It’s never been a better time to purchase affordable hearing aids. That’s great news for the nearly 38 million Americans age 12 or older with hearing loss.
In October, the Food and Drug Administration made hearing aids available to be sold over the counter instead of only by prescription, with the goal of broadening accessibility to the audio devices and lowering the average cost of getting hearing assistance. Since the FDA ruling, you can now find hearing aids in pharmacies and big box retailers, from CVS and Walgreens to Best Buy and Costco.
Hearing aids are understatedly impressive technology. The ear, according to Nicholas Reed, audiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is not the most hospitable environment, so the technology that goes into creating a functioning and excellent hearing aid has to be incredibly advanced. Putting a hearing aid in an ear is like “dropping a laptop in a swamp,” Reed says. There are plenty of hearing aids that can function impeccably in that sort of environment and many that fall short.
With the many OTC hearing aids on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose which will suit your needs best. To figure out which OTC hearing aid has the best value, we’ve calculated the price, added on the warranties (if there is one), cost of maintenance, care, batteries and protection plans.
For more on this topic, here’s a guide to OTC hearing aids and here’s how to properly clean a hearing aid.
Should I get a prescription or OTC hearing aid?
OTC hearing aids are designed to serve different purposes than prescription hearing aids, which require a medical or audiologist evaluation and installation. The main difference is the level of supplemental care or “handholding,” Reed said, you get with each product. You’re mostly on your own with an OTC hearing aid, from choosing the product to setting it up. With a prescription device, the price can cover a hearing test, professional installation and regular cleaning, maintenance and other care.
OTC hearing aids are typically marketed toward adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, but even if you fall in that category it’s a good idea to consult an audiologist about the state of your hearing loss before choosing one option over the other, because you may still benefit from a prescription hearing aid. This hearing loss tip sheet from the Hearing Loss Association of America can help you determine whether you have mild to moderate hearing loss.
If you opt for an OTC hearing aid, Reed still suggests seeing a professional to get your hearing tested by an audiologist and make sure the product you purchased serves your hearing needs.
Prescription hearing aids can cost a person anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. In comparison, OTC hearing aids can cost, on average, $1,600 per pair, according to the National Council on Aging. Prescription hearing aids also tend to last longer.
Things to consider before you buy
In theory, OTC hearing aids are supposed to be similar in quality to prescription hearing aids, without the price of doctor’s visits, fittings and maintenance. According to Reed, however, this hasn’t exactly happened.
When the FDA made OTC hearing aids available, it made them 510(K) exempt, Reed explains. This essentially means that they aren’t mandated to undergo a clinical trial. “[OTC hearing aids] just have to meet some basic standards, and that makes it a much wonkier market,” Reed said.
If you do go the DIY route, consider opting for self-fitting hearing aids, Reed suggests. That’s because they tend to be more rigorously tested and fall under a different categorization than your average OTC hearing aid. This isn’t to say that all OTC hearing aids that aren’t self-fitting are unreliable products, but that you shouldn’t jump on any OTC hearing aid and expect it to rival the performance of a prescription hearing aid.
In its August ruling, the FDA addressed these concerns and provided an explanation for why it was not mandating OTC hearing aids to be classified as self-fitting at this time. “Requiring that OTC hearing aids be a currently classified air-conduction hearing aid could have the effect of limiting the OTC category to current technologies rather than allowing the category to extend to new types of hearing aids,” the FDA said in the ruling.
How we decided which hearing aids to evaluate
Looking through expert-approved best lists and considering a diversity of price ranges and qualities from some major producers, I aggregated ten different commonly used hearing aid devices to see how they stacked up. I did not test any of these products myself, and am solely reviewing them through their price, cost of warranty, additional care provided, battery life and lifespan. To find information on battery life and lifespan, I deferred to each hearing aid’s user manual or customer service representative.
