(Last updated Sep 5, 2019)

Hearable, PSAP or Hearing Aid: What’s the Difference?

Look around in almost any public space, and you will probably notice several people sporting headphones, wireless earbuds, or a Bluetooth headset. Personal audio devices like these are practically obligatory among joggers striding along to music, commuters catching the morning news to pass the time on trains and buses, and business travelers making phone calls from airports. It’s perfectly normal these days for people to walk around with personal audio equipment in, on, or over their ears. That includes hearing aids too, but I am also talking about other devices such as PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) and a new breed of products known as hearables.

It’s great to see a surge of interest in hearing and hearing-related technology, but there are so many products out there that it can be hard to tell who should use them. Which products are appropriate for people with hearing loss? The purpose of this article is not to tell you what to buy, but to help demystify the options so you can make a more informed choice.

Let’s start with some basic definitions:

  • Hearables are wearable smart audio devices for the ear. You could just call them earbuds, but that wouldn’t do justice to these in-ear computers. Keep reading to learn more.
  • PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) are audio amplifiers not intended to compensate for hearing loss. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) determines what classifies as a PSAP.
  • Hearing aids are personal amplification devices intended to compensate for hearing loss. In the United States, hearing aids are considered a medical device. Like PSAPs, hearing aids are regulated by the FDA.

These general definitions may leave you wondering what hearables and PSAPs actually do. You probably have a good idea of what hearing aids are. I’ll explain more below.

Hearables are wearables for the ear

Smart phones, smart watches, and other smart gadgets can make life more convenient, or they can just get in the way. Technology isn’t very helpful if it’s too much trouble to use, but if it can integrate seamlessly with daily life, that’s another story.

One way to keep devices at hand yet out of the way is to wear, instead of carrying them. If the device can become an integral part of something you already wear, such as your clothing… well, that’s even better.

The concept of “wearables” is a broad one, encompassing consumer and medical technology. For example, the term could refer to a golf glove that analyzes your swing or to a glucose monitor that lets your doctor know if your diabetes is under control. The wearables concept emerged from advances in mobile devices, miniaturization of wireless sensors, and the tremendous popularity of fitness and activity tracking apps.

Hearables are wearables for the ear. The purpose of hearables is not to help people hear or better. It’s really about using ears and hearing as a matter of convenience or practicality. It’s possible to measure heart rate and body temperature in the ear canal, for example. With so many people already wearing earbuds, why not add biometric sensors to promote health and wellness?

Some examples of hearables include:

Bragi Dash Pro — These clever earbuds double as a heart-rate monitor, so you can stay in the zone without wearing a chest strap. Motion sensors automatically detect whether you are walking, running, or cycling, for simpler activity tracking. The motion sensors also let you answer phone calls with a nod of the head.

Google Pixel Buds — These buds play audio, function as a google assistant, and translate speech from one language to another, in real-time.

Are hearables good for people with hearing loss? Sure. These are consumer devices, made for anyone to use. Besides, there are no hearing aids (yet) that include heart rate monitoring, temperature sensing, or motion detection. Just remember that hearables don’t correct for hearing loss, and are not meant to enhance communication. Keep in mind that you can’t wear hearables and hearing aids at the same time.

PSAPs amplify, but they’re not hearing aids

PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Product) are sound amplification devices not intended to compensate for hearing loss. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (which regulates these devices) PSAPs are designed to amplify sounds that would be difficult for a person with normal hearing to hear. This may include soft sounds or voices muffled by reverberation or background noise.

Examples of Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) include:

Etymotic Bean — A “Quiet-sound amplifier”.

Soundworld Solutions CS50+ — An amplified behind-the-ear wireless headset

Bose Hearphones — Renowned Bose noise-cancelling processing, plus directional control and sound shaping. All in a comfortable wireless neckband style.

The advantage of PSAPs is that they are relatively inexpensive (a few hundred dollars), and don’t require a hearing test or professional assistance to purchase and use. This makes PSAPs a good choice for anyone looking for a low-cost, entry-level device to help them hear better.

PSAPs are a good starting point, because of their low cost. It’s also helpful that you can purchase one for a friend or family member to use, because giving dear old dad a PSAP might be easier than talking him into trying hearing aids. PSAPs are not a substitute for hearing aids, but can serve as a supplement or even an alternative in some situations.

One caution about PSAPs is that the quality varies. It can also take some trial and error to find one that works well for you. Even though you don’t need a prescription to buy a PSAP, you should still get a hearing test if you think you may have hearing loss. You will want to avoid purchasing PSAPs if what you really need is more powerful hearing aids.

Hearing aids — still the go-to for hearing loss

Unlike hearables and PSAPs, hearing aids are designed to compensate for hearing loss. Because they are considered a medical device, a license is required to sell or fit hearing aids. They do cost more than non-prescription devices, but deliver superior performance. They also come with professional service and support.

Most people who wear hearing aids say they would recommend them to others. In general, satisfaction levels are high with hearing aids and with hearing care providers. Hearing aid wearers also report improved quality of life, which is a testament to the value of hearing well. What is more, satisfaction rates have improved in recent years. People using the latest hearing aids actually report higher satisfaction than people using older hearing aids.

There are numerous different types of hearing aids, with varying feature-sets, from rechargeable, direct-streaming Bluetooth, invisible- and there’s a whole lot to consider when determining which hearing aid is right for you. With the assistance of a licensed hearing provider, and after having completed a hearing test, you’ll get a better idea of which hearing aids might be appropriate for you, or if you are even ready for hearing aids.

The video below will provide a brief introduction to selecting hearing aids

Value for money is important too. Customers who purchase hearing aids from ZipHearing can take satisfaction in getting name-brand hearing aids at deeply discounted prices. We offer a wide range of hearing aids and styles from all the leading manufacturers.

If you think you may be a candidate for hearing aids, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794 to schedule a consultation with a hearing provider near you!

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and young daughter. You can learn more about hearing aids and watch Jeff on ZipHearing's Youtube channel.

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  1. Posted by Jeffrey F Heedles Sr on 11/13/2018 at 5:41 am | Reply |
    • Posted by Jeff Hall on 11/13/2018 at 8:27 am | Reply |

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