A study shows that AirPods Pro can act as a hearing aid and perform as well as high-end specialized hearing devices that cost tens of thousands of dollars. In its roadmap for improving accessibility, Apple has made hearing aid functionality a medium-term goal for AirPods, and it’s already yielded some results.
Professional hearing aids are very complex, sophisticated devices that have features such as filtering unwanted frequency ranges and focusing on specific directions, thus allowing hearing-impaired users to hear other people’s conversations, surrounding sounds, etc. more clearly.
However, these specialized hearing aids are expensive, with a typical mid-range hearing aid typically costing several thousand dollars and a high-end hearing aid costing more than $10,000.
This also means that many people with hearing loss cannot afford the high cost of hearing aids. According to one survey, only one in six people under the age of 70 in the United States who need hearing aids have them.
Apple has long been interested in hearing aid capabilities. Back in 2013, the company’s MFi program was expanded to allow the iPhone to add functionality for Bluetooth hearing aids.
In 2018, iOS 12 added Live Listen, and Apple last year introduced Conversation Boost for AirPods Pro, which boosts the microphone pickup from directly in front of you to better communicate with others.
On Tuesday, a study published in the journal iScience found that the sound amplification in Apple’s AirPods Pro can help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss hear sounds with performance comparable to two professional prescription hearing aids.
The study noted that while the AirPods Pro does not meet FDA hearing aid standards, the device amplifies sound as well as other hearing aid devices. The study was not large, however, and objective testing found that the AirPods Pro met four out of five hearing aid standards.
In the sound and clarity tests used to evaluate the performance of some hearing aids, the AirPods Pro met established standards in four of the five categories, while the AirPods 2 met standards in two.
Ying-Hui Lai, the co-author of the study and associate professor of biomedical engineering at National Yang Ming University in Taiwan, China, said the AirPods Pro exceeded the ideal threshold for internal noise levels, which may make it more difficult for users to distinguish between lighter sounds and speech.