Price of OTC hearing aids
|Brand and model||Price of hearing aid||Cost of warranty||Cost of additional care||Total price|
|Audicus Wave||$1,400 for battery-powered pair or $1,600 for rechargeable||3-year warranty: $198||Clean and care services and one-time loss protection, Audicus Care ($12 a month): $144 a year||$1,742 or $1,942|
|Audien Atom Pro||$250||1-year warranty included||N/A||$250|
|Eargo 7||$2,950||2-year warranty included||N/A||$2,950|
|Go Prime||$300||1-year warranty included||Go Hearing accessories kit: $16; Go Hearing dehumidifier: $10||$326|
|Jabra Enhance Select 200 Basic||$1,795||1-year warranty (includes loss and damage protection)||N/A||$1,795|
|Jabra Enhance Select 200 Premium||$1,995||3-year warranty||Professional hearing care, loss and damage protection included||$1,995|
|Lexie B1 Powered by Bose||$850||1-year warranty included||Care kit $383; Protection plan $96; batteries per year (on average): $81||$1,441|
|Lexie B2 Powered by Bose||$1,000||1-year warranty included||Care kit: $240; Protection plan: $180||$1,420|
|HP Hearing Pro||$700||2-year warranty included||N/A||$700|
|Sony E10 Hearing Aids||1,300$||2-year warranty + accidental damage protection: $150; or 3-year warranty + accidental damage protection: $190||N/A||$1,450 or $1,490|
You may spend a pretty penny on your hearing aid, so it’s essential you have a warranty that covers the first few years of use, in case any malfunctions arise. Some companies, like Jabra, bundle a warranty, cleaning services, care and protection into the price of their product, while other hearing aids charge extra for each layer of protection and care, like Audicus and Sony.
Specs of OTC hearing aids
|Make and model||Return policy||Fitting and follow-up care||Battery life||Lifespan|
|Audicus Wave||45 days||Included||18 to 20 hours from full charge if using the rechargeable, according to Audicus rep||Not available|
|Audien Atom Pro||45 days||N/A||Up to four days of charge||2-3 years|
|Eargo 7||45 days||N/A||Up to 16 hours on a single charge and up to 3 days of on-the-go charging||2-3 years|
|Go Prime||45 days||N/A||Up to 20 hours||2 years|
|Jabra Enhance Select 200 Basic||100 days||N/A||15 hours of use from 1-hour charge, 30 hours of use from 3 charges||5 years|
|Jabra Enhance Select 200 Premium||100 days||Included||15 hours of use from 1-hour charge, 30 hours of use from 3 charges||5 years|
|Lexie B1 Powered by Bose||45 days||N/A||312 Zinc Air batteries have 56 hours of run time||2 years|
|Lexie B2 Powered by Bose||45 days||N/A||18 hours||2 years|
|HP Hearing Pro||60 days||N/A||8 hours of hearing and 5 hours of Bluetooth streaming||2-3 years|
|Sony E10 Hearing Aids||45 days||N/A||26 hours||5 years|
When you’re in the market for a hearing aid, an important aspect of the device you should consider is its lifespan. Prescription hearing aids can last a person anywhere from five to 10 years, Reed said. So let’s say you need an OTC hearing aid for five years. Some of these OTC devices, per their manuals or customer service representatives, only last two to three years before they’re due for a replacement. So you’d need to replace the hearing aid twice within five years. That doubles the price of the cheaper hearing device, like the $1,000 Lexie Powered by Bose, and puts it on par with some of the more expensive hearing devices on the OTC market, like the Jabra Enhance Select 200 Premium, which costs $1,995 but has a five-year lifespan.
Which OTC hearing aid gives you the most bang for your buck?
Overall, the best option you can go with is the Jabra Enhance Select 200 Premium for its three-year warranty, the professional hearing care included, loss and damage protection and its five-year lifespan. The longer lifespan means that you’ll have the product functioning with fewer breakages for an extended period of time, in comparison to the other hearing aids. Plus, with professional hearing care included, if your hearing aid does break or if your hearing needs change, your needs will more likely be served.
The Audicus Wave is our second runner-up due to its cleaning and care services, lifespan and battery life. For similar reasons, the Sony E10 is also a top contender on the list. If you’re still undecided about which route to go, we suggest meeting with an audiologist. Here’s how we’ve ranked our top OTC hearing aids.
1. Jabra Enhance Select 200 Premium
2. Audicus Wave
3. Sony E10
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