Surprise Discovery Shows AirPods Can Work as Well as Expensive Hearing Aids
Higher-end AirPods have the potential to act as hearing aids for adults with mild to average hearing loss, according to a new study that put the Apple-made earbuds up against traditional hearing aids in a series of tests.
The findings could transform the lives of millions of people who don’t currently use the hearing aids they need because of the high cost of the social stigma that comes along with them – two issues that don’t apply so much to consumers’ earbuds.
The wireless earbuds are not perfect, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don’t have entry to professional hearing aids, says otolaryngologist Yen-Fu Cheng from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.
At the rate of life, they will see a boost even with these earbuds.
For the study, 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss tested with premium hearing aids (Taiwanese market the cost of US$10,000 ), basic hearing aids (US$1,500), AirPods Pro earbuds (US$249), and AirPods 2 (US$129). The AirPods were linked to Apple iPhones and had an environmental noise amplifier app called Live Listen installed.
A short sentence was read out to the volunteers, then asked to repeat them back.
In noisy environments, if the noise wasn’t coming from in front of the hearer, the AirPods Pro is comparable in performance to the premium hearing aids. The AirPods Pro quiet environments fared slightly worse than premium hearing aids and about as well as the basic hearing aids.
The hearing aids basic AirPods 2 weren’t as good as in quiet or noisy scenarios but were better than nothing. In loud environments, when the noise source was in front of the volunteers, neither model of AirPods helped participants hear better.
While the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro feature the Live Listen technology that amplifies sounds, the Pro model has active noise cancelation and detects and blocks out some external sounds. Explain this may help the discrepancy between the two sets of wireless earbuds.
Two reasons for the difference may account for the two scenarios, says bioengineer Ying-Hui Lai from the National Yang-Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. It may relate to the trajectories soundwaves travel with the advanced signal processing algorithm by premium hearing aids.
This finding will hopefully inspire engineers to design hearing aids and personal sound amplification products that are more sensitive in directions.
The high price of professional hearing aids from aside wearers can worry that they make them appear old. They also need numerous visits to health experts for fitting and tuning. As a result, 75 percent of people in the US with hearing loss don’t use these aids.
More accessible are alternative wireless earbuds, and their numbers are growing: Everyone from Google to Samsung to Sony makes a pair of wireless earbuds with extra features packed in with every update to these products.
The researchers think that their work could encourage manufacturers to include features to help those with hearing loss and features to improve the sound of music and podcasts. However, it would introduce some regulatory procedure for labeling those earbuds that would help and those that wouldn’t.
Globally, the wireless earphone market is growing, says Lai. Some organizations are nosy about studying the chance of designing earbuds with sound amplification features. Our study proves that the idea is plausible.
In the experiment, they recruited 21 subjects with mild to moderate hearing loss and asked them to wear each of the four devices. In this state, the researcher read a short sentence such as The electricity bill has risen recently and asked the subject to repeat the same sentence.
Tested in a quiet environment, AirPods Pro performed similarly to basic hearing aids and slightly less than premium hearing aids. The second-generation AirPods performed the worst of the four devices, but they were able, to hear the text more clearly than without the hearing aids.
Also, as a result of experiments in a noisy environment, it was found that AirPods Pro demonstrated performance comparable to premium hearing aids under conditions where the noise was generated from the subject’s side. However, none of the AirPods could improve hearing under the condition that noise could be heard from the subject’s front.
Both the 2nd generation AirPods and AirPods Pro have a live listening function that amplifies audio, but the upper model has active noise canceling that detects and blocks some external audio. AirPods Pro only. This point may lead to the difference in hearing assistance performance between the 2nd generation AirPods and AirPods Pro.
Regarding the results of this study, Ying-Hui Lai, a bioengineer at the National Yang-Ming Jiaotong University, pointed out that the advanced signal processing algorithms installed in premium hearing aids may also have caused the difference in hearing assistance performance.
We hope this discovery will inspire engineers to design hearing aids and personal audio amplification devices that are more sensitive to specific directions. The wireless earphone market is booming globally, and some companies are interested in the possibility of designing earphones with audio amplification, and our research proves this idea to be plausible.