Even though the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act was recently signed into law, it doesn’t mean that consumer electronic companies can create products and advertise them as hearing aids. They actually have to wait for the FDA to come out with guidelines for these over-the-counter hearing aid devices, and that won’t happen for another couple of years. That’s why Bose calls their Hearphones “conversation-enhancing headphones,” because they can’t technically say that they treat hearing loss.
Bose Hearphones aren’t your regular Bose headphones, and while they still act like regular Bluetooth headphones with really good noise cancellation, they also let the user amplify speech. And as always, anytime a company implies that their product will benefit individuals with hearing loss, I naturally want to test that product out for myself.
If you’re interested in grabbing a pair of the Hearphones, check them out here.
A closer look at the Bose Hearphones
The BOSE Hearphones come in really cool packaging, with a guide to help you set up the devices. Inside the box, you are provided with different earbud tips (small, medium, and large sizes), so it is important to note that these are closed earbuds – i.e. not an open, vented earbud – and they are using this type of product to seal out external sounds and to keep sound inside of your ear. This is one of the ways that BOSE successfully provides good low-frequency amplification for full rich sound and better noise-cancellation.
A standard charger cable provided, with a standard USB charger. A case is also provided, which allows you to store your Hearphones when you’re not wearing them or when you’re traveling with them.
There are a couple of different parts to the Hearphones. On the inside of the collar, there is a power-on button and a Bluetooth button. On the very bottom of the device, hidden beneath a flap, is the charger port. On the right-side ear wire, we have the volume controls (increase, decrease, and a multi-function button that does a variety of different things) and increase-decrease volume controls for world volume. There are indicators for which ear they go on.
What I liked about the Bose Hearphones
BOSE makes very high-quality products, and they spare no expense when it comes to making their products comfortable. With the Hearphones, the earbuds are extremely soft and very comfortable to wear – even if you wear them for a very long time. The little rubber tips are very soft, and they come in three different sizes so you can find a size that fits your ear best.
- Bluetooth Stability
Nothing drives me crazier than when my Bluetooth devices lose connection. Because the Hearphones use a collar with wires, they are able to maintain a steadier connection with your devices. I set my phone on one side of the gym and walked to the other side of the gym with the Hearphones, and they continued to maintain a good connection. This is not something I’m able to do with devices that go completely in my ear.
- Quality of Music
In true BOSE fashion, the sound quality is spectacular. Sound quality from the Hearphones are better than any other earphones I’ve used, and the only thing that I found to be better than these are wired BOSE headphones.
- Ability to Meet Prescriptive Targets for Mild and Moderate Hearing Losses
Pro number four is that they can actually meet prescriptive targets for mild and moderate hearing losses. The biggest indicator on whether a product will benefit someone will hearing loss is if it will meet a hearing loss prescription. I tested this using real-ear measurement. If you don’t know what real-ear measurement is, I highly recommend you go here and return to this review after. Here, I break down my processes used to test prescriptive targets:
Test 1: Prescription for a flat mild hearing loss
I first wanted to see if the Hearphones could meet a prescription for a flat mild hearing loss across the frequency range, seen above. The basic concept of real ear measurement is to see if a hearing device can meet a prescriptive target for the amount of sound needed for a particular hearing loss when being measured inside of my ear canal.
What we’re looking at above is a sound that is coming out of a loud speaker, indicated by the solid black line, and my ear canal resonance, which is the natural amplification of sound created by my ear canal, as illustrated by the solid pink line. The prescriptive target for a mild hearing loss is the pink hash mark line. The goal is to overlap the solid pink line with the hash mark line. And as you can see here, my natural ear is not capable of amplifying the sound to a mild hearing loss prescription.
The chart we see above shows what happens when I wear the Bose Hearphones without it amplifying any real-world sound. As expected, the earbuds are blocking sound when they’re not amplifying, as indicated by the solid purple line. The prescriptive target is now a purple hash mark line. What I’m doing now is making adjustments to the real-world sound and treble adjustment to see how close I can get the prescriptive targets for the mild hearing loss.
As you can see above, with each adjustment, I’m able to get closer and closer to the hash mark prescriptive line. I had to make a number of adjustments to get close to the targets. Ultimately, I ended up with real-world volume of 60 and increased the base to 10, which gets me very close. It’s still not perfect, but for a $500 hearable device, that’s pretty darn good.
What we’re looking at now is me switching to the front focus mode while facing the loud speaker. We would expect the solid orange line to overlap with the solid purple line, which it clearly does during this measurement. This means that the microphones are picking up sound from the front.
Now we’re looking at the focused mode of the Hearphones, but with the loud speaker facing the back of my head. What we should see is the reduction of amplification of the sound from behind me. This means that if you’re in a noisy environment, you should notice a reduction in the sound behind you and an amplification of sound in front of you. Basically, this illustrates directionality of the microphones as expected.
On the curve above, I put the Hearphones back into “everywhere mode” with the speaker behind me, and as expected, it does not attenuate or reduce the amplification from behind me. Basically, when you use the different microphone configurations, they actually work, much like traditional hearing aids.
