Finding the best, affordable hearing aid can be an exercise in frustration. There are many online options to choose from. But something significant happens before someone begins researching hearing aids, and that is the life-changing experience of coping with the news or discovery of hearing loss.
Identifying hearing loss can be a difficult life experience. It’s easy to feel left out when you can’t keep up with everyday conversations and the goings-on around you, especially in crowded places. Add to that the significant financial cost of hearing aids, since most devices aren’t covered by health insurance, and you’re sure to feel a bit over your head in this new phase of life.
Hearing aid technology has come a long way, but those advancements often come at a cost. Unfortunately, many seniors who chose not to treat their hearing loss simply believe they cannot afford a pair of hearing aids. The cost of traditional hearing aids is high, in the several thousand dollars range. What’s included? Audiologist appointments, several fittings, hearing aid and accessory purchases all serve to increase the amount you’ll pay for a hearing aid. What’s more, advances in technology can be intimidating to even the most adaptable seniors. Most seniors see the financial problems as tough barriers to surmount, while having to learn a new app or device only serves to complicate matters further.
However, the cost of not treating hearing loss is much higher. It has been purported that untreated hearing loss can lead to other mental and physical conditions, furthering any feelings of isolation.
Not all hearing aids are created equal. In fact, studies have shown that audiologist-prescribed hearing aids are only slightly more effective than some over-the-counter sound-amplification devices, which are available for a fraction of the cost. This can amount to a difference of thousands of dollars. With a little research, you’ll be able to differentiate between cheap and affordable hearing aids.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What is a cheap hearing aid?
- How are cheap hearing aid features different?
- How do cheap hearing aids compare to better ones?
- What is the difference between hearing aids and hearing devices?
- How do I know a hearing aid is good?
- What are some examples of cheap hearing aids?
- What are common complaints of cheap hearing aids?
- What is an affordable hearing aid option?
What is a cheap hearing aid?
The price of a cheap or affordable hearing aid is, well, cheap. Specifically, cheap hearing aids and discounted personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are often not registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and do not meet international quality standards for medical-grade hearing aids, or American National Standards Institute standards.
Many manufacturers source simple sound amplifiers from Chinese websites, rebrand them, and pass them off in the U.S. as “hearing aids.” They are not the same as quality online hearing aids from a reputable manufacturer, except in look. Battery performance is downright poor, they fail often, and can even be dangerous to users.
As you move out of the “cheap” and simple sound amplifier category of devices, you begin to find quality online hearing aid options. As you explore them, notice that not all pricing is equal, support and warranty options vary widely, and customer satisfaction are the elements that most users consider when comparing manufacturers.
Where and how a device is made can say a lot about quality. Some manufacturers expect their devices to fail often, so they build the need to replace devices under warranty into the original cost of a hearing aid. Other manufacturers like ZVOX’s Voicebuds are made in the USA and the warranty is rarely needed because the devices are constructed well with consistent quality control and high-quality parts.
How are cheap hearing aid features different?
There is a major difference between cheap hearing aids and affordable ones. Cheap hearing aids often don’t offer the advanced features of modern hearing aids, such as technology that distinguishes between background noise and voices, multiple settings for different listening environments, and app control. On the other hand, high-quality, affordable hearing aids offer all the conveniences of medical-grade hearing aids, but without a prescription. In laboratory tests, they provide nearly the same benefits as audiologist-fitted hearing aids.
How do cheap hearing aids compare to better ones?
There’s truly no such thing as a good, “cheap” hearing aid. There are affordable hearing aids that provide the same benefits of audiologist-fitted devices and those are what almost all users should explore. An investment in hearing aids should be considered an investment in your overall health, so the decision should not be taken lightly.
However, with a little research, it is possible to find a model that is affordable without compromising on quality or functionality. Your goal is to pay fairly for the technology and quality - not pad the pockets of a company that marks devices up 20x or more and expects them to fail often. Affordable and high-quality devices should include a solid warranty, free evaluation period, easy-to-charge and -change batteries, USA-based support, financing options, great customer reviews from trusted sources, and they should be easy to clean.
What is the difference between hearing aids and hearing devices?
Most hearing aids that fall below the $100 price tag are often actually PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Devices) going by names such as smart hearing amplifiers, rechargeable sound aids, sound amplifier aids, hearing amplifier aids, hearing aids amplifiers, digital hearing amplifiers, and personal sound enhancement device, some of which are touted as an “FDA Approved Personal Sound Enhancement Device.” Be aware that the FDA maintains detailed standards on what manufacturers can call a hearing aid.
These work fine for mild hearing loss but their sound frequency reproduction often does not exceed 1,000 Hz, the frequency that includes the uppermost range of male speech, half of the range of female speech, and most of the range of children’s speech. PSAPs are not designed to function the same as medical devices and they amplify all sounds, rather than just the sounds you want to hear (like differentiating voices and background noise). This is a problem, because these are the situations when hearing conversations are most difficult and when you need hearing assistance most. By sending high-pitched, harmful background noises into your ear canal, you run the risk of damaging your hearing even further.
How do I know if a hearing aid is good?
