Recent national initiatives from the White House and Institute of Medicine have focused on strategies to increase the accessibility and affordability of hearing loss treatment given the average cost of $4700 for bilateral hearing aids. More affordable direct-to-consumer hearing technologies are increasingly gaining recognition, but the performance of these devices has been poorly studied. We investigated the technical and electroacoustic capabilities of several direct-to-consumer hearing devices to inform otolaryngologists who may be asked by patients to comment on these devices.
Nine direct-to-consumer hearing devices ranging in retail cost from $144.99 to $395.00 and one direct-to-consumer hearing device with a retail cost of $30.00.
Main Outcome Measure:
Electroacoustic results and simulated real-ear measurements. Main electroacoustic measures are frequency response, equivalent input noise, total harmonic distortion, and maximum output sound pressure level at 90 dB.
Five devices met all four electroacoustic tolerances presented in this study, two devices met three tolerances, one device met two tolerances, one device met one tolerance, and one device did not meet any tolerances. Nine devices were able to approximate five of nine National Acoustics Laboratories (NAL) targets within 10 dB while only three devices were able to approximate five of nine NAL targets within a more stringent 5 dB.
While there is substantial heterogeneity among the selection of devices, certain direct-to-consumer hearing devices may be able to provide appropriate amplification to persons with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and serve as alternatives for hearing aids in specific cases.