Higher-end AirPods have the potential to act as hearing AIDS for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, according to new research that pits Apple-made earplugs against traditional hearing AIDS in a series of tests.
The findings could change the lives of millions of people who currently do not use their hearing AIDS need them, because of the high cost or because of the social stigma that comes with them – two issues that don’t apply so much to consumer earplugs.
“These wireless earbuds aren’t perfect, of course, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don’t have access to professional hearing protection.” AIDSsaid otolaryngologist Yen-Fu Cheng, of Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.
“They will see an increase in quality of life even with these earplugs.”
For the purposes of the study, 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss were tested with premium hearing AIDS (cost US$10,000 in Taiwan market), basic hearing AIDS (US$1,500), AirPods Pro Earbuds (US$249) and AirPods 2 (US$129). The AirPods were paired with Apple iPhones, which had an ambient sound amplification app called Live Listen installed.
Short sentences were read to the volunteers, who were then asked to repeat them back.
In noisy environments, when the sound was not coming from in front of the listener, the AirPods Pro proved to be comparable in performance to the premium hearing AIDS. In quiet environments, the AirPods Pro fared slightly worse than premium hearing AIDSand about as good as basic hearing AIDS.
The standard AirPods 2 were not as good as hearing AIDS in quiet or noisy scenarios – but they were better than nothing at all. In noisy environments, when the sound source was in front of the volunteers, neither AirPods model helped participants hear better.
While both the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro feature Live Listen technology that amplifies sounds, only the Pro model has active noise cancellation, which detects and blocks some external sounds. This may help explain the discrepancy between the two sets of wireless earbuds.
“Two reasons could explain the difference between the two scenarios,” said bioengineer Ying-Hui Lai of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. “It may have to do with the trajectories that sound waves travel, as well as the sophisticated signal processing algorithm used by first-class hearing AIDS.”
“This finding will hopefully inspire engineers to design hearing AIDS and personal sound reinforcement products that are more sensitive in certain directions.”
Apart from the high price of professional hearing AIDS, wearers may worry about looking old. They also require multiple visits to health professionals for adjustment and reconciliation. As a result, as many as 75 percent of people in the US with hearing loss don’t use them AIDS.
Wireless earbuds are a more accessible alternative and their numbers are growing: everyone from Google to Samsung to Sony is making a pair of wireless earbuds, with additional features packing in with each update of these products.
The researchers believe their work could encourage manufacturers to add features to help people with hearing loss, as well as features to improve the sound of music and podcasts. However, it would be important to introduce some sort of regulatory procedure for labeling those earplugs that would help and those that wouldn’t.
“Globally, the market for wireless earphones is growing rapidly,” says Lai. “Some companies are interested in exploring the possibility of designing earplugs with sound amplification features. Our research proves that the idea is plausible.”
The research has been published in iScience.