It’s a feature many owners probably don’t know their AirPods are capable of, but a new medical study has found that Apple’s wireless headphones can work well as inexpensive alternatives to hearing aids.
Find out in a new report published in the journal iScience journalcenter around the “Live Listen” feature on Apple’s AirPods and some Beats earbuds, which enables the iPhone to act as a microphone, which in turn transmits enhanced audio to the user’s earbuds.
This feature was not originally intended to help people with hearing loss, instead it was designed to attenuate certain sounds in noisy situations for people with normal hearing.
But with hearing aid prices in the US ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, researchers from Taipei Veterans General Hospital decided to conduct a study to see how relatively cheap Apple earbuds using this feature would compare to dedicated hearing devices.
Researchers tested both a pair of second-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro (2019) by pairing them with an iPhone XS Max.
They compared their test results with OTICON Opn 1’s top-of-the-line $10,000 behind-the-ear hearing aids and Bernafon’s $1,500 MD1 hearing aid.
A total of 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss participated in the study, and each person was asked to repeat short sentences read in different environments using each of the four devices. According to the AirPods Pro study, which also rank high on our list best earbuds, proven to perform as well as cheaper hearing aids and almost as good as the top OTICON model when used in quiet environments.
Slightly usurped, the cheaper 2nd generation AirPods ranked at the bottom of all four devices tested, but were still able to provide a noticeable benefit in participants’ hearing ability compared to not using any device at all. In louder test environments, the AirPods Pro scored even closer to the OTICON, which the researchers attribute to the built-in noise reduction.
However, these results came about when unwanted distracting sounds were delivered from the sides of the participant. When a participant encountered noise coming from the front while trying to listen to the example sentences, both Apple earbuds were unable to improve what was heard.
You can find out how to take advantage Apple Live Listen mode here (opens in a new tab).
The first Black Friday AirPods deals have also just started if you want to buy.
Analysis: As hearing aids, AirPods aren’t a gimmick – but neither are they a replacement for the real deal
In the week of the separate study prompt the World Health Organization to issue a warning that a billion young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing damage from listening through headphones, the irony is that one of the world’s most popular wireless headphones can actually help those affected by hearing loss.
Apple’s introduction of Live Listen to the AirPods line was quite well received by the hearing impaired community when it was introduced in 2016.
Offering a slightly cheaper speech suppression tool compared to expensive dedicated devices – especially for those living in the US, where hearing aids are usually not subsidized – being able to use Apple’s ubiquitous white earbuds in this discreet way also helped reduce the stigma of wearing a hearing aid .
However, while this new study shows that this feature isn’t just a gimmick or an added feature, it also highlights that if you have a hearing loss, a pair of AirPods should only be considered as a break.
As highlighted in the report, the AirPods fared poorly when presented with noise coming from the front rather than the side, making them less useful in conversational situations or watching a movie, for example, and also requiring the iPhone to be positioned correctly for the feature to work well. .
Dedicated hearing aids can be adjusted to increase the frequency according to the user’s needs, so if you are concerned about hearing loss, we strongly recommend that you consult an audiologist before using even the best AirPods in this way.