Updated March 2, 2018:
We have changed a couple of our top picks to ensure we are only recommending the best quality amplifiers with the latest technology and removed some of the older models. We have also modified some of the rankings based on reader’s feedback.
Hearing amplifiers and personal sound amplifier products (PSAP) can be helpful for people with mild hearing loss who need a bit of assistance hearing the TV, conversations, or when in a noisy situation like a restaurant. They can often work well as an inexpensive over the counter alternative to a hearing aid. There are all kinds of different styles of personal sound amplifiers to choose from for a wide range of budgets. There is also new technology that is helping those who are hard of hearing to hear more clearly, at a much lower price than traditional hearing aids.
In this post:
- See our picks for the best over the counter personal sound amplifiers
- Learn about the different type of designs and key features to look for
- Find out how personal hearing amplifiers are different from hearing aids
- We also cover what you need to know before you buy a hearing amplifier
Best Hearing Amplifier - 2018's Product Reviews
|Empower Boost (formerly Lifeear)||Very popular, good quality behind the ear design||#1||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Pocketalker Ultra 2.0||Latest model of the wildly popular Pocketalker. Great for those who have hand dexterity issues and can't work smaller devices.||#2||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Otofonix||Popular BTE style||#3||Read the full review||Amazon|
|iHEAR MAX High Definition Hearing Device||Allows user to customize the sound of the device at home.||#4||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Empower Active||In-ear style from the popular LifeEar brand||#5||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Britzgo BHA-220||Very popular budget behind the ear design||#6||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Super Ear SE5000||Budget handheld design||#7||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Etymotic QSA Personal Sound Amplifier||In-Ear style that is telecoil equipped||#8||Read the Full Review||Amazon|
|Banglijian Hearing Amplifier Rechargeable Ziv-201||Good quality rechargeable behind the ear style||#9||Read the full review||Pricing|
See all of our Top Picks for different amplifier styles and situations including:
- The Best Devices to Help you Hear your TV
- Hearing Devices to Help People in Nursing Homes and Hospitals
- Behind the Ear
- In Ear Styles
- Hand held Devices
- Wireless TV Speakers for Hard of Hearing
What is a Hearing Amplifier?
Hearing amplifiers also known as personal sound amplifier products (PSAP) are wearable electronic products that are intended to amplify sounds for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss and need extra hearing support. PSAPs are not considered hearing aids, although a large number of people use personal sound amplifiers as a much cheaper alternative to hearing aids.
There is a wide range of different models of personal hearing amplifiers made by various manufacturers that use different types of technology and personalization to enhance hearing. You can use hearing amplifiers for television watching, to hear conversions better, while hunting, while at movie or church etc. They are often designed to look like hearing aids, but you can also buy models that look like a Bluetooth phone devices or a hand-held device with headphones.
With technology moving so quickly, the quality of amplifiers is improving constantly and new devices are coming out all the time. With so many different devices to choose from with very different price points, it is hard to find the one that will work best for you. To help determine the best option for you, we have put together a guide that goes over what you should know before buying a personal amplifier.
Personal Hearing Amplifiers vs. Hearing Aids
There is a lot of confusion over what makes a make a personal sound amplifier different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids and hearing amplifiers are both small, electronic devices that fit into the ear and amplify sound. They both use similar technology, although PSAPs are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that hearing aids are, and so do not require a medical prescription or a professional fitting. Hearing amplifiers are much less expensive than hearing aids, they range in price from $40 to $400, while hearing aids can range in price from $1000 to $7000.
Generally hearing amplifiers do not perform as well as hearing aids and are not meant for people with medium to severe hearing loss. These devices are often marketed to people who aren’t ready to get a hearing aid who have trouble hearing in particular situations. They can also be useful for people who might be without their hearing aid temporarily or for people who are unable to use a hearing aid.
Hearing professionals are generally very critical of personal sound amplifiers, but that may start to change as a new generation of technologically advanced PSAP’s become available. Some of these new devices use the latest wireless technology and come with software that lets consumers program the device themselves by downloading an app and customizing the sound to their personal preference.
The quality of hearing amplifiers varies quite a bit, so if you are interested in one of these devices as an alternate to a hearing aid, you may want to skip some of the low end products. Also be sure that whatever product you are looking at has a good warranty and good customer support.
Most hearing amplifiers are very similar in appearance to hearing aids that fit behind the ear with a piece that is placed into the canal. You can also get models that are hand-held with a microphone and headphones, or a design that looks similar to a Bluetooth device that people use with cell phones. When you are considering the different design styles think about how often you are wearing it, when will you be wearing it, and how inconspicuous do you want it to be.
You may be wearing the device all day and forget that you are wearing it. Or you might want it only for noisy situations where you need a bit of help hearing what others are saying. Since most people use hearing amplifiers as a substitute for a hearing aid, the typical hearing aid style is the most common and has the most number of models to choose from.
