Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just don't call them Hearing Aids

A new wave of devices is about to hit the market designed to help users with hearing loss. The PSAPs or "personal sound amplification products" are not really hearing aids, so the FDA agreed recently to let manufacturers sell them over-the-counter, allowing consumers to bypass audiologists who have controlled the U.S. hearing aid market. PSAPs are very small and often look similar to other devices - Bluetooth headsets or MP3 players. Often they come loaded to boost high frequencies - the ones most people lose first as they age. PSAPs often utilize the same technology found in hearing aids costing thousands more. Here are some PSAPs that will be available soon:

Able PlanetPersonal Sound AMP 2500 - This tiny device uses the company's technology it puts into noise-canceling headphones. No volume control, but users can cup their ear and tap to change the setting for a different environment. $499 each, $899 for a pair. Find out more here.

RCA's Symphonix - Similar to behind-the-ear hearing aids, a plastic dome slides into the ear canal. Volume control for three settings. Designed to amplify area noises. $299. Available at retailers like Radio Shack.

MDHearingAid - This one works like the Symphonix, but has FDA approval. Preset for typical moderate hearing loss. $180 or $329 for a pair. More info here.

Walker's Game Ear, Elite HD Pro - Designed to help hunters who are trying to hear prey, but want protection from loud noises. $209. More info here.

Soundfest's Real Clarity - Not yet available, this app turns an iPhone or Android smartphone into a hearing-assistance device, using the phone's built-in mic and earphones. less than $20.

The Panasonic JZ - A couple of inches wide and long, this MP3 player look alike uses headphones. Includes a volume control. $1000. FDA-approved and sold by audiologists.

Bell + Howell Silver Sonic XL - Like many older and cheaper devices, this Bluetooth-looking device boosts sound indiscriminately. $19.99 each.