive customized recommendations, fittings and programming based on your hearing loss and lifestyle.
Editor's note: Looking for hearing aids? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
Best hearing aid
The Pro Ears Pro Hear IV is an affordable hearing aid for people with mild hearing loss. The behind-the-ear style features three channels that can amplify sounds between 17-32 dB. It also features a fourth telecoil channel that improves audio from a phone, but it also helps for environments like the movies or watching TV.
Like more expensive hearing aids, the Pro Hear IV filters out background noise when you're in a busy place like a restaurant, but you can also set it to amplify everything, like when you're walking through the park and want to hear the music of nature. In addition, a wind screen combines with a 10-channel noise reduction filter to help you hear only what you want to hear.
When you change from one mode to another, the Pro Hear IV emits quiet tones, which helps you know which mode you're in. You'll also be notified when the battery is low. Each program has its own distinct sound so you know which one is active. This digital hearing aid also has adjustable volume that works in each of the programs.
The digital signal processor of this hearing aid provides digital, CD-quality sound even when you're in a crowded, noisy room. It comes with advanced feedback canceling, so you're less likely to hear feedback when using this device.
Best for Mild/Moderate Hearing Loss
The Simplicity Hi Fidelity EP hearing aid is an great example of a hearing aid for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. It's easy to use and fits most people comfortably. It comes with pre-programmed settings tailored to a specific range of hearing loss range, which means that it is not customizable.
The open-fit design of the Simplicity HI Fi EP eliminates the feeling of a plugged-up ear canal, which many people find uncomfortable. The design also lets sounds flow naturally into your ear. However, this means that the amplification of sound is as effective as a sealed fit, which is why this is better for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
It has a micro, poly tube that connects to a vented soft dome, which is what fits into your ear canal. The vented dome and the tube reduce mechanical failure caused by ear wax. And for greater amplification, you can opt for a medium or large tube.
With an automatic circuit construction, the Hi Fi EP works with two electronic controls – a volume control and a tone compression control. The latter control separates low and high frequencies for better clarity. Additionally, this device amplifies only soft sounds while using acoustic transparency for loud noises.
Best for Severe Hearing Loss
The HI BTE Power Plus hearing aid is a behind-the-ear model designed for those with severe hearing loss. The device is designed to adapt intuitively to your environment using digital algorithms. The manufacturer programs this device to fit your individual needs.
Therefore, you must have a hearing test so the manufacturer can customize it to fit your specific hearing needs. This device also requires the use of a custom ear mold, which is not included with its purchase. You can order custom molds online or visit an authorized hearing aid center to have them created for you.
The HI BTE Power Plus is a digital hearing aid with directional processing to help localize sound and eliminate background noises. This means you can focus on your conversation in a room full of people. In addition, the 12 dB gain adjustment bands help manage the noise around you for improved hearing precision.
This hearing aid includes a telecoil option, which improves your hearing when using a phone. This feature is also ideal for events and looped services, such as ceremonies at a church or schools that use a public address system.
This hearing aid features a tri-mode noise-reduction system and an advanced adaptive feedback manager. These advanced features help ensure that the hearing aid delivers quality sound and intelligible speech.
Best for Tinnitus
The Phonak Audeo V-30 is like most hearing aids, in that it has noise reduction and digital signal processing, but it also features a tinnitus reduction function. Tinnitus is a ringing in your ears that occurs from damage to the inner ear, typically from loud noises. With the Tinnitus Balance feature, the V-30 sends out a signal that helps minimize or neutralize the ringing.
This digital hearing aid uses the AutoSense OS, an operating system that intuitively adapts to your sound environment. It switches between eight channels that adjust automatically to your background. This hearing aid comes in 11 colors so you can choose the one that best matches your hair, complexion color or personality.
This hearing aid is loaded with features. With SoundRecover, the V-30 can help to restore high-frequency sounds around you while the auto acclimatization feature increases the amplification automatically when the sounds are too soft. A QuickSync feature is used when you have a hearing aid for both ears to ensure that the audio is synced together. And a NoiseBlock feature blocks out annoyances, such as a humming sound that comes from an appliance or noise in traffic.
This hearing aid is Bluetooth-ready to sync with your devices. With additional accessories, you can enjoy full wireless connectivity. For instance, the Easy Call II accessory lets you connect to any wireless phone. Phonak offers a RemoteControl app so you can adjust the settings discreetly from your smartphone or tablet.
Best for Moderate/Severe Hearing Loss
The Ovation Boost is a lightweight, behind-the-ear hearing aid designed specifically for people with moderate to severe hearing loss. Like most hearing aids, it has four pre-programmed settings, which your audiologist needs to program to your specific hearing loss for the best results. The settings, however, allow you to customize the amplification for specific settings, such as when you’re listening to the TV, in a noisy environment or a quiet environment.
The digital processor uses an adaptive feedback cancellation feature to eliminate background noises in the highest frequency ranges, such as the howling and whistling of the wind. This layered noise-reduction technology is common in hearing aids, but it works to amplify the frequencies you have deficiencies with while the open-canal design lets the frequencies you do hear well through.
One of the biggest downsides to this hearing aid is the lack of an IP-rating for water and dust protection, which means removing it for workouts and being careful in the rain. In addition, it lacks the advanced convenience features common in more expensive hearing aids, like Bluetooth and smartphone app control. It also lacks a telecoil option for use with telephone calls.
