AirPod Pros are functionally pretty close to hearing aids, reports new scientific study

Originally published at: AirPod Pros are functionally pretty close to hearing aids, reports new scientific study | Boing Boing


Funny you should say that. Because my hearing aids are functionally pretty close to Air Pods.


Air Pod Pro - $250.00 vs. OTC Hearing Aid -$799.00


According to the study’s authors, the AirPods Pro are more like personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). PSAPs are much more affordable than hearing aids but can’t be customized to match a person’s unique hearing loss. Instead, they amplify all sounds. They’re also intended for people with normal hearing who want a bit of a boost. For example, hunters and birdwatchers who are listening for small, faint sounds. Lastly, PSAPs aren’t regulated by the FDA and may not meet the same requirements for maximum sound output or quality as hearing aids.



Sadly I can’t find the one with guy using the Whisper 2000 to eavesdrop on some young ladies talking about him. Gone forever???

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Interesting. I have the 2nd gen airpods pro now, replacing my v1s. The funny thing is - I didn’t want them. I had Bluetooth headphones that I thought were perfectly acceptable. My partner bought it for me anyway and I learned how wrong I was. Fast forward another year and I can once again say that the v2s noise cancellation is incredible, and I’m happy she got me the upgrade. (I am one of those middle-management types who spends nearly half their time in meetings in any given day, so these live in my ears a LOT.)

Now, to this study.

I’m especially interested here because 1) I’m getting older, 2) I’ve belonged to the apple hearing study for a few years now, which uses AirPods to measure hearing loss in conjunction with the University of Michigan, and as a result I get ad-hoc hearing tests every quarter or so that I’ve been charting to see how my hearing is faring as I get older, and 3) because Transparency mode - which you can enable and is like a hybrid of noise cancellation that ALSO tries to amplify voices, is frankly uncannily good at doing just that. I know this study didn’t use transparency mode, but I am very interested to know how that mode compares to an actual hearing aid.


Sounds like AirPods deficiencies vs. hearing aids are a software update away. They already have a robust integration of other health data and they’ve got very long history of accessibility features for hearing impairment. Seems like simply mapping one’s prescription hearing profile to their devices would accomplish the task. I highly doubt that PSAP manufacturers are sitting on revolutionary tech that hasn’t been eclipsed on the consumer market already.

For context, the reason this is coming up is because the FDA changed the requirements and allowed for OTC hearing devices that are dramatically cheaper than prescription hearing aids. The medical device industry is rife with extraordinary upcharges for fairly common technology. The difference, and the cost they inflate and pass though, is that they have gone through the rigors of getting FDA device approval, a difficult and time-consuming task. Once you’re in, though, it’s screw-job time. I would love to see a company like Apple sieze this opportunity to close the gap between the functionality of true PSAPs and OTC hearing devices.

ETA: This is like the rise of Warby Parker and Zenni. Because of HIPAA, the patient owns their script now and can take it anywhere they damn well please. The difference in affordable accessibility means that people who couldn’t afford insurance, their insurance only covers limited instances per time period, or limits them to one pair of glasses/hearing aid/inhaler can suddenly take their business elsewhere where they won’t be locked into to abusive practices and restrictions.


Maybe close to the new OTC variety of hearing aid, and that’s good.
But there’s no comparison (well, not a favorable one…) between my Airpod pros and my prescription hearing aids. For one thing, my HA are tuned differently left and right.


One good outcome might be to de-stigmatise hearing aids. For a variety of reasons, a lot people who should be wearing them refuse to. Maybe having them associated with cool tech might change that a bit.


Airpods Pro are possibly the only gadget I am unequivocally enthusiastic about, and I don’t even have the new version (yet). My hearing is fine so far, but if you want to hear less they’re great. You stick them in your head, they make that little “bdonk” sound and then the world goes away, which I never even realised how much I craved (possibly for autism reasons).

In fact I like it so much that last weekend I went and got the big airpods and I’m not even sorry. I have to customise them some more before I can wear them outside, but even at home I’ll wear them just for the sweet sweet hearing loss. I didn’t say that to the fully deaf Apple Store employee who sold me them though.

I can think of lots of interesting ways they could develop these things beyond mere headphonery. Like, it would be cool if they could shut out everything except speech from dead ahead, so you could have quiet conversations in bars. With UWB radio, you could even have them work as a kind of line-of-sight walkie talkie. And I also wonder if it’s possible for them to alter the acoustics of your environment rather than just muting it – say, making it sound like you’re in a much bigger space, or camouflaging city streets as a beach or forest. I’m not sure even Apple have grokked how much of the appeal of these things is the experience of the device itself, rather than how it makes YouTube videos sound.


A superhero with hearing aids, maybe?

Hawkeye Hearingaid


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