Bluetooth Hearing Aids in 2020 [Ultimate Guide]
You’ve heard of smart TVs, smart speakers, smartphones, but…smart hearing aids?
What makes a hearing aid smart?
It’s simple. A hearing aid’s ability to connect (via Bluetooth) to mobile phones and other devices makes it a smart hearing aid, or, as it’s more commonly known, a Bluetooth hearing aid.
Bluetooth hearing aids have blown up in popularity, and before you buy your next hearing aids, make sure you understand why.
But first, grab your preferred beverage. There’s a lot of ground to cover- you may be here a while.
This guide is going to give you expert-level knowledge on all things Bluetooth hearing aids, along with what we consider to be the top 3 Bluetooth hearing aids of 2020.
- What is Bluetooth?
- Bluetooth and Hearing Aids
- Bluetooth Hearing Aids & iPhones
- Bluetooth Hearing Aids & Android Phones
- Benefits and Features of Bluetooth Hearing Aids
- Pairing Bluetooth Hearing Aids to Phones
- Cost of Bluetooth Hearing Aids
- Are Bluetooth Hearing Aids Safe?
- Best Bluetooth Hearing Aids of 2020
What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows devices to connect to each other over a short range (about 30 feet).
The purpose of Bluetooth is simple- replace the wires that normally connect devices.
Bluetooth first appeared as a consumer technology in 2000 and it is still going strong.
These days, almost every smartphone supports Bluetooth, as do most other small consumer electronics.
Thanks to its ease of use and low power consumption, Bluetooth has become the default way to connect many devices like speakers, headphones and (you guessed it), hearing aids.
Bluetooth and Hearing Aids
The idea of pairing Bluetooth enabled phones to hearing aids is not new.
In 2006, the Minnesota-based hearing aid manufacturer Starkey introduced ELI, the first hearing aid to be compatible with Bluetooth enabled phones.
Time magazine named it one of the best inventions of the year.
In the years that followed, many hearing aid manufacturers introduced their own hearing aids with Bluetooth technology.
But they all had the same shortcoming.
All these hearing aids required a streamer, or hearing aid Bluetooth adapter, in order to stream audio from a cellular device to the user’s hearing aids.
The animation below highlights the necessity of the Bluetooth adapter in allowing the hearing aids and phone to communicate.
Many consumers were reluctant to carry around a Bluetooth hearing aid streamer, and this is one of the reasons that Bluetooth hearing aids didn’t really “catch fire” for nearly a decade.
The prevailing sentiment among industry professionals was that Bluetooth compatible hearing aids were a neat technological advancement, but perhaps not ready for primetime.
In fact, many hearing care professionals made the decision to not even introduce the idea of Bluetooth hearing devices to their client base, ignoring the trend altogether.
However, the building wave would soon prove impossible to ignore.
Bluetooth Hearing Aids and iPhones
Up until just a few years ago, all hearing aid users that wanted Bluetooth connectivity with their smartphones had to use a Bluetooth adapter (streamer) to do so.
Hearing aids with built-in Bluetooth were not really a reality, mainly due to the high power consumption of Bluetooth, thus necessitating the streamer accessory.
However, thanks to the advent of a special form of Low Energy Bluetooth in 2011, and a collaboration between Apple and Danish hearing aid manufacturer GN ReSound beginning around the same time, direct connectivity between iPhones and hearing aids began to seem feasible.
The fruit of this collaboration, the ReSound LiNX, was unveiled at the 2014 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, and the world was introduced to a new term- “Made for iPhone” (MFi) hearing aids.
As illustrated below, Made for iPhone hearing aids are engineered to pair directly to iOS devices without the need for an intermediary bluetooth adapter.
As a result of this direct connectivity, iPhone users can stream audio from their phone to their hearing aids, use their phone to adjust the settings of the hearing aids, and a host of other features.
Over the coming years, almost every major hearing aid manufacturer followed suit and released a Made for iPhone hearing aid, and by 2016 the term “Made for iPhone hearing aid” had become ubiquitous in the industry.
However prevalent Made for iPhone hearing aids had become, many hearing aids users were still left without direct connectivity, as nearly 75% of all smartphones worldwide are powered by Android.
