Hearing aids aren’t just for older Americans. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), they’re far from being the only ones at risk: approximately 15% of American adults over 18 have reported some trouble hearing. While age is correlated with an increase in hearing loss, unfortunately not all people with some form of hearing impairment choose to use hearing aids. They’re missing out in more ways than you might think.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), there is an 83% gap between hearing aid need and use, and “only 17% of those who could benefit from use of a hearing aid actually use one.” That’s one big gap!
Hearing loss can have a huge impact on daily life for those affected. The ability to communicate with others can cause learning delays, feelings of loneliness, loss of productivity, and frustration. The economic impact is estimated at an annual cost of $750 billion.
The causes of hearing loss can be categorized into two groups - congenital and acquired hearing loss. Congenital hearing loss is present at, or soon after, birth. Acquired cases can happen at any age and are often caused by disease, injury, excessive noise, or ageing.
Though global production of hearing aids currently meets less than 10% of global need, properly fitted, affordable hearing aids would benefit many people with hearing loss according to the WHO. Barriers still exist. To start, hearing aids are not covered by insurance, making buying them a potentially expensive out of pocket experience. So, what is “affordable” when it comes to hearing aid cost?
Hearing aids can cost anywhere from $200 per device, like the ZVOX Voicebuds, to more than $6,000 per device ($12,000+ for both ears) when buying them from an audiologist. The AARP says that the average price of a hearing aid a few years ago was $2,300. Why are hearing aids so expensive? There are two main reasons: lack of consumer choice and lack of pricing transparency with certain types of retailers.
Several companies like MDHearingAid offer more affordable models under direct-to-consumer pricing, so let’s dig in to see if they are the best option - or if there are better ones available. This article will review key information about MDHearingAid:
- What is MDHearingAid?
- Buying a Hearing Aid: Direct, Over the Counter, or from an Audiologist
- MDHearingAid Products
- MDHearingAid Pricing
- MDHearingAid Battery Life
- MDHearingAid Reviews
- MDHearingAid Alternative: ZVOX Voicebuds
What is MDHearingAid?
MDHearingAid was founded in Chicago in 2009 by an Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor. Their devices are FDA-registered, programmed by an in-house audiologist, and sent directly to consumers after ordering. They provide support and a 45-day return policy from the date of purchase. Other manufacturers like ZVOX provide a 60-day return policy.
MDHearingAid as a company positions itself against the traditional avenue of buying hearing aids and the longer, “drawn out” process of too many appointments, adjustments, and a severe lack of pricing transparency. The benefits of their direct-to-consumer model include:
- Time savings
- Price savings
- Fewer adjustments
- Faster and quicker support
Buying a Hearing Aid: Direct, Over the Counter, or from an audiologist
There are two main ways to purchase a hearing aid: direct and from an audiologist. Over-the-counter hearing aids are not available yet in the United States.
Several companies sell hearing aids direct to consumers, including high-end, app-controlled models. Some examples include the MDHearingAid with their $999 Core models and the ZVOX Voicebud VB20 for $399.99. The process is relatively simple - an online order is placed, then the hearing aids are shipped to the consumer directly. For some models, consumers can take a hearing test via a synced app that tunes the device to their needs.
Buying a hearing aid from an audiologist, or brick and mortar location, involves an in-person appointment (or several), a hearing test, a waiting period, and more appointments before the hearing aids are fitted and adjusted. The cost is typically in the thousands, if not tens of thousands for two hearing aids. The lack of pricing transparency when buying direct from an audiologist has given hearing aids the stigma that all devices are expensive. Even Costco hearing aids start at around $1,500 per pair. Despite the stigma, hearing aids can be affordable and this is the case with the direct-to-consumer, online option described above.
MDHearingAid offers four products that are broken down into 4 product lines:
- Analog: MDHearingAid PRO
- Classic: MDHearingAid AIR
- Rechargeable: MDHearingAid VOLT
- Smart: MDHearingAid CORE
The MDHearingAid PRO is related to the first hearing aid type offered by MDHearingAid when the company launched. This entry-level model is designed for people who do not need a custom solution. It comes with two audio settings that MDHearingAid says can help up to 80% of people with hearing loss. According to the company, the PRO works for watching TV, conversations, and talking on the phone, but the PRO is not ideal for noisy environments, like sports matches or church.
The MDHearingAid AIR has an additional 2 settings (4 total) and offers improved noise reduction over the PRO model. Setting names include “quiet,” “social,” and “noisy.” Feedback cancellation technology is included, helping to protect users from the whistling, or sonic feedback that results from getting too close to a person or surface. Alternative models with two directional microphones include the ZVOX VB20.
The MDHearingAid VOLT is similar to the AIR model, but offers rechargeable batteries and two directional microphones. Smartphones and noise-canceling headsets now use similar technology to distinguish between a target sound (a voice) and background noises. The VOLT’s rechargeable batteries don’t last as long as non-rechargeable types, so consumers must charge them daily if used regularly. A good alternative, rechargeable model is the ZVOX VB25.