Test 2: Prescription for a moderate hearing loss
What I want to see now is if the Hearphones can meet a prescription for a moderate hearing loss.
This first curve is at the same setting that met the prescription for a mild hearing loss. Of course, as you can see, the new prescription hash mark line is higher with the moderate hearing loss.
So, I’ll make an adjustment in the Hearphones to hit the prescription for a flat moderate hearing loss, which is pretty impressive. Of course, not everyone has a flat moderate hearing loss, so I checked to see if I could reduce the low frequency amplification while keeping the high frequencies on target.
And as you can see, I was able to fit a moderate high frequency hearing loss prescription. However, I was getting some whistling, otherwise known as feedback, with this setup because too much sound was leaking out of my ears.
To say that I was very impressed with the Hearphones’ ability to master prescriptive target would be an understatement. And in fact, I think that the Hearphones would have the capability of outperforming hearing aids, if those hearing aids weren’t fit appropriately to your hearing loss prescription. You just have to be able to find a hearing care professional who’s willing to do real ear measurement on these so you can see what the settings are to get you closer to your prescription.
- The noise cancellation ability of the Hearphones.
Now if you want to get really good noise cancellation, just basically go out and get any Bose product. It will do great noise cancellation when you’re listening to music. The Hearphones are no exception to that, and they actually do a pretty good job of noise cancellation during live speech as well.
When checking for noise reduction of a device, what we want to see is the solid orange line dropping away from the solid purple line, and as you can see, we are getting a reduction when playing noise from a loud speaker, and at the completion of the measurement, we get about a seven-decibel reduction in background noise with the real-world sound set on 50.
When I turn the real-world down to a negative 50, it actually gives me an error message because there’s not enough sound coming through the earphones to give me a measurement.
What I didn’t like about the Bose Hearphones
- The collar
Now, I know I just got done saying that a pro of the Hearphones was that the collar gives you really good Bluetooth connection with your phone, but on the other side of that, I really don’t like having anything around my neck, and it is particularly annoying when I’m going to the gym.
The other thing about the collar is that it actually seems a little bit rude to wear it and put the earbuds in your ears when you’re having a conversation with someone, particularly if it’s someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t know you’re using them because of a hearing difficulty that you may have. And so, during these types of conversations, this may give the impression that you’re not interested in what they have to say, or you’re just too rude to pull them out of your ears while you’re having that conversation.
- Phone call clarity
Now, I’m not talking about the clarity of you hearing the person that you’re talking with. That actually comes through loud and clear, and nearly as perfect as possible. What I’m talking about is when you’re using the Hearphones and having a conversation with someone, on their end, they will perceive that you have more background noise in your area.
Somehow the Hearphones are actually picking up that surrounding noise and transferring it through to their end, and this can be a really big problem if you’re having to have a phone conversation with a little bit more noise in your environment.
- Poor feedback cancellation
Even though the Bose Hearphones have closed ear tips, any time you’re trying to increase the amplification to meet a prescription for a moderate hearing loss, too much of that sound leaks out of your ear and recycles back through the microphone which will give you that annoying whistling sound. This is where hearing aids clearly outperform Hearphones in terms of being able to eliminate this feedback or whistling sound.
Hearing aids have feedback cancelers, so they can identify where the whistling would occur and actually remove that whistle before it happens or immediately after it starts happening. This is why a traditional hearing aid, even if they have an open-vented tip, can eliminate feedback as long as the feedback evaluation is done during the fitting appointment.
- The occlusion effect
When you talk, your own voice gets conducted through your skull, and it tries to escape through your ear canals, and when you plug your ear canals with something, you hear your own voice very boomy and loud, and it is extremely annoying. That is the occlusion effect. Because the Hearphones don’t have open venting on their ear tips, it gives you a really bad occlusion effect.
One way to eliminate the occlusion effect would be to put open venting on the ear tips, but that would create an even bigger problem with the feedback that I just talked about. If you have open tips on there, that sound is going to leak out and recycle back through your microphones, and you’re not going to be able to amplify your devices at all. Not only this, but if you have open tips here, it won’t let the devices do their noise cancellation capabilities, which is one of the biggest benefits of having Bose Hearphones.
Conclusion: Surprisingly good for mild to moderate hearing loss
Overall, I was very impressed with the Bose Hearphones. I mean, my jaw practically hit the floor when I saw how close I was able to match the amplification from the Hearphones to a mild and moderate hearing loss prescription inside of my ear.
In the current form, do I think the Bose Hearphones could outperform a set of traditional hearing aids when those hearing aids are fit and programmed well for your hearing loss prescription? The answer to that is no.
But, do I think that Bose Hearphones would provide an adequate amount of benefit for someone with a mild to moderate hearing loss? The answer to that is actually yes. I’m not sure that you actually would want to use them all day every day, but they would definitely be a good situational use product if you’re having some kind of difficulty understanding speech.
Now, if any consumer electronics company is well poised to provide over-the-counter hearing aids, I would definitely consider Bose to be one of them. As mentioned before, if you’re interested in grabbing a pair of the Hearphones, check the link here.