This huge opportunity for hearing aid manufacturers to develop a Bluetooth enabled hearing aid compatible with all the non-iOS devices would not go unnoticed for long.
Bluetooth Hearing Aids and Android Phones
While iPhone users have been enjoying direct connectivity to their hearing aids for years, this is a relatively new feature for Android users.
Even today, the majority of hearing aids on the market cannot pair directly to Android-based phones, requiring the use of a Bluetooth adapter.
However, progress is being made.
As ReSound led the Made for iPhone revolution, this time it has been Swiss-based hearing aid manufacturer Phonak leading the way.
From 2014-2018, while all the other major hearing aid manufacturers were focused on developing their Made for iPhone hearing aids, Phonak had different plans. Phonak instead committed to developing a Bluetooth hearing aid that could connect to all phones- Samsung, iPhone, Google, Motorola- you name it.
In the fall of 2018, Phonak hit it out of the park with their Made for All hearing aid, Phonak Marvel.
Below is a brief introduction to the Phonak Marvel.
A “Made for All” hearing aid is a hearing aid which can be directly paired with all phones via Bluetooth- including Android, iPhone, and most other classic cell phones. As a result of this direct connectivity, users can stream audio from their phone to their hearing aids, use their phone to adjust settings of the hearing aids, and use their hearing aids similarly to a Bluetooth headset.
Not only do Made for All hearing aids like Phonak Marvel connect to a wider array of devices, they also provide a unique feature that no Made for iPhone hearing aids do- truly hands-free calling.
The gamble to forego making a Made for iPhone hearing aid to focus on developing a Made for All hearing aid has paid off for Phonak, as they’ve enjoyed over a year of catering to an entire segment of the hearing aid market exclusively.
But, in late 2019, competition began heating up for Phonak, as technological advancements in Bluetooth have led a few more hearing aid manufacturers to introduce their own Android compatible hearing aids; more on that below.
The ASHA Protocol: More Android Compatible Hearing Aids on the Way
Recall that earlier in this post, we mentioned how Apple’s development of a special low energy Bluetooth profile in 2014 ultimately paved the way for all hearing aid manufacturers to build iOS-compatible hearing aids.
Now, thanks to Google’s development of their own Bluetooth profile, we’re seeing the same thing happening again. That is, more hearing aid manufacturers are able to build hearing aids that support Android’s Bluetooth profile.
Android’s new Bluetooth profile is called Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids Profile Generic Attribute Profile (abbreviated ASHA-GATT or simply ASHA). Google, GN ReSound, and Cochlear share the credit for jointly developing the important new profile. The three companies joined forces to design a Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity solution especially for Android users with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Watch a brief introductory video to Android’s new Bluetooth profile
As of early 2020, only Starkey and ReSound have hearing aids which support the new ASHA Bluetooth profile.
This means that, so long as you have one of ReSound or Starkey’s newest hearing aids, along with an Android running on Android 10, with Bluetooth 5.0, you can stream audio directly from your Android phone to your hearing aids.
Though, we still recommend visiting the hearing aid manufacturer’s website to ensure compatibility between your hearing aids and your phone.
We expect that within the next few years, every major hearing aid manufacturer will have hearing aids that support Android’s Bluetooth profile.
Benefits & Features of Bluetooth Hearing Aids
The advantages of having Bluetooth compatible hearing aids are undeniable.
With every new product release, we’re seeing interesting new features that just a few years ago seemed like a pipe dream.
Before you buy Bluetooth hearing aids, review the list below to learn about these new features and the hearing aids that offer them.
Bluetooth Hearing Aid Features in the Most Popular Hearing Aids of 2020
|Bluetooth Feature & Description||Phonak Marvel||Signia Pure||Oticon OPN S||ReSound LiNX||Starkey Livio AI||Widex Evoke|
|Volume & program adjustment|
|Battery life indicator|
|Tinnitus therapy adjustment|
|Microphone directionality adjustment|
|Hearing aid finder|
|Hearing aid software updates|
|Apple watch compatible|
|Hearing aid diagnostics|
|A/B sound comparisons|
The above chart can be a bit overwhelming for a first-time wearer. For a simplified explanation of the biggest advantages of Bluetooth hearing aids, and a brief history of how Blueooth in hearing aids has advanced, check out the video below.