How does noise cancellation technology work? Noise cancellation reduces background noises and amplifies the sources, or voices, you want to hear. It does this by recording the background sounds, sampling them quickly, then inverting the waveform. This “reversed” audio signal gets amplified and combined with the background noise. Then both background noise signals - the normal and “reversed” signals - arrive at your ear at the exact same time. This causes frequency cancellation and reduces the energy, or volume, of the background noise. Or in layman’s terms, it simply reduces the volume of the sounds you don’t want to hear.
The MDHearingAid CORE uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone app that allows customization of the types of sounds that you want to hear. The CORE has four audio settings that adapt to the environment automatically. It uses the same noise cancelling tech as the AIR and VOLT models. For an alternative to the MDHearingAid CORE, look at the ZVOX VB20 with app control.
MDHearingAid models range from $399 to $1,600. A quick breakdown of the models shows the good/better/best approach to pricing (for pairs):
- Analog: MDHearingAid PRO - $399
- Classic: MDHearingAid AIR - $799
- Rechargeable: MDHearingAid VOLT - $1199
- Smart: MDHearingAid CORE - $1599
Not everyone needs or wants the “best” models, as some have drawbacks like reduced battery life, compared to more basic models. Choosing a hearing aid should start with a clear plan of when and where you’ll use it.
MDHearingAid Battery Life
Monitoring battery life is a way of life for users with hearing aids. Naturally, the longer battery life the better, but hearing aids present a special problem for manufacturers - space. With the goal of making the lightest-weight, most invisible hearing aid, battery size is the determining factor for battery life. Here is how the MDHearingAid models compare for battery life specs, according to the company:
- Analog: MDHearingAid PRO - 30-40 days
- Classic: MDHearingAid AIR - 21-26 days
- Rechargeable: MDHearingAid VOLT - 18-22 hours on a full charge
- Smart: MDHearingAid CORE - 5-6 days
One trend that is clearly noticeable is that as features are added, battery life suffers.
Most hearing aid buyers turn to reviews before making a decision. MDHearingAid has many reviews available to read on the internet - both good and bad. Some highlighted reviews from the Consumer Affairs website include:
Positive MDHearingAid Reviews
Charles from Maine said on February 13, 2020:
“I've been wearing hearing aids for about 10 years. And I've gone through two $3,000 sets of what I’d call commercial hearing aids. About two years ago, I saw MDHearingAid's ad in AARP and I said to my wife that the next time I have trouble with my hearing aids, I'm gonna buy a pair of MDHearingAids and see what they were like. They are different, but I have adjusted to them and I'm quite pleased with them. The few times that I've had problems, I called and whoever I talked with tried hard to help me or have helped me.”
Negative MDHearingAid Reviews
Phil from Tennesee said on March 8, 2020:
“I've had two experiences with MDHearingAid and I didn't have any luck with them. The last I had roared in my head and when I laid down to go to sleep at night, I'd wake up and the roaring was still there. I had to get rid of them. I had Siemens years ago and they did well, but I'm 96 years old and I hate to spend $5,000 or $6,000 on some new ones knowing that I might not be here long. I hate to spend a whole lot of money on some, so I'm doing without right now. I talked to two of MDHearingAid's reps and one girl who was nice said, "If it doesn't work, send them back and we will send your money back on them." I have tried them in every position, but they were too strong for me. They did not do the job for me. I'm very dissatisfied with them.”
MDHearingAid Alternative: ZVOX Voicebuds
Alternatives to MDHearingAid include the ZVOX Voicebuds. Voicebud models have the same features of the MDHearingAid models, but are made in the USA of American made components.
ZVOX worked with one of the world's leading audiologists to design the VoiceBud range of hearing aids. They are FDA registered, Class One hearing aids that are backed up by a 60-day home trial. Voicebuds are designed for simplicity, with features designed to be adjusted by the user themselves.
Support is provided by customer service centers based in the USA (Massachusetts and New Mexico) that provide one-on-one guidance at no extra charge. The fit is adjustable with shorter and longer sound tubes, and smaller or larger ear domes. This ensures that each Voicebud fits the user perfectly without the need for specialist appointments and custom-fitting services.
The ZVOX Voicebud VB20 has a wide list of features that include:
- VoiceBud hearing aids use two-microphone NoiseBlocker system designed to reduce volume levels of distracting background sounds
- High quality American-made electronics components
- App lets you control VoiceBud hearing aids from your smartphone or tablet
- Wide frequency range (over 5.5 kHz) for natural, accurate sound
- Six ear dome choices included – so you can choose the size that fits your ear.
- Includes accessories to make a single VoiceBud usable for either ear.
- Optional UV Dryer keeps VoiceBuds clean and disinfected.
Matching your budget, planned usage, device type, and manufacturer reputation when buying a hearing aid gives you the best chance to get a device that fits your ear, is discrete, and provides the amplification (and noise cancellation) that you need.