Photo: AirPods 3rd generation

Some commercial earbuds may be as effective as hearing aids at increasing sound for those with hearing loss, claims a recent study that appeared in the journal iScience.

This discovery may offer a more accessible and cheap solution for the vast majority of hearing-impaired individuals who encounter obstacles while trying to get a professional hearing aid.

The high cost and the requirement for numerous appointments with otolaryngologists and audiologists for tuning are some of these obstacles. Nearly 75% of Americans who have hearing loss are thought to not be using hearing aids.

According to Yen-fu Cheng, an otolaryngologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and the study’s corresponding author, there is also a societal stigma attached to wearing hearing aids. Because they don’t want to look old, many patients are hesitant to wear them. We therefore began looking towards more accessible options.

In 2016, Apple released a function called “Live Listen” that enables users to use their iPhone and AirPods wireless headphones for sound amplification. With this function, AirPods are functionally comparable to a personal sound amplification device that is made for persons with normal hearing and is used for activities like birdwatching.

Cheng and his team intended to find out if the widely accessible AirPods could be used in place of hearing aids. The researchers contrasted the noise-canceling AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro with a class of high-end hearing aides and a basic set of hearing aids.

The most expensive hearing aids are $10,000, while the least expensive ones are $1,500. The price of AirPods 2 ($129) and AirPods Pro ($249) makes them both much less expensive than hearing aids. In particular, AirPods Pro satisfied four of the five technological requirements for hearing aids.

The team used 21 individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss to test the four devices. The participants were instructed to repeat the line verbatim while wearing the devices after the researchers read them a brief sentence, such as “the power expenses went up recently.”

They discovered that AirPods Pro performed comparably to entry-level hearing aids in a quiet setting and somewhat worse than premium hearing aids.

Despite having the worst performance of the four, AirPods 2 improved participants’ hearing relative to not wearing any hearing aids. 

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