How to Pair Bluetooth Hearing Aids to iPhones & Androids
In order to take advantage of the features made available with Bluetooth hearing aids, you have to first pair the hearing aids to your smartphone.
If you have paired a Bluetooth device to your phone before, this is a similar process, with some slight differences.
How to Pair Hearing Aids with iPhones
Before you attempt to pair your hearing aids with your iPhone, you need to ensure that your hearing aids are actually “Made for iPhone”.
If they are, you’ll usually see an image like the one below, shown on your hearing aid packaging or user guide.
If you’re not sure if your hearing aids are Made for iPhone, contact your hearing provider, or leave a comment below with your hearing aid’s make & model and we’ll let you know.
Once you’ve confirmed your hearing aids are Made for iPhone, follow the instructions below, watch the video, or view Apple’s guide.
- Make sure your phone’s software is up to date.
- Put a fresh battery in your hearing aids.
- Make sure your phone’s Bluetooth is enabled.
- Go to settings -> general -> accessibility -> MFi hearing devices. Your phone will search for your hearing aids. If the hearing aids can’t be found, open and close the battery door.
- Once the hearing aids are found, tap to connect to the hearing aids, and then accept your phone’s pairing request, 1 time per hearing aid.
Your hearing aids are now synced with your iPhone!
Watch a video on how to pair hearing aids with an iPhone
How to Pair Hearing Aids with Android Phones
Before you attempt to pair your hearing aids with your Android phone, you need to ensure that your hearing aids are actually compatible with your phone.
If you’re not sure if your hearing aids are compatible, contact your hearing provider, or leave a comment below with your hearing aid’s make & model and we’ll let you know.
- Make sure your phone’s software is up to date.
- Put a fresh battery in your hearing aids.
- Make sure your phone’s Bluetooth is enabled, by going to settings -> connections -> bluetooth.
- Your phone will search for your hearing aids. If the hearing aids can’t be found, open and close the battery door.
- Once the hearing aids are found, tap to connect to the hearing aids.
Your hearing aids are now synced with your Android phone!
How Much do Bluetooth Hearing Aids Cost?
The average cost of a Bluetooth hearing aid in the United States is $2979. (Figure 1)
…That is, according to our incredibly small sample size of 131 prospective hearing aid wearers located throughout the United States.
How did we arrive at this figure?
Over the 1 week course of writing this post, we verbally surveyed each individual who contacted us with interest in purchasing hearing aids from our company.
Some of these individuals had been actively shopping for hearing aids and had received a quote prior to contacting us.
If the quote they had received met the criteria below, we noted the price and technology level of the product quoted.
Criteria for survey participation:
- The quote needed to be for a direct-connectivity Bluetooth hearing aid that did not require a Bluetooth adapter (streamer).
- The quote needed to include local professional service from a licensed hearing care provider.
- The quote must have been from an independent hearing care provider (not a big box store).
The results of this pricing survey are below
Although this was an informal survey, the figures above very closely align with figures published by a reputable source (figure 7).
While our survey indicated the average price of a Bluetooth hearing aid is $2979, they can certainly be found for less.
None of our respondents expressed interested in entry or economy technology levels, in which case there would have been several reported quotes at just above $1000 per hearing aid.
Are Bluetooth Hearing Aids Safe?
Although hearing aids emit radiation, and radiation can cause cancer, it’s important to know the difference between ionizing radiation, and non-ionizing radiation.
Ionizing radiation, the kind that can damage DNA and cause cancer, is the type of radiation that comes from ultraviolet light from the sun, x-rays, and nuclear explosions.
Hearing aids do not emit ionizing radiation.
Hearing aids do emit extremely low levels of non-ionizing radiation, but many products today do.
For example, do you feel comfortable that a smartphone is safe to use?
The chart below illustrates the drastic difference in the amount of radiation from smartphones as compared to hearing aids.
The world’s largest health organizations like the FDA and WHO are confident that smartphones do not present any health risks, so you probably don’t need to be concerned about radiation from wireless hearing aids.
Best Bluetooth Hearing Aids of 2020
What are the best Bluetooth hearing aids of 2020?
It’s not an easy question to answer, and there really is no objective way to answer such a question.
