Options and Recommendations for Personal Hearing Amplification
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Improved hearing can provide a significant improvement to your quality of life. If you are considering investing in a hearing aid, contact your local audiologist to have your hearing tested. If a personal amplifier is a better fit for you or your loved one, please read on for recommended personal amplifiers.
Personal hearing amplifiers versus hearing aids
Hearing aids and personal amplifiers are not interchangeable, and each work best in different situations. Hearing aids are the ideal device for an individual with sensorineural hearing loss to improve their hearing perception. Hearing aids are uniquely programmed by Audiologists to magnify each sound frequency the amount you need, and no more. This protects your remaining hearing, and provides a more natural hearing experience. Their small size is unobtrusive and comfortable to wear. Modern hearing aids are advanced technology, with customized settings that allow listening to a concert while tuning out audience noise, or having conversation without being interrupted by the lawn mower outside.
The downside to hearing aid's advanced technology is that the average cost of a single hearing aid is $1,000 to $4,000. This high cost can serve as an access barrier. For those without insurance coverage, or if insurance will only cover one hearing aid, spending $50 to $200 on a personal amplifier may be preferable to listening without any amplification. Personal amplifiers can also be a great way to start addressing hearing loss before you're ready for a hearing aid, or provide needed amplification if you don't have hearing loss.
Personal amplifiers increase the sound level equally across all frequencies, which can lead to an uncomfortable listening experience, or even further damage hearing over time. They are not as good at separating background noise from speech, and you may need to bring the microphone quite close to the speaker. But for many older adults, a larger, more simplified device with headphones may allow for more independence with operation and be more tolerable to wear. Nursing staff in a nursing home may more easily recognize what the device is for, and be more likely to set it up for their resident. Larger items are also less easily lost or accidentally washed or thrown away. There are also personal amplifiers which are nearly as small and unobtrusive as behind the ear hearing aids.
Recommended personal amplifiers
SuperEar PLUS Dynamic Low-Profile Model SE7500
This durable amplifier is good for students to listen to lectures. The SE7500 includes a carrying case that easily fits onto a cup holder. It comes with both over the ear padded headphones and low-profile earbuds. It provides up to 50 decibels volume increase from up to 100 yards away, but speech clarity is best when the speaker is close to the microphone. It auto shuts-off after 45 minutes, which is designed to preserve battery life but in practice means amplification goes away unexpectedly. The listener will then miss what is said, until they realize and turn the amplifier back on. That is why this device is best for individuals who need amplification but do not have cognitive deficits. It is operated by two AAA batteries, which slowly decrease volume as they near the end of the battery life, rather than abruptly shutting off. Rechargeable batteries replaced daily will alleviate this issue. The power button has a red light to indicate when it is on, and a separate volume control wheel.
SuperEar Original Slim and Directable Model SE5000
This simple and durable amplifier is a great solution for individuals with mild cognitive impairment or dementia living in residential settings. The SE5000 comes with a metal clip, or it can be placed on a surface between you and your conversation partner. It comes with both over the ear, easily recognizable padded headphones and over the ear hook-style earbuds that stay in place. It provides up to 50 dB amplification, and speech clarity is best when your conversation partner is within a few feet. It is operated by two AAA batteries, which slowly decrease volume as they near the end of the battery life, rather than abruptly shutting off. The user may assume the amplifier no longer is helpful, instead of replacing the batteries. Rechargeable batteries replaced regularly will alleviate this issue. There is a single slide wheel to both power on/off and control the volume. There is no light to indicate if it is on or off. At around $50 on Amazon, these devices are very affordable.
Britzgo Aria Rechargeable Amplifier BHA-1704
This advanced amplifier is useful as a trial device to determine if a hearing aid would be functional for you, or as a transitional device until a hearing aid can be procured. The Optio model has worked well for my independent clients with good motor control, and this updated model has a longer battery life. If you forget to charge it, there will be enough battery life for a second day's use. The device is worn similarly to a behind-the-ear hearing aid, with a small receiver that is worn in the ear canal. Several sizes of flexible domes come with the device, and once sized correctly provide a comfortable fit. You plug it into the case to charge while you sleep. There is a single slide button on the back of the device for controlling the volume. The sound quality is similar to hearing aids, but without the frequency customization hearing aids provide.
If you are experiencing hearing loss, amplification can have a significant positive impact on cognitive, social, and physical functioning. When my clients are unable to access hearing aids, the above personal amplifiers have earned my recommendation due to their effectiveness, ease of use and durability.
Harmonic Speech Therapy helps individuals gain greater independence through improved communication. Please reach out if you have hearing loss and want to understand others better: www.harmonicspeech.com/contactus
-Tallulah Breslin, MS, CCC/SLP (she/they)
Gender & Identity Affirming Voice Training @Harmonic Speech Therapy