How we tested hearing aids
We've covered hearing aids for four years now. Unlike most of our reviews, our goal with hearing aids isn't to find the best hearing aid, but to be a resource for your purchasing decision.
I cannot stress this enough, but I am not an audiologist. I have extensive experience reviewing the audio quality of speakers and headphones, and I've reviewed senior care products since 2013, but I am not an expert in hearing loss. For the best hearing aid, you should consult with an audiologist so that you know what kind of hearing aid is best for you. Audiologist can also help with the customized fitting and customized programming, which is an important part of a hearing aid.
Since the best hearing aids are largely dependent on your hearing loss situation, we can't effectively test these devices for a comparison. Hearing aids really are dependent on the user's degree of hearing loss, ear configuration and comfort preferences.
Instead, we researched the best and most popular hearing aids on the market. We looked at user reviews and considered the specifications to provide excellent examples of how different types of hearing aids work for different types of hearing loss.
Hearing aids: What to look for
While you don't need a diagnosis from a physician or a prescription to purchase a hearing aid, we recommend you consult with an audiologist (a physician that specializes in hearing) to diagnose your hearing loss. Often, you need an audiologist to customize your hearing aid’s fit and programming so you can hear as well as possible. However, if you already know what type of hearing loss you have, you should consider the following features:
Hearing aids either use an analog method of amplifying sounds or a digital signal processor. The analog versions simply receive sound and amplify it. In many ways, this type of hearing aid creates a more natural listening environment. However, since age-related hearing loss is typically the result of your ears picking up a narrower frequency range than before, it is likely less about needing amplification and more about not being able to differentiate between many sounds – for example, being able to pick out your granddaughter's voice in a room full of people. In this case, an analog hearing aid isn't going to be much help.
Digital hearing aids, pick up sound with a microphone and analyze and process it before it’s amplified. This means the hearing aid can focus its amplification and filter out background noises. In other words, you can hear your granddaughter in a room full of people. The advantage of digital is clear, which is why you won't find many analog hearing aids on the market. That said, analog hearing aids are more affordable, so they might be a good option if you're hearing loss is mild.
Size & Type
The type of hearing aid you need depends on the nature and severity of your hearing loss. Minor hearing loss, namely that associated with age, is often improved with the use of an in-the-canal aid. Moderate loss requires more power, and in-the-ear models can help improve hearing quality. If you suffer from severe to profound hearing loss, though, you need more amplification, and that comes from the behind-the-ear and receiver-in-canal hearing aid models.
A telecoil is a small copper coil built into a hearing aid that makes talking on the telephone much easier, and it’s a common feature. Hearing aids with a telecoil filter out background noise and only pick up sounds from the telephone receiver. Some advanced models automatically switch to telecoil when you pick up a phone, while others transmit the signal to your other ear so you can talk using one hearing aid but hear the sounds coming from the receiver with both ears. If you work in a profession where you use the telephone frequently, you should look for an aid with a telecoil option.
There are additional features you'll want to consider when purchasing a hearing aid. For example, directional microphones help pick up sound when you're in social environments with lots of background noise.
In addition, advanced models have wireless connectivity, which lets you sync your aid to Bluetooth-compatible devices, such as your cell phone or television, and direct audio input lets you connect your hearing aid to audio devices. If you wear two hearing aids, some models can sync together so adjustments made to one are automatically made to the other.
Another feature you want to pay attention to is a hearing aid's ingress protection or IP rating. The IP rating indicates the degree to which the hearing aid is protected against dust or water.
How do I choose the right hearing aid?
Finding the best hearing aid is a lot more complicated than reading about a comparison of brands and choosing the most affordable, least noticeable or most comfortable.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for choosing the best hearing aid:
Step 1: Meet With an Audiologist
Hearing aids aren’t one size fits all – different types of hearing loss require different types of correction. Hearing aids don’t simply amplify sound. Rather, they need to be tuned to amplify specific frequencies according to your hearing loss. This means you need to have your hearing loss diagnosed by an audiologist. Not only can they determine what kind of hearing loss you have, but they can also tune your hearing aid so it’s optimized to your hearing.
Step 2: Consider Comfort Over Discreteness
When you meet with an audiologist, ask to try on as many kinds of hearing aids as possible. If you don’t already wear hearing aids and have a comfort preference, this is essential to make sure you find a comfortable pair. Don’t underestimate comfort – it doesn’t matter how discreet your hearing aids are if they aren’t comfortable because you are more likely to take them out.
There are many kinds of fittings:
- Completely in the canal (CIC & mini CIC)
- In the canal (ITC)
- In the ear (ITE, full-shell ITE, half-shell ITE)
- Behind the ear (BTE)
- Receiver in canal (RIC)
- Receiver in the ear (RITE)
Each fitting is designed for specific comfort preferences and hearing loss types. Choosing a hearing aid based on whether people can see it or not might not be ideal for your hearing loss.
Step 3: Determine Budget
With a lot of consumer products, you should set your budget before you go shopping. But with hearing aids, the above steps need to be worked out before you know what is even available. After finding out more about your hearing loss and comfort preferences, your audiologist can help you narrow down the list of appropriate hearing aids, which will vary in price, convenience features and battery life. How much you’re willing to pay can help you decide what convenience features you can afford. For example, if you have a smaller budget, you may not want hearing aids with Bluetooth and app control.
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