However, as a nationwide seller of all major hearing aid brands, and with over 700 locations, we are in a unique position to hear feedback from an enormously large sample size of players in the hearing aid industry.
Each year, we handle approximately 25,000 phone calls with hearing aid buyers, hearing care providers, and hearing aid manufacturers.
This gives us insight and perspective into what hearing aids and features are trending with consumers and local hearing care providers.
In creating the list below, our team put our heads together and considered 3 criteria:
1. What hearing aids are generating the most buzz with consumers?
2. What hearing aids are hearing care providers actually recommending and ordering?
3. What hearing aids are setting trends that we think will be adopted industry-wide and iterated upon.
Note: We are an independently owned hearing aid retailer and we have not been compensated by the manufacturers of the products listed below.
Without further adieu, our list of the best Bluetooth hearing Aids of 2020:
#1: Phonak Marvel
Our price: Starting at $1499 per device
Release date: August 2018
- Direct Bluetooth compatibility with all phones
- Hands-free phone conversations
- Best TV streaming sound quality
Why we like it
The Phonak Marvel was our best selling Bluetooth hearing aid of 2019.
As the first hearing aid to directly connect to all Bluetooth phones, Marvel brought a lot of people in from the sidelines who’d been waiting to buy hearing aids that would connect to their phones.
Aside from universal connectivity, Marvel is also the only hearing aid on the market that offers truly hands-free phone conversations, using the microphones integrated in the hearing aids to bypass the phone’s microphones, allowing wearers to use Marvel hearing aids just like a Bluetooth headset.
Marvel is also the first hearing aid that can recognize whether the media you are streaming (like a movie), is primarily speech or music dominant, and can then optimize sound quality on the fly, resulting in the best possible streaming sound quality.
Bluetooth functionality aside, Marvel benefits from Phonak’s newest operating system, AutoSense 3.0, is available with rechargeable batteries, and is an excellent overall hearing aid.
In-depth video review of the Phonak Marvel
Bottom line: If you use anything other than an iPhone and are interested in Bluetooth features, Phonak Marvel should be at the very top of your list. If you use an iPhone, Marvel is still an excellent choice, but its companion app is lacking some (very minor) functionality that is otherwise available in strictly Made for iPhone hearing aids, so we recommend reviewing this list to make sure those features aren’t important to you.
#2: Starkey Livio AI
Our price: $2899 per device
Release date: October 2018
Awards earned: Silver Stevie 2019 Technical Innovation of the Year, 2019 CES Innovation Award Honoree, Red Dot Design Award 2019, 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards Finalist, Silver Muse Design Awards 2019
- First “healthable” hearing aid
- Best overall app
Why we like it
Starkey’s Livio AI is the first “healthable” hearing aid.
What does this mean?
It means that Livio AI hearing aids go beyond just being hearing aids, and aspire to help a wearer lead a more active, healthy, safe, and engaged life.
With features such as fall detection and alerts, heart rate measurement, and brain “engagement” tracking, the Livio AI is paving the way for hearing aids to play a more holistic role in overall hearing health.
This is a trend we think will be iterated upon by all manufacturers in the coming years, as there is a growing body of evidence linking hearing loss to dementia, cardiovascular disease, depression, and diabetes.
The accompanying Thrive App (which controls Livio AI hearing aids), is in our opinion the most fully-featured app, offering unique functionality such as real time language translation and real time voice-to-text transcription.
Intro to Starkey Livio AI hearing aids
It is our belief that the pursuit to make hearing aids multifunctional (as opposed to just amplifiers), will help to reduce the stigma and create more consumer demand, as hearing aids continue to provide ear-level features that other consumer devices do not.
Livio AI has not been one of our best selling hearing aids, primarily due to price. As brand new technology, Livio AI is only available at the premium level, which comes with a hefty price tag.
We nonetheless gave it the #2 spot on the list because with Livio AI, Starkey has pushed the envelope more than any manufacturer in recent years and is setting trends that are here to stay.
We believe that when the technology from this premium model trickles down and is available in lower end Starkey products, there will be a wider adoption of the Livio AI and other manufacturers will be left playing catch up to Starkey in the healthable space.
