- Apple AirPods Pro earbuds have the potential to be a hearing aid for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, according to a paper published in iScience.
- Researchers found the earbuds meet four of the five standards for personal sound amplification products and perform comparably to hearing aids in terms of speech perception in quiet environments.
- The study suggests that some consumer earbuds can function as hearing aids to potentially further lower the cost and address the stigma associated with the technology.
Some of the hearing aids that have come to market since over-the-counter sales became possible in the U.S. have echoed the designs of earbuds and involved consumer technology companies such as Bose and Sony. The iScience paper takes the blurring of the line between earbuds and hearing aids a step further by asking if Apple AirPods can help people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Apple’s earbuds have a “live listen” feature that transmits amplified environmental sounds into the ears of the wearer, much like a hearing aid does. That fact led a team in Taiwan to evaluate the AirPods Apple bundles with its smartphones and its premium AirPods Pro product.
AirPods Pro met four of the five standards for personal sound amplification products, according to the paper. While the device exceeded the decibel threshold of the equivalent internal noise standard, it met the requirements, indicating that it performed comparably to a hearing aid in terms of factors such as the smoothness and bandwidth of frequency response, the study found. Apple’s bundled AirPods met two of the standards.
A subsequent clinical study enrolled 21 people with a mean age of 42.9 years. The dedicated hearing aid achieved the best speech reception thresholds (SRT) and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Apple AirPods Pro achieved similar SRT in quiet environments and SNR when the background noise came from the left side. However, the Apple device achieved no SNR improvement when the noise was at the front.