Are Disposable Hearing Aids Worth It?

Low-cost subscriptions could end up costing you more

Woman talking to doctor about hearing aids
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Traditional hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, a price that is sometimes hard to justify if you have mild to moderate hearing loss. For these individuals, a disposable hearing aid may be an attractive, cost-saving option.

Early Attempts Fail to Generate Consumer Support

Disposable hearing aid technology is still in its infancy and not without its challenges. One of the early entrants into the marketplace was the Songbird disposable hearing aid which boasted an average lifespan of around 400 hours (roughly16 days).

With the Songbird, you no longer needed to worry about batteries. You would simply order a new one when the old one failed and pop it into your ear without any fuss or bother.

Launched in 2001, the Songbird was initially met with great fanfare but quickly began to lose steam with reports of less-than-impressive performance.

In the end, the Songbird was no more than a basic analog amplifier, and even a per-unit price tag of $39 was not enough to keep users onboard. In 2012, the management at Songbird officially shuttered the business and decided to focus on lower-cost, traditional hearing aids.

Lyric Hearing Aid Review

At around the time of Songbird's launch, a competitive product known as the Lyric hearing aid was introduced. Unlike the Songbird, the Lyric aimed for a longer life (2,880 hours) with an annual subscription that would allow users up to eight units per year.

As opposed to the Songbird, the Lyric requires fitting by a certified provider with the aim of wearing the device 24 hours a day.

While the Lyric is water-resistance, it is not meant to be worn when swimming. In design, it is similar to the Songbird but has a bit more flexibility when adjusting acoustical dimensions.

Among the advantages and disadvantages of the Lyric hearing aid:

  • The device's placement at the bony portion of the ear canal places it near the eardrum. This reduces the "occlusion effect" where your own voice sounds as if it's coming from a barrel.
  • The placement also results in less feedback and doesn't interfere with receiving high-frequency sounds. It also makes it far less visible compared to similar in-the-ear devices.
  • While digitally programmable, the Lyric is still an analog device. As such, it cannot do any digital voice processing (which may or may not be an issue if you have minimal hearing loss). Neither can it digitally suppress certain sounds if someone is speaking right into your ear.
  • While it is not acoustically flexible as a fully digital device, the Lyric does have five settings to modify the acoustical dimensions to your personal preference.
  • According to the manufacturer, the Lyric can sometimes shut off during cell phone use.

Arguably, the main disadvantage is the price. While the Lyric doesn't require you to put down a large amount of money up front, the cost of an annual subscription can run anywhere $3,000 to $6,000 depending on which certified provider you use. This is more or less in line with the cost of a top-line device for one ear, only you would have to pay the Lyric fee year after year.

Deciding Whether Disposable Aids Are Worth It

If you have minimal to moderate hearing loss and simply need an amplification unit to boost your hearing, there are numerous over-the-counter (OTC) versions available at far less cost.

There are even online companies today like Audicus that offer a $499 in-the-ear model which you can finance and try risk-free for 45 days.

Despite early reluctance to OTC hearing aids, they are today embraced by consumers who can readily purchase them at big-name retailers like Walmart, Costco, and Sam's Club. While there will clearly be a difference between OTC brands and high-end models, it may not be as vast a difference based on your hearing loss.

According to a study conducted in 2017 by researchers at Indiana University, Bloomington, there was no significant difference between the OTC and high-end digital, behind-the-ear hearing aids based on six key audiological measures.

Where the OTC brands fell short was in customer satisfaction. In the end, only 55 percent of users approved of the OTC devices compared to 81 percent for the high-end units.

Individual perception of value, comfort, and performance largely accounted for these differences. Moreover, individuals with moderate hearing loss were more likely approve on OTC devices that those with severe hearing loss

Source:

Humes, L.; Rogers, S.; Quigley, T. et al. "The Effects of Service-Delivery Model and Purchase Price on Hearing-Aid Outcomes in Older Adults: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial." American Journal of Audiology. 2017; 26:53-79. DOI:10.1044/2017_AJA-16-0111.

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