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Last updated on December 12, 2017

The Best Hearing Aids

Over-the-counter amplifiers that can help boost your hearing without a prescription
The 30-Second Review

The best hearing aid delivers pristine sound quality in a subtle design while being comfortable enough for all-day use. We spoke with audiologists and tested nine products for appearance, sound quality, and the ability to filter different frequencies. In the end, we found two over-the-counter amplifiers that clearly stood out from the crowd.

Best Overall

The Tweak’s simple design includes a small, almost weightless earpiece that hides behind your upper ear, and a thin, translucent wire that slips into your inner ear. It offers clear sound quality in a small, slender package, and was easily the best-sounding device we tested.

Runner-Up
  • The Sound World Solutions CS50 is a sleek black device that fits into your ear and looks like any other Bluetooth earpiece. We liked its modern design and its app-enabled customization, but we struggled to figure out what settings we needed.

The Best Hearing Aid

Editor's Note
  • Nov 14, 2017: The company behind one of our top picks, the Here One amplifiers, has gone out of business. We’ve removed it from the review accordingly. If you were interested in the Here Ones, we recommend the Sound World Solutions CS50 for its similar appearance and adjustability.

A hearing aid requires a doctor’s prescription, a custom fitting, and a few thousand dollars. If you’re not quite ready for that kind of investment and you want something you can buy over the counter, there are alternatives like hearing amplifiers. These devices — sometimes called personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) — are cheaper, and more easily accessible, but their lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation means you don’t always know what kind of quality you’re getting. That’s where we come in. We tested nine different hearing amplifiers and found two discreet devices that will help you hear for less than $500.

We loved the Tweak Focus for its behind-the-ear styling and its ability to amplify sound clearly at a fraction of the cost of a traditional hearing aid. The device was so lightweight and small, we nearly forgot we were wearing an amplifier, and our coworkers didn’t even notice we had them in. Best of all, the unpleasant, staticky white noise so common in other products was nowhere to be found in this amplifier, bringing the Tweak Focus’ sound quality head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Looking for an amplifier that doesn’t look like a hearing aid? Our runner-up, the Sound World Solutions CS50, looks and feels like wearing a small Bluetooth headset — a noticeable, but sleek black earpiece. And it functions just like one, too: The Sound World connects to your phone, meaning you can answer calls and stream music through your hearing device. The phone app also lets you adjust settings to fit your personal hearing needs, although we found customization a bit complicated. And despite the in-depth personalization, the CS50’s sounds weren’t as crisp as the Tweak’s.

Our Picks for the Best Hearing Amplifier

Best Overall

Tweak Focus A nearly unnoticeable device that produces surprisingly clear sound.

The Tweak Focus impressed us immediately with its smooth sound quality. Beyond simple high-frequency amplification, the Tweak Focus produced a crisp, larger-than-life presentation not found in our runner-up. The experience was especially refreshing after spending hours testing other, less-than-stellar devices.

During our concert outing, most of the devices we tested whistled sharply in our ears or were filled with heavy white noise. The Tweak Focus, on the other hand, was able to clearly separate the music from the background sounds. We were also able to distinguish the vocals far better than with any other finalist. Even in Starbucks, with all the echoing noise and hubbub of a downtown Seattle coffee shop, we were able to comfortably carry on a conversation with the barista without being distracted by the background noise.

The lack of earbuds gave the Tweak such a light feeling we almost forgot we were wearing it. Our other amplifiers all incorporated an earbud design that had a habit of plugging our ears up, creating a fishbowl effect that made our voice sound like it was trapped in a tunnel far away. The Tweak’s slim, inconspicuous microphone, on the other hand, features an earpiece tip that’s just smaller than a peppercorn, allowing us to hear ourselves while being completely aware of the volume we were speaking at.

Although a bit smaller than most hearing amplifiers, the Tweak’s body looks like a traditional hearing aid with a behind-the-ear design.

All of the products we tested came with some sort of a carrying case, but the Tweak Focus’ seemed best-suited for keeping the device safe. The outside casing withstood being run over by a bike, enthusiastically stomped on and, of course, being sat on. The rounded edges allowed for easier handling and a better fit when placed in a purse or bag, but what really sold us on the case was the foam padding inside — none of our other cases had this. Given that you’ll be spending a few hundred dollars on these devices, you probably want it to be protected from getting banged up and bumped around.

Runner-Up

Sound World Solutions CS50 A subtle alternative to the traditional hearing aid look at the cost of slightly lower sound quality.

The Sound World Solutions CS50 is a great all-day sound amplifier that disguises itself as a Bluetooth headset. We liked its stealthy appearance, 15-hour battery life, and its ability to customize sound levels through the Sound World mobile app. We just wish the customizations were a little simpler.

The biggest selling point of the Sound World Solutions CS50 is its appearance: It looks just like a normal Bluetooth headset that you would use to answer your phone. In fact, the CS50 connects to your handset, so you can use it to answer calls — just like a traditional Bluetooth headset — while still amplifying sound to better accommodate your hearing. We liked this design because it’s a different route to discretion — where the Tweak Focus is nearly invisible, the CS50 blends right in with every other bluetooth earbud.

We also liked the two rechargeable, magnetic batteries. We found the magnetic tech convenient for storage and portability, as it makes disassembly quick and simple. No hunting for runaway batteries — just stick the nifty battery to your earpiece or charger and you’re set. The app walked us through every step of the process, stripping any potentially uneasy feeling from handling a new hearing device.

The Sound World Solutions gets full points for having adjustable sound options, but falls short on user-friendliness. After an initial calibration, you can adjust overall volume, treble, bass and “mid” noise, but there was no explanation in the manual to help us decipher which setting we needed to change based on what we were hearing. In the end, we spent six hours tinkering with adjustments before things finally sounded the way we wanted them to.

Granted, the device was good at amplifying sounds. Perhaps too good — we started to feel like we were wearing spyware, able to hear music coming from headphones and whispers from across the room. During the Starbucks noise test, we had to stop and adjust the sound settings before being able to really understand the barista clearly. If you want this hearing amplifier to sound right, you’ll need to be willing to put substantial time into adjusting the options.

Did You Know?

Your brain needs time to adjust.

Even though we hear through our ears, our brains actually process the sounds, so give your brain time to get used to all the unfamiliar noise. Nicholas Reed, an audiologist at Johns Hopkins University told us there is really no specific timeline for this adjustment: “A lot has to do with how much the person wears their hearing aid and their attitude going into it.” So, give yourself and your brain a break! It won’t happen overnight, but a positive mental attitude and consistent use will definitely accelerate the process.

Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aids.

If you’ve looked into hearing aids at all, you may already know that most insurance providers, including Medicare, don’t cover them or the necessary appointments. About 30 million Americans over the age of 70 “have a clinically significant hearing loss” but less than 20 percent of them use hearing aids. This major lack of coverage is, in part, due to the steep prices of hearing aids and the doctor’s appointments they require. With comparable tech growing better each day, hearing amplifiers have the potential to provide a cheaper option for those not willing or able to spend upward of $6,000 on their hearing. In fact…

Hearing amplifiers are catching up to hearing aids.

In August 2017, Congress passed a law allowing some hearing aids to be sold over the counter. Patients with severe hearing loss will still have to see a professional for consultation, but those with mild to moderate loss (the majority of the demographic) will be able to go into any pharmacy and conveniently purchase a hearing aid for possibly much cheaper than they’re currently priced. Our experts sounded very excited about this turn of events, saying it will likely lower the cost of hearing aids while also creating a set standard for the devices we currently know as hearing amplifiers — essentially merging hearing aids and hearing amplifiers into a more consolidated price range.

The Best Hearing Amplifier, Summed Up

Hearing Amplifier
The Best
Tweak Focus
Best Overall
Sound World Solutions CS50
Runner-Up