As with any online purchase, the devil is in the details. Customer reviews, the company’s time in business and where they are located, the return/repair policy, quality of parts, where the hearing aids are manufactured, and any other guarantees all contribute to whether a hearing aid is “good.” The cost of hearing aids can start to creep up if there’s not a money-back guarantee, a risk-free trial period, warranty coverage, replacement batteries, fitting and services, and any accessories aren’t included. Some manufacturers won’t let you return their devices until a set amount of time has passed, and others will charge you handling fees for any warranty support or returns. It’s important to look at the fine print.
On top of that, the convenience of making adjustments, sound quality and sound isolation, modern features and designs, app control (if needed or wanted), and overall value helps you make a holistic, informed decision. Cost should not be the only basis on which your decision is made, though it can be an important factor when considering the features that make sense for your lifestyle. For example, peripheral noise if you spend a lot of time in crowded places, or Bluetooth connectivity if being able to listen to music and take phone calls is important to you.
What are some examples of cheap hearing aids?
Most hearing aids sold for less than $50 actually qualify as hearing or sound amplifiers.
According to a review for Digital Hearing Amplifier - Personal Hearing Enhancement Sound Amplifier Pair, Rechargeable Digital Hearing Amplifier with All-Day Battery Life ($47.24) on Walmart.com:
“Very large and bulky. Uses a thick battery. It's just an amplifier that wouldn't adjust even though it's supposed to be adjustable. If you just need louder these work. If you need filtering look elsewhere.”
According to a review for Coniler Rechargeable Hearing Amplifier for Adults and Seniors, Universal Digital Sound Aids Fit Left/Right Ears with Noise Cancelling ($34.99) on Amazon.com:
“The problem with this amplifier is that the controls are hard to use when you are wearing it. You are supposed to set it at the lowest level of amplification (1) and then put it over your ear with the device turned off. In theory, once it's hooked over your ear, you turn it on and adjust to the level of amplification you need. However, the dials don't turn very easily, and you are working blind. So it's hard to turn on and easy to get it set too high for comfort. I can't count how many times it hurt my ears trying to get it set at the number 2 without deafening myself further. If you turn it on before you place it on your ear, the screech of you touching the device is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard!
The amplifiers work pretty well at canceling background noise in a relatively empty room. However, they did not help a whole lot in a crowded restaurant. I could hear some of the conversation at our table, but not all. I kept having to turn my head a certain way to pick up the voices of folks two seats away, and could not hear the people across the table much at all. I was picking up chatter from other tables, as well. By the end of the evening, my ears were ringing, after I took them out, even though I had not had them turned up too loudly.
At $34, these are not unreasonably priced. If you just plan to use one or more amplifiers at home, so you don't have to turn up the television or radio too high, it's okay. It may also work to hear the grand kids at the dinner table. Just don't have too high of expectations.”
What are common complaints of cheap hearing aids?
No discounted product comes without its share of complaints and sacrifices in quality. Plenty of options exist for less than $50, but not without their faults.
According to a review for MEDca High-Quality Rechargeable Ear Hearing Amplifier Sound Amplifier with Rapid Charger for $28.94 on Walmart.com:
“This has NO BACKGROUND Noise cancellation ... PERIOD. I can NOT BELIEVE ANY of the positive reviews for this hearing amplifier are REAL ... save yourself $20 and buy something with ‘noise cancellation’ or don't bother ,,, I am CERTAIN you will use this 10 minutes then write a review LIKE I AM because sending it back for $20 is NOT WORTH THE HASSLE ... it amplifies the slightest background noise to HURT your ears and overshadow the sounds you want to hear ... can you imagine hearing your shoes clanking on the floor as you walk? or if there is a SMALL fan running somewhere in the room it sounds like a Cessna prop plane taking off.”
According to a review for Beurer HA50 Hearing Amplifier, Discrete Hearing Aid for Seniors & Adults, Adjustable Sound Amplifier, Indoor & Outdoor, Ideal for Restricted Hearing Ability, 3 Attachments, Battery & Travel Box ($34.85) on Amazon.com:
“I bought this for my mom. She's used it for a couple of days, but it stopped working last night. I switched out the battery with the second one that came in the box and seemed to be working again. Maybe it was just an old battery, but now it seems to have stopped working again. I am going to have to buy batteries tomorrow, which is inconvenient. Grrr!! I'm hoping the hearing aid itself works and I just got a bad batch of batteries. I'll update my review after I try new batteries, but for now I wouldn't recommend it.”
What is an affordable hearing aid option?
A great affordable hearing aid option is the ZVOX Voicebuds. Voicebuds 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.
The bottom line is you get what you pay for. While it’s definitely not necessary to pay thousands of dollars to find a solution for mild to moderate hearing loss, you should be careful of cheap hearing aids. They’re usually simple sound amplifiers and can cause more damage in the long run.
At the end of the day, you’re better off paying for a quality, FDA-registered, affordable — not cheap! — hearing aid. Affordable hearing aids still come at a fraction of the cost of higher-priced models but also come equipped with the same technology, quality, and longevity to make life easier for yourself and those around you.
Check out the ZVOX Voicebuds.