Bottom line: We recommend visiting Starkey’s website and closely reviewing the features of Livio AI. If you’re interested in these features, use an iPhone, want premium technology, and are willing to pay for it, Livio AI is the hearing aid for you. If the “healthable” features are of little interest to you, and you just want one of the best Bluetooth hearing devices, from the only major American hearing aid manufacturer, we recommend looking at the more affordable Livio (non-AI version).
Our price: Starting at $1649 per device
Release date: August 2018
- Custom in-the-ear models with direct connectivity
- Works with iPhones and a growing number of Android phones
Why we like it
No discussion of the best Bluetooth hearing instruments is complete without mentioning Danish manufacturer GN ReSound, who introduced the first direct connectivity Bluetooth hearing aid in 2014.
ReSound LiNX Quattro, as the name implies, is ReSound’s fourth generation Bluetooth hearing aid.
ReSound has had a head start in the direct-connectivity space, and as a result, LiNX Quattro hearing aids have a few things that set them apart from other Bluetooth aids on the market.
First, while Bluetooth hearing aid styles from most manufacturers are limited to the RIC style, ReSound is currently one of only two manufacturers to offer direct connectivity in custom in-the-ear devices, and the only manufacturer to offer it in the tiny CIC style.
Second, ReSound is again poised to be a leader among hearing aid manufacturers in the race to connect their hearing aids to all phones- not just just iPhones.
As a result of ReSound’s collaboration with Google on the new ASHA protocol, ReSound was one of the first manufacturers to offer Android compatible hearing aids.
With the LiNX Quattro, ReSound has once again demonstrated their commitment to being a leader in the Bluetooth hearing aid space.
Bottom line: If you have an iPhone you can confidently buy LiNX Quattro hearing aids knowing that ReSound has been focusing on Bluetooth hearing aids longer than anyone, and will continue to deliver new features to these hearing aids (even after you’ve bought them). Many of these features will be accessible through a software update to your hearing aids (through ReSound’s app on your phone or your hearing provider’s computer), which means you won’t have to buy new hearing aids to access these features. If you use a (newer) Android phone, you may be able to directly stream to your hearing aids, but we’d recommend checking compatibility.
Conclusion: What’s Next for Bluetooth Hearing Aids?
We’ve come a long way since the first Bluetooth enabled hearing aids in 2014, but what does the future hold?
Our top 5 predictions:
1. Broader connectivity: The writing is on the wall. With the advent of “Made for All” hearing aids in 2018, and “Made for Android” hearing aids in 2019, it won’t be long before all hearing aids can connect to all Bluetooth devices. Our guess is that in the next 3-5 years all hearing aid manufacturers will be building hearing aids utilizing classic Bluetooth, for wider connectivity, just as Phonak has done with the Marvel.
2. Better smartphone apps: A Bluetooth hearing aid is only as good as the accompanying smartphone app that controls it. At the time of this post, the highest rated app has a dismal score of just 3.2/5 in the App store- based on well over a thousand reviews. The majority of apps are rated ~2.5/5. There is serious potential for improvements to these apps, and as more consumers weigh app design and functionality in their buying decisions, we expect manufacturers to pay attention.
3. More advanced remote programming: During the writing of this post, we saw the last of the major manufacturers (Oticon) release remote programming. As the trend of on-demand healthcare continues to grow, we expect more advances in remote programming, and soon expect all manufacturers to offer advanced and real time remote programming that is no different than programming that would occur in an in-person (office) environment.
4. More “healthable” features: As research around hearing loss comorbidities grows, manufacturers will strive to build devices that help consumers keep better track of their overall health. We can even foresee health insurance providers encouraging their members to purchase these more “holistic” hearing aids, as it is a very real prospect that insurers may begin to see their costs lower as a result of individuals wearing these kinds of hearing aids.
5. Lower prices: With the passage of the OTC hearing aid act in 2018 and advances in remote programming, we expect prices to steadily (albeit slowly) decrease in the coming years as a result of increased competition and new hearing healthcare delivery methods.
A Question for You
I’d like to end this post by posing a question to our readers-
What advances in Bluetooth and hearing aids would you like to see next?
Your opinion matters and just may be noticed by a hearing aid manufacturer ready to implement your request.
Please leave a comment below and let us know!