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Could your Apple AirPods work as HEARING aids? AirPods can perform as well as $10K hearing aids

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Some Apple earbuds can work as well as hearing aids and could help a large number of people with hearing loss to find more affordable devices. 

One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 or older has hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, professional hearing aids are quite expensive and require multiple visits to audiologists for tuning. 

A group of scientists wanted to discover whether AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, which are widely available and cost $129 or $249 respectively, can work as well as hearing aids. The premium hearing aid used in the study cost $10,000 and the basic type cost $1,500.

The Air Pods Pro have a built-in noise canceling feature – and the scientists note that AirPods Pro met four out of five technology standards for hearing aids. Users just have to press and hold the force sensor on either AirPod to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode (the latter allows outside sound in).

Some Apple earbuds can work as well as hearing aids and could help a large number of people with hearing loss to find more affordable devices

Some Apple earbuds can work as well as hearing aids and could help a large number of people with hearing loss to find more affordable devices

One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 or older has hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, professional hearing aids are expensive and require multiple visits to audiologists for tuning. Above: A doctor fits a hearing aid for a patient

One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 or older has hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, professional hearing aids are expensive and require multiple visits to audiologists for tuning. Above: A doctor fits a hearing aid for a patient 

In 2016, Apple came out with a feature called Live Listen that allows people to use its wireless earphones and iPhone for sound amplification. 

The feature makes AirPods work similar to a personal sound amplification product, which is made for people with regular hearing for instances like birdwatching. 

AirPods Pro, first introduced in 2019, could function as well as expensive hearing aids in some instances. Above: Apple CEO Tim Cook

AirPods Pro, first introduced in 2019, could function as well as expensive hearing aids in some instances. Above: Apple CEO Tim Cook

To use the Live Listen feature, you need to have your AirPods connected to your iPhone; go to settings, control center, and then scroll down and tap the add button to where it says ‘hearing’ with a little ear symbol. 

Researchers tested the four devices with 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss. 

They read a short sentence, such as ‘the electricity bills went up recently,’ to participants, who were asked to repeat their words while wearing the devices. 

The AirPods Pro performed similarly well compared with basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and were only slightly inferior to premium hearing aids. 

They found the AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance among the four, helped participants hear more clearly compared with wearing no hearing aids. 

In a more noisy environment, AirPods Pro showed comparable performance to premium hearing aids when the noises came from the lateral, or side, of the participant. 

However, when the noises came from the front of the participants, both AirPods models failed to help participants hear better.

‘Two reasons may account for the difference between the two scenarios,’ says Ying-Hui Lai, the study’s co-author and a bioengineer at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei, in a statement

‘It may relate to the trajectories soundwaves travel with, as well as 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 certain directions.’ 

The AirPods Pro performed similarly well compared with basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and were only slightly inferior to premium hearing aids. They found the AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance among the four, helped participants hear more clearly compared with wearing no hearing aids

The AirPods Pro performed similarly well compared with basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and were only slightly inferior to premium hearing aids. They found the AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance among the four, helped participants hear more clearly compared with wearing no hearing aids

He also adds that AirPods Pro appears to perform better than AirPods 2, likely because of its noise-canceling feature.

‘Globally, the wireless earphone market is growing rapidly. Some companies are interested in exploring the possibility of designing earbuds with sound amplification features. Our study proves that the idea is plausible,’ Lai says.  

Cheng says it can be challenging to persuade patients to use hearing aids. 

‘These wireless earbuds are of course not perfect, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don’t have access to professional hearing aids. They will see an increase in quality of life even with these earbuds,’ Cheng says. 

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