Audicus Hearing Aid Reviews
Updated March 23, 2016
Note: This post is written by a hearing instrument specialist and is merely an opinion piece.
Originally launched in 2011, New York, NY based Audicus is one of the most widely recognized online hearing aid retailers in the industry. With the average price of a single hearing aid ranging from $1600 – $2000, Audicus fills a need in the market by offering high quality hearing aids at greatly reduced prices. What is Audicus’s secret sauce, and how are they able to offer hearing aids at such low prices? The answer lies in their distribution model.
How Hearing Aids Are Traditionally Distributed
For as long as hearing aids have been widely and commercially available, hearing aid manufacturers have wholesaled hearing aids directly to hearing healthcare providers, who in turn retail the hearing aids to their customers (patients). This distribution method gives hearing aid manufacturers the confidence that their products are being dispensed by licensed and trained professionals, and that the end user will have access to ongoing (local) support for their hearing aids. This is still the most popular distribution method, and is endorsed by consumer protection agencies such as the FDA and FTC.
How Audicus Distributes Hearing Aids
Taken straight from Audicus’s website:
We cut out the middlemen by partnering with top-tier, independent manufacturers in Germany and the US and delivering directly to you.
The “middleman” in this case, is the local hearing healthcare provider who is traditionally tasked with:
- Sizing the hearing aids so they fit appropriately
- Programming the hearing aids to a unique hearing profile
- Verifying the fit and output of the hearing aids
- Counseling the patient on adjusting to hearing aids
- Providing local maintenance, handling warranty and repairs
- Re-testing hearing annually and reprogramming hearing aids as needed
These tasks are not insignificant and a patient’s eventual outcome with hearing aids (successful acclimatization or rejection), is largely attributed to the above services.
Audicus aims to streamline the distribution process and reduce the price of hearing aids by foregoing some of the above services entirely, or offering remote service.
Audicus’s process is simple:
- Get a hearing test from a local hearing provider
- Send the results to Audicus
- Audicus will remotely program and mail the hearing aids to you
It’s this simple and relatively uninvolved process which allows Audicus to retail hearing aids for only hundreds of dollars above their acquisition cost.
For the patient, the savings over traditional retail prices are significant, but is there more than meets the eye? Yes.
What Are the Problems With This Direct-to-Consumer Distribution Method?
Audicus and other direct-to-consumer online retailers would have you believe that ordering and being fit with hearing aids is as simple as any other online purchase. They’ve employed smart marketing campaigns and have a simple, clear message- “cut out the middleman and save thousands.” For price-conscious consumers who may have previously been quoted much higher prices locally, this is an appealing message.
Though this message is sometimes technically accurate, the “middleman” plays a much more significant role than Audicus and similar retailers would lead consumers to believe, and the trade-offs which consumers make in foregoing that local service is of course not something that is conveyed by retailers. Instead, myths about the hearing aid buying process and what it means to be fit with hearing aids remotely are perpetuated. It is hard to succinctly explain just how misleading these retailers are, so to do so, we created this infographic to help illustrate these points.
The information provided in the infographic above broadly applies to all direct-to-consumer online retailers, but if you’d like a more pointed case of online retailers being misleading (whether intentionally or not), look no further than the screenshot below taken from Audicus’s website.
What’s misleading about this advertisement?
Notice that the advertisement says the above hearing aid is suitable for mild to profound hearing loss. Does this hearing aid have the technical specifications to serve mild to profound hearing losses? Sure! However, it would be hard to find a hearing health care provider anywhere that believes that it’s a good idea to fit the hearing aid (as shown) to a patient with a profound hearing loss- and probably not even a severe hearing loss. Why not?
As anyone who has ever fit hearing aids will attest to, profound hearing losses, and usually severe hearing losses as well, will require a custom-fit power ear mold. Because Audicus does not serve patients locally, they are unable to provide custom ear molds, and are instead likely to provide an assortment of non-customized rubber domes to slip over the receiver (speaker) in-lieu of a custom ear mold. This. Never. Works.
Not only is a patient with profound hearing loss who is fit without a custom ear mold going to be extremely under-aided, there is an enormous likelihood that their hearing aids are going to sound like a whistling tea kettle due to feedback.
In fairness, I’m sure the amount of people that Audicus serves with severe to profound hearing loss is insignificant compared to the number of mild to moderate patients they have, but this sort of advertising is indicative of the larger problem with direct-to-consumer retailers- patients simply aren’t seeing the big picture.
Does Audicus Sell Good Hearing Aids?
Absolutely! Audicus hearing aids are built by German hearing aid manufacturer Hansaton– a great (relatively small) hearing aid manufacturer. In fact, since their recent acquisition, Hansaton is now owned by Sonova, which also owns the Phonak and Unitron brands- both of which are brands we sell. Sonova is one of the most respected names in the hearing aid industry, and their interest in Hansaton speaks volumes to both the people and technology at Hansaton.
Are There Affordable Alternatives to Audicus, Which Include Local Service?
You bet. Audicus sells their premium Alto model for $699, though most of the time you can find discounts which will reduce the price to $649. A similar hearing aid which can be purchased locally, for $999, would be the Unitron N Moxi Fit 500. In fairness, the Unitron is an entry-level hearing aid, as compared to the Alto’s presumably premium technology (it’s hard to find detailed specifications). However, I think all hearing healthcare providers would agree that an entry-level hearing aid that is personally fit and programmed by a hearing provider will perform better than a premium hearing aid fit remotely. That’s anecdotal of course- but after fitting thousands of hearing aids, it’s my opinion, and I would venture it’s the opinion of almost all hearing healthcare providers.
Is Audicus a Good Fit For Some People?
Sure! Though, we’d recommend not purchasing from a direct-to-consumer retailer unless you have previously worn hearing aids and understand all that is involved in the proper fitting and maintenance of hearing aids. If you are an experienced hearing aid wearer, and perhaps don’t have affordable local options- absolutely give them a shot. You should not have to suffer in silence, and as you’ll see in the comments section below, you could do a lot worse than Audicus! That’s something I can’t say for many online retailers.
With only 30% of the hard of hearing population in the US actually using hearing aids, I commend any company that can help increase adoption rates. Of course, coming from the hearing health care industry, and personally working with thousands of patients, I obviously have a bias regarding the way hearing aids should be distributed. However, at the end of the day, the goal is to get more people hearing better, and I believe that consumers deserve choices and should be able to vote with their wallets.
I hope to have conveyed that purchasing hearing aids should never be about just finding the lowest price possible. We certainly encourage consumers to shop around and find a great deal, but at the same time, it’s important to carefully weigh all the options on the market, and consider the long term repercussions of your purchase. The fact is, whether you choose to purchase hearing aids online or locally, they are going to be expensive- probably more than you’d like to spend. BUT- your hearing aids are an investment which you’ll use every single day for years to come- isn’t it worth it to pay slightly more, and have all the added value and convenience that comes with working with a local hearing healthcare provider?