Before you purchase a personal amplifier, you should know about the features that you will need. Some of the higher-cost products have technology similar to that in hearing aids like multiple channels for different noise environments, noise cancellation features, the ability to adjust audio signals, and directional microphones.
One feature that is really worth having a look at is the Bluetooth wireless technology that comes with software that lets the user customize the sound of the device using an app on a phone or a computer. A product that has this feature is the Sound World Solution CS50 .
If you are just looking for something to help you watch TV, or help with hearing conversations, most basic PSAP’s will give you what you need. For lower end devices pay attention to whether it uses a charger or batteries. If it is rechargeable find out how long the charge will last. If it takes batteries remember to keep the cost of the batteries in mind when thinking about budget.
For serious sound quality you will want to look at some of the latest advances in technology from companies like Williams Sound, Bellman and Symfon, or some of the newer start-ups like iHear Max. These companies are constantly updating their technology and offer some of the latest and greatest features on the market.
Types of Hearing Amplifiers
Over the Ear
Price Range: $10-$400
The most common type of personal sound amplifier is the behind the ear style. They are designed to look like a hearing aid and function in much the same way a hearing aid would do. There is a huge range of these types of amplifiers available from very cheap (less than $10) to styles that use latest technology that can cost hundreds of dollars. As with most things, you get what you pay for, so the amplifiers that are less than $50 don’t tend to work very well. If you are looking at a lower cost amplifier pay close attention to the reviews, as a lot of the cheaper models are very bad quality.
PROS: Extremely portable and often small enough to be hidden behind the ear; minimal investment for budget models.
CONS: Sound quality varies according to cost.
Key Features: Portability, inconspicuous.
Top Picks: See the best behind the ear personal hearing amplifiers.
In the Ear
Price Range $20-$375
Companies/Brands – Etymotic Research, Empower (formerly Lifeear)
An in the ear design just, obviously, means that it is a device that you put directly into your ear. For the most part they are hard to see and can give you a good level of amplification for a reasonable price and have the same general features as the over the ear style. There aren’t as many in ear amplifiers to choose from as behind the ear.
PROS: Minimal investment for budget models.
CONS: They may be uncomfortable or may not fit in some ears
Top Picks: Best In the Ear Hearing Amplifiers
Amplifying system with microphone and listening headphones
Body-worn or hand-held amplifiers like the very popular Williams Sound Pocketalker Amplifier can help you hear what other people are saying in one-on-one conversations or small group settings. Most of these personal amplifiers come with earphones or headphones for people without hearing aids, or have a neckloop for hearing aid users to listen through their hearing aids.
Companies/Brands – Williams Sound, Bellman and Symfon, SuperEar
PROS: Extremely portable and often small enough to fit into a pocket; minimal investment for budget models.
CONS: Not as discreet as some of the behind the ear models.
Key Features: External volume & tone controls, removable microphone with extension cord.
Key Accessories: Swivel Microphone, TV listening cord, belt clip.
Top Picks: See the best hand-held personal hearing amplifiers.
Blue Tooth Enabled
Price Range: $350+
The Blue Tooth enabled designs are where you are going to find the latest technology and the best options for people who want to customize their hearing by using an app. They are also a great choice for anyone who doesn’t want the world to know they have a hearing problem, as they look just like a Bluetooth device that many people use with their cell phones.
The standout feature on Blue tooth enabled device is the ability to customize how you hear through a combination of directional noise reduction and volume amplification that you determine by going through an app performing hearing exercise that is similar to what hearing aid users go through when visiting an audiologist.
Just to confuse things, you can get budget amplifiers (under $40) that are called Bluetooth style (design, appearance) but they are not blue tooth enabled and won’t give you the kind of features you get on the higher end models.
Companies/Brands – Sound World Solutions
Pros: Very discreet looks like you are wearing a cell phone earpiece.
Cons: Not as many models to choose from.
Key Features: Portability. Customizer App Download for Apple iOS7 devices (iPhone,iPad), Android Smartphones and Bluetooth Enabled Computers
Key Accessories: Rechargeable Batteries, multiple sizes of ear tips, charger kit, carrying case, cleaning tool, (for some models); protective case.
Top Picks: See Sound World Solutions
Personal sound amplifiers come in a wide range of prices from under $10 all the way up to $400. The cost of a hearing aid can run from $1000 to $6000 per ear or per aid, so hearing amplifiers (even ones that cost $400) look like a bargain in comparison to a hearing aid.
Inexpensive devices such as the SuperEar SE4000 and NewEar BTE will give you amplification, minimize background noise, and give you the ability to wear it discretely for under $50. You should be wary of quality and usefulness of the products that fall under $50. The adage ‘you get what you pay’ for is particularly relevant for these low cost devices, so be aware you may end up with something that doesn’t work well. If you do purchase any of these devices make sure it comes with a money back guarantee.
