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 devices 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
- We also cover what you need to know before you buy a hearing amplifier
Best Hearing Amplifier – 2018’s Product Reviews
The Empower Boost is one of the best high end, behind the ear amplifiers that you can buy. It is an extremely popular model that a lot of people with hearing loss have had success using. It is a great quality product that is able to help people with mild to moderate hearing loss hear better in various situations at an affordable price. It offers a lot of the same types of features and components that some of the top brand traditional hearing aids do, including having four different amplification programs which are suitable for a wide range of hearing amplification needs. This is an effect device for many different types of hearing loss.
The iHEAR MAX High Definition Hearing Device is a good option if you are interested in having a high level of sound customization that you can do yourself to make sure you are getting the best sound quality possible. This is a great alternative to high priced hearing aids, especially if you are tech minded. The iHearMAX comes from a start-up called iHear Medical that are part of a group of new of companies that are trying to disrupt the current hearing aid system. Along with the low price, the advantages of this device are that it is very small and the company offers extensive support by licensed hearing professionals (some additional fees required).
The Empower Active has a slightly unique design, it sits in the bowl of your ear, so you have nothing behind your ear and nothing blocking your ear canal. It has all of the same technology of the popular Empower Boost, but with a smaller and more discreet design. The Active is an especially great design for individuals who wear glasses, or for those who don’t like the feeling of their ear canal being blocked that can occur with other types of hearing aid styles.
One of the cheapest, yet most effective products for the price is the Britzgo BHA-220. It sells for around $60, but many people are find that they are getting pretty good improvement on their hearing from this device. The features are pretty basic: 4 different frequency modes, an on/off button and volume control and you can wear it in either ear. The device itself is lightweight and most people find it comfortable to wear.
How is a Hearing Amplifier Different than a Hearing Aid?
Personal sound amplifier products (PSAP), are wearable electronic products are designed to amplify sounds for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss and need a boost to their hearing. PSAPs are often used as a cheaper alternative to hearing aids since they only cost from $40 to $400, while hearing aids can cost from $1000 to $7000.
The quality of higher end models is pretty similar to some of the lower cost hearing aids that are available. Currently PSAPs are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that hearing aids are. In 2017 the U.S Senate passed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 that means that there are going to be some changes to how the current PSAPs are defined and regulated. The FDA were given about three years to get that worked out. Hearing amplifiers are not meant for people with medium to severe hearing loss.
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 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.
If you are just looking for something to help you watch TV, or help with hearing conversations, most basic PSAP 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 startups 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 while also having 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: May be more comfortable for people who wear glasses.
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 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, easy to take on and off the earphones when needed.
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.
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 discreetly 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
The William Sound Pocketalker falls 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.A behind the ear model that has been selling well over the last year that is worth taking a look at is the Banglijian Hearing Amplifier Ziv-201. It is a rechargeable model that costs just over $100. Tweak Hearing Focus Model is an over the ear design that you can get for around $190, it uses some of the same technology that you will find in hearing aids like digital volume control, automatic feedback control and sound-activated compression.
$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. The devices in this price range are as close as you are going to get to a hearing aid without visiting an audiologist.
Where to Buy
The best place to buy hearing amplifiers is online, either through big retailers like Amazon or directly from the manufacturers website. Lower cost, and less effective devices can be bought at drug stores or places like Walmart or Best Buy.
How do hearing amplifiers work with cell phones?
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 pieces 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. The Etymotic QSA Personal Sound Amplifier, The Pocketalker 2.0 and the Bellman Maxi all have telecoils or t-coil receivers.
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 have noise reduction technology to help you get the best sound quality possible. Most of the higher end amplifiers have pretty good return policies as well, 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.