Personal Amplifiers: A Good Alternative To Hearing Aids

Are you having trouble hearing nearby conversation? Maybe your family is telling you the TV volume needs to be turned down. Or maybe you’ve moved to the front row of your worship service because you seem to be missing a few words here and there when you sit in the back.

You think you’re not quite ready for a hearing aid, but you dislike straining to hear the important messages that are being spoken all around you. In this case, you may want to consider using a personal amplifier. But before making that decision, it’s important to understand the differences between a personal amplifier and a hearing aid.

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are classified as medical equipment. This means they can’t be purchased over the counter, or without a prescription. To get a prescription for a hearing aid, you must go through a hearing test, called an audiogram.

Hearing aids are fitted on or in your ear. They are specifically designed for people with hearing loss, and their manufacturing process is regulated by the FDA.

There are different types of hearing loss that range from mild to severe and that affect the detection of different frequencies. Hearing aids can be programmed for the user’s specific type of hearing loss, based on the results of their audiogram. Because a hearing aid is so specialized, the price is significantly more.

Personal Amplifiers

Personal amplifiers are sold over the counter. They are not classified as medical equipment, and are officially marketed to “hearing” users that just need a volume boost. No prescription or test is necessary to purchase a personal amplifier and since they are not regulated by the FDA, the quality can vary. A $10 personal amplifier purchased from your local drug store will not perform as well as a high-end amplifier purchased from a medical supply company.

Since personal amplifiers are ready to use straight out of the box, there is no fitting procedure. The amplifiers have a design that is appropriate for universal use by most adults. This is why personal sound amplifiers are not made to stay inside of your ear all day. In fact, most amplifiers have an over-the-ear design or make use of features such as handsets, earphones, or earbuds.  

Personal amplifiers are not programmed for the user’s specific type of hearing loss. However, a good quality personal amplifier will come pre-programmed from the manufacturer to block out environmental sounds, such as background noise at a restaurant. Inexpensive amplifiers don’t do this.

Which One Works Better?

You might assume that hearing aids always work better since they are more customized and they are regulated by the FDA. However, Chase Smith, Laura Ann Wilber, PhD, and Kim Cavitt, AuD published a research article in the July 2016 edition of Hearing Review that seemed to show that assumption is not always true.

The results of their research were that some high-end personal amplifiers had the ability to outperform low-end hearing aids. Specifically, “Some devices, like the MD Hearing Aid Pro, are subjected to full FDA regulations and are classified as a hearing aid, yet they are outperformed by a high-end PSAP. While FDA regulation is intended to ensure device quality and patient safety, that effect is not entirely evident in the results of this study.”

They also concluded, “High-end PSAPs provided appropriate levels of amplification and directional benefit for users with high-frequency hearing losses ranging from mild to moderate in severity.”

Personal Amplifiers: A Good Alternative

Based on this information, it is safe to say that for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, personal amplifiers might be a good alternative to hearing aids. And high-quality personal amplifiers will work much better than cheap ones purchased over-the-counter at your local drug store.

If you are not ready to commit to the time and expense associated with getting fitted for a hearing aid, or you don’t feel you need to have your hearing amplified in every situation, there are a variety of personal amplifiers available to choose from.

Are you looking for a device to help you understand nearby conversation? If so, the WEAR Personal Amplifier is a good choice. The WEAR uses ten directional microphones to pick up sounds less than six feet away. It doesn’t pick up on background noise. The WEAR uses earbuds to deliver the sound, and clips onto the user’s clothing with a magnet.

The HAHA Communicator works like a phone handset, and is able to increase gain up to 45 dB. The user holds it to their ear, like a traditional phone, and the mic that is in the handset picks up the sounds around it. The charger base includes a sterilizer so that each listener can be assured they are using a clean device. The HAHA can be purchased by someone who needs assistance hearing, or it can be purchased by a business or individual who communicates with the public and wants to make themselves more accessible to their customers with hearing loss.

The Super Ear Plus picks up sound over 100 yards away and amplifies it over 50 dB. It uses both earbuds and walkman-style headsets. The Super Ear Plus has a high sensitivity, hand held microphone that can be swiveled and pointed in any direction to better focus in on the person you want to hear. Some places of worship or school lecture halls make amplifiers like the Super Ear Plus available to attendants. Owning your own Super Ear Plus would mean not having to worry if the venue you are at is prepared to offer these accommodations.

And finally, if earbuds and headphones aren’t your thing, you might want to try the Stealth Amplifier. The Stealth Amplifier is designed to be as inconspicuous as possible. This amplifier is designed to look like a cell phone ear piece. Although you don’t get the custom fit of a hearing aid, the Stealth comes with three different rubber ear tips so that you can create your own optimal fit. The Stealth also amplifies up to 50dB.

These personal amplifiers are all the type of good quality amplifier that the study concluded should provide appropriate amplification to users with mild to moderate hearing loss.

In a future posting, we will discuss Personal FM Systems and Group FM Systems. These systems both use separate transmitters and receivers. Personal FM systems are great for small groups or classrooms, when a specific user wants to better hear the teacher or speaker. Group FM systems are great to broadcast a speaker’s voice to multiple people in the congregation or classroom.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

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