$50 to $100
The overall quality of the devices that fall into this price category are slightly better than the lower priced models. The $60 Britzgo BHA-220 gives adjustable sound and multiple ear pieces to try to get the right fit. There are a lot of models in this price range that offer digital voice recognition with decent battery life as well as a money back guarantee. Features can be a toss-up in this price category, so you will have to do more research than with others before buying.
$100 to $200
Some of the really good quality William Sound Pocketalkers fall into this price range, giving you a lot of great features like sound amplification and reduced background noise. It has a lightweight design for portability and is easy to use. It also has a solid volume control that lets you adjust your listening to different situations. Tweak Hearing Focus Model is an over the ear model that you can get for around $190 that uses some of the same technology in hearing aids like digital volume control, automatic feedback control and sound-activated compression. It allow for some level of customization since there are from four ranges of amplification to choose from.
$200 and Up
In this price bracket, options range from behind-the-ear models life the Empower Personal Sound Amplifier for $349 to the to in-ear models such as Etymotic Research Bean ($375 and more), that amplify hard-to-hear sounds, including soft voices, while lowering the volume on loud noises. Sound World Solutions CS50 is also in this price range. These are as close as you are going to get to a hearing aid without visiting an audiologist.
Where to Buy
Lower end behind the ear hearing amplifiers can easy be bought over the counter at your local drug store or somewhere like Walmart. Best Buy sells a few amplifiers like the Williams Sound Pocketalkers or the Able Planet over the ear device. You can also get all of these devices listed above through online retailers like Amazon, or in some case directly from the manufacturer and in retail stores like Best Buy or Walmart.
How do hearing amplifiers work with cellphones?
Most amplifiers work in the same way with a cell phone as a hearing aid. Generally you may have to turn the volume on your device up or down, but you shouldn’t get any feedback or static.
I have very small/very large ears, will a personal sound amplifier be able to fit me?
Most of the mid to high quality amplifying devices will offer different sizes ear buds to ensure that you get the right fit. The right fit plays a huge part of how the product will work, so it is important that the device fits properly. If you don’t like the idea of having your ear canal blocked by the amplifier, you may want to consider some of the hand-held devices that let you wear headphones.
How long can you wear the BTE and in ear amplifiers?
The length of time varies between different products; it is generally recommended that you don’t wear amplifiers for longer than 6-8 hours, although many users wear them from when they get up to when they go to bed.
Do you have to buy a pair for both ears or can you just buy one for one ear?
It depends on what your hearing loss situation is. If you cannot hear at all out of one ear and only a little bit out of the other, then you can just purchase one for the ear that you can hear out of. If you have hearing loss in both ears then you should get a pair of amplifiers. If you have one ear that you can hear well out of and one ear that has some hearing loss, you should be fine just getting one amplifier for the ear with hearing loss.
Can you customize the amplifiers to hear high or low frequency sounds?
For budget models you won’t be able to change the setting between different frequencies. If you look at some of the higher priced amplifiers they do offer a range of settings (often 4) between low and high where you need different frequencies.
Can you wear the behind the ear amplifiers with glasses?
You can usually wear most amplifiers with glasses, although it may be a little bit uncomfortable and may take some fiddling around with the positioning of the glasses.
Do any of the amplifiers come with a telecoil to use with hearing loops and landline phones?
Generally no, you won’t find a telecoil with most of the amplifiers (even the expensive one), although there are a couple of models that do have a telecoil.
Are amplifiers covered by insurance?
For the most part, no, they are not. Although check with your insurance company.
How do I know if an amplifier will help with my type of hearing loss?
Personal sound amplifiers work best if your hearing loss is mild to moderate. If your hearing loss is severe you may find that amplifiers are not the best option for you. The general idea of these types of devices is that they amplify all the sound around you. Some of the higher end devices let you customize tone and frequency and that has noise reduction technology to help you get the best sound quality possible. Most of the higher end amplifiers have pretty good return policies so you are able to try out the device and if you find it isn’t right for your type of hearing loss you can return it.
Warranty– As mentioned above, since there is a good chance that a hearing amplifier may not work for your type of hearing loss, it is important that you are aware of what any devices return policy is in case you need to use it.
Battery Life– The battery life of the amplifier is also worth paying attention to. For most BTE devices you generally use a hearing aid type battery that should last around 5-7 days. There are a few rechargeable battery options. If you are looking for a hand-held device you should be able to get a much better battery life.
Quality– There are many inexpensive hearing amplifiers that are available that on the surface look very similar to the devices that cost in the $200-400 range. If you are wondering why there is such a difference in price, the higher end models generally offer the option to choose different frequencies, give you better amplification, and more advanced technology (similar to hearing aids). They also have higher quality line receivers which should mean you have less feedback and background noise giving you better sound quality.