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Hearing amplifiers are different from hearing aids. A hearing aid is designed to amplify a certain range of frequencies, individualized for the particular patient. It focuses on the range where the patient has suffered some hearing loss. A hearing amplifier amplifies all frequencies. (There may be some settings, to select particular ranges.) If a person needs help hearing when watching TV or during a conversation, it might be that a hearing amplifier is sufficient. It can mean the difference between understanding the dialogue in a film or TV program or having to rely on the closed captions instead. Hearing amplifiers are less expensive, can be bought “over-the-counter”, and have fewer features than hearing aids. But there is still a wide variety among them. To that end, we have put together this hearing amplifier buying guide to help you find the perfect aid for your needs. It'll help you:
Choose the right type of hearing amplifier,
See useful tips about that type of hearing amplifier,
Read reviews of different brands of hearing amplifier, and what customers are saying,
Select the right brand of hearing amplifier, and
Compare prices and find the best deals.
Note: There is also a technical difference between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers: the Federal Drug Administration regulates the manufacture of hearing aids, but not of hearing amplifiers. A hearing amplifier is thus like an “over-the-counter” remedy, as opposed to something that requires a doctor's prescription. That’s why you’ll find hearing amplifiers sold in Walmart, Walgreen’s, Target and CVS stores. (There is some danger associated with hearing amplifiers. People are warned not to use them only occasionally, so as to avoid further damaging hearing ability.)
There are a number of hearing devices. First of all, you’ll see a distinction between analog and digital sound amplifiers:
Analog amplifiers amplify all sounds, even though some can be programmed for particular environments, such as a quiet atmosphere, or a noisy stadium.
Digital amplifiers convert sound into a digital signal. They can treat the sound in a more sophisticated manner, eliminating unwanted noises and amplifying the desirable ones. But they will also be significantly more expensive. The NewEar BTE High-Quality Digital Ear Hearing Amplifier is an example of a digital amplifier.
Digital Hearing Aids: These are programmable devices that select sounds of a particular frequency. They can be set to filter out undesirable background noise so that you can focus on a particular event. These can cost as much as $1000-2000, so they clearly are quite an investment.
Hearing loop: You will commonly see the “hearing loop” insignia in public places. When a person's hearing aid is set on the “hearing loop” setting, they only receive amplification of what is being said into the loop microphone. This effectively eliminates any background noise.
Personal Sound Amplifiers: These are over-the-counter aids, which are cheaper and less selective than the high-grade hearing aids. There are two models:
Receiver in ear canal: This is a single piece that is inserted into the ear. This makes the device almost imperceptible to other people—but it does tend to clog the entire ear canal, which forces the user to hear only the amplified signal. The NewEar ITC (= in the canal) "Extra Small" Second Generation Hearing Amplifier is an example of such a device--it comes in a pair, one for the right and one for the left ear. But the controls on the amplifiers are very small: you need a screwdriver to adjust the tone control.
Behind the ear (abbreviated BTE): This loops around the ear—thus it is quite noticeable by other people. The Easyus EZ-220 / VHP-220 Digital Hearing Amplifier is a behind-the-ear model, as is the NewEar BTE High-Quality Digital Ear Hearing Amplifier. One device, the Stealth Secret Sound hearing amplifier resembles a Bluetooth device--people will think you are using it as a phone, rather than a hearing device! A behind-the-ear device should have the following features:
A battery compartment,
A power switch,
Volume control, to raise or lower the volume.
A mode button that you can change from high pitch to bass pitch,
An ear hook,
The receiver, earplug, and microphone.
Headphones + Clip-on amplifier: This consists of an amplifier that is worn on the belt. You attach headphones or earphones to the amplifier. This reduces feedback problems—and it still has all the functionality of the amplifiers that are worn on the ears. The SuperEar® Model SE5000 employs headphones. Also, the Williams Sound PKT D1 EH PockeTalker Ultra Duo Pack Amplifier is a unit that you can clip on your belt, which also has the option of using mini-earbuds or a folding headphone.
Wireless system: There are some products which use a transmitter and receiver, where the sound is broadcast wirelessly. For example, the SuperEar Loud and Clear is a wireless auditory listening communications system. It consists of a transmitter that picks up the speech of a tour guide or a television show and sends a signal to anyone with the appropriate receiver. It filters out the ambient sound, so you only hear the desired sound source.
Assisted Listening Devices: These are devices that are more sophisticated than sound amplifiers. They manage to separate a signal from background noise, using radio, infrared, or inductive loop technologies. They are also significantly more expensive than hearing amplifiers.
Based on all the consumers' reviews we've scanned, these are the top things they mentioned about their new stuff:
Best in a quiet room: Since amplifiers strengthen all the sounds, you'll find that it's best to use an amplifier when having a one-on-one conversation, with no background noise in the room. Or, when the only sound in the room is a television or radio, you can find that an amplifier is sufficient.
Make sure the ear canal is clean: Some models may cause you to impact the ear wax. It's best to clean your ear and the device before inserting it. But there are devices that come with an ear-cleaning feature. For example, the NewEar BTE High-Quality Digital Ear Hearing Amplifier has an ear cleaning brush as well.
Feedback squealing: Hearing aids are designed to control feedback. Amplifiers are more vulnerable to creating a feedback loop, since the microphone and speaker are so close to each other. It takes some practice with the volume control to eliminate feedback. The Easyus EZ-220/VHP-220 Digital Hearing Amplifier is fitted with a feedback protection, to avoid that annoying feedback “squeal”.
Headphones better than ear jack: When dealing with an amplifier that clips onto your belt, there is the option of using an ear jack or earbuds, or a pair of headphones. Even though the headphones are bulkier, people prefer them to an ear jack that keeps popping out of your ear. So it’s a definite tradeoff as to which is better.
Good to use as a backup: If you have a hearing aid already, it still is a good idea to get a hearing amplifier as well. This way, you can use it as a “backup” in the event that something happens to your hearing aid, such as losing power or needing repair. This is especially true seeing that a hearing amplifier can be less than $50, while a hearing aid can cost thousands of dollars.
Number of settings: There are hearing amplifiers that have a number of noise reduction programs, either amplifying particular frequencies, or the entire spectrum. Commonly they will have two settings: either they will amplify treble or bass. There should also be a volume control button, as well as an on/off button.
Memory function: When you have the option of a number of settings on your hearing amplifier, a memory function is a big plus. It helps you retain the last setting
Gain in decibels = 20 x log (Amplification)
Channels: Even though amplifiers are made to amplify all the sound in an area, there are devices that allow you to amplify particular frequencies, divided into channels. You can adjust the volume of each channel--just like the “equalizer” on a stereo system.The Easyus EZ-220/VHP-220 Digital Hearing Amplifier has 15 such channels, so you can focus on the frequency range in which you are interested: high-pitched or low-pitched sounds. Life Ear Hearing Amplifier has the feature of Wide-Dynamic-Range-Compression. This is a technology that compresses the range of sound frequencies into four channels. This way, loud and soft sounds are amplified differently, effectively layering the sound so that you can hear comfortably.
Frequency range: Look at the device’s frequency range, to have an idea of which sounds it is capable of amplifying. The Reizen Mighty Loud Ear Personal Sound Hearing Amplifier has a frequency range of 10Hz to 30 KHz.
Battery replacement: Check that you order the correct replacement batteries to operate the device. The amplifiers that fit on your belt take 2 “AAA” batteries, while the behind-the-ear devices will take a small button-type battery (such as LR44). Also, take note of how often the instrument needs the batteries to be replaced. Gain in decibels = 20 x log (Amplification)
Rechargeable batteries: There are rechargeable batteries, but they have the disadvantage that you may have to recharge the batteries the entire night. (A typical recharge can take 10-12 hours.) An exception to this is the New Aid High-Quality Rechargeable Ear Hearing Amplifier. It can work for up to two days on a single recharge, has a charging base, and doesn't require buying replacement batteries. Another product, the NewEar behind-the-ear Digital Hearing Amplifier can be recharged either via a USB connection or from a power outlet. It also has 6 times the power savings over a comparable analog amplifier.
Bluetooth Technology: Some amplifiers employ Bluetooth technology. This allows transmitting music or a telephone conversation directly to the amplifier. For example, the Sound World Solutions CS10 Bluetooth Series Personal Sound Amplifier uses Bluetooth technology, making it programmable by means of an Android or iPhone.
Earplug types: The advantage to some hearing amplifiers is that they can be inconspicuous--they fit perfectly into the ear so that other people won’t notice it. There are amplifiers that have a variety of sizes of ear tips, for more versatility. The New Aid amplifiers can have as many as 6 different ear tips (others, such as the HTE High-Quality Rechargeable Digital Ear Hearing Amplifier, have only 3 ear tips--small, medium, and large).
Interchangeable: Some hearing amplifiers are designated for either the right or left ear. (Some people’s hearing is not equal in both ears--hence the discrepancy.) But other models allow you to put the device in either ear. That could be a big bonus.
Sensitivity and gain: The Reizen Mighty Loud Ear Personal Sound Hearing Amplifier is sensitive enough, that it can pick up sounds from as far as 100 feet away. Gain is the ratio of the output signal to that of the input signal. It can be expressed in decibels. No amplification will give a ratio of 1--that is the equivalent of 0 decibels. A 20 decibel gain (abbreviated “20 dB”) will translate into an amplification of 10 times the original signal. (You can calculate the decibels by means of the formula:
Williams Sound—is a privately held company located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and founded in 1976. They make hearing aids for professional and personal use, as well as earphone and headphone accessories.
easyuslife—are makers of a number of hearing aids, both digital and analog amplifiers. They make hearing aids that are placed in the ear canal, as well as aids that are worn around the ear.
NewEar-- are makers of hearing aids, located in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan. They were established in 1991, and provide hearing evaluations, as well as hearing aids and hearing accessories (batteries, earmolds, etc.).
SoundWorldSolutions-- is a child company to Conversion Sound. They were founded in 2007 by Dr. Stavros Basseas and David Green. Their headquarters is located in Park Ridge, Illinois. They aim to make programmable hearing aids, utilizing cheaper consumer electronics.
SuperEar--is a product made by Sonic Technology Products, which was founded in 1981. They are makers of a wide variety of electronic devices. They make listening devices and sound amplifiers, as well as electronic pest repellers and muscle and nerve stimulators. Their headquarters is located in Grass Valley, California.