The Apple Company announced a series of new features in October 2021 for its popular AirPods Pro product from earbuds to a hearing aid. These new features, along with past improvements, have led many to suggest AirPods pro are now suitable for some as hearing enhancement devices.

At the time of the announcement, Apple promoted their Conversation Boost feature for AirPods Pro. Conversation Boost helps people with mild hearing loss improve the clarity and volume of speech sounds. Even people with no hearing impairment can use the Conversation Boost feature to improve clarity and volume in noisy environments.

Future of Conversation Boost Not Entirely Clear

Apple has not yet announced plans to market AirPods Pro or any other device as strictly a hearing aid. However, the company is currently developing technology that would allow people who already use its earbuds to take their temperature in the inner ear, among several other health-related features.

FDA Approval and Market Demand

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently drafting legislation that would make it easier for companies like Apple, Bose, Samsung, Nuheara and Olive Union to sell hearing aids without a prescription. Thousands of people with mild to moderate hearing loss welcome this news. 

Many currently go without the amplification they need due to the high out-of-pocket cost of traditional prescription hearing aids. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids should be available to the public sometime in late 2022.

The Larger Hearables Market

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), up to 80 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids do not purchase them. While cost is certainly a factor, some people shy away from hearing aids due to a perceived stigma. The organization also reports that one in seven American adults have some degree of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound.

While that news might sound discouraging, the good news is that an entire industry has cropped up to give people alternatives to traditional hearing aids. Here are just a handful of examples of hearables currently on the market:

  • Commodity true wireless earbuds
  • Hearing aid hearables
  • Hearing enhancement earbuds
  • Sports true wireless earbuds
  • Voice-focused true wireless earbuds

While each type of technology looks and functions a bit differently, all share four common features that enhance sound. These are the battery, microphone, sound processor, and speaker. Depending on the specific design of the hearable, it may have tap-touch functionality, noise-cancelling ability, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Other Hearing Enhancement Earbuds Options

No Apple hearables product currently qualifies as a hearing aid, including AirPods Pro. This is true of earbuds products released by other companies as well since the FDA has yet to grant approval for OTC hearing aids. 

Another space to watch when OTC hearing aids debut is the Australian company, Nuheara. Nuheara first released their IQbuds hearable product in 2016. Their most recent release, IQbuds MAX, offers customized settings that detect the user’s ability to hear sounds clearly in the 500 to 6,000 hertz range. 

After users complete the brief hearing test, their smartphone application creates a profile that automatically adjusts the filtering of incoming sound. Users can further customize their experience by creating separate settings for several common environments, such as office and home.

BOSE already launched their own hearing aid, the SoundControl™, although it is not available for over-the-counter purchase. Start-up company, Olive Union, also recently debuted their Olive Pro earbuds, marketing them as “hearing enhancement earbuds” as well.

The demand for hearables continues to grow each year as people look for more affordable and personalized solutions. Consumers would be wise to watch the market to ensure they can buy OTC hearing aids as soon as they become available.