The unexpected function of AirPods: they are also good hearing aids

A study by researchers shows that Apple headphones meet the standards required for hearing aids. Less expensive, they would also be effective as hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Will the AirPods Pro soon be officially used as a hearing aid by people with deafness? This is what researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital tried to demonstrate. Starting from the observation that many hard of hearing people did not have the means to equip themselves with hearing aids, they wanted to check whether headphones for the general public could replace dedicated hearing aids.

AirPods Pro meet four of the five standards required for hearing aids

To conduct their study, the researchers therefore examined the electroacoustic characteristics of dedicated hearing aids, AirPods Pro and second-generation AirPods.

They discovered that the AirPods 2 only met two of the five standards required in hearing aid devices. On the other hand, the AirPods Pro seem much more interesting. The researchers determined that Apple’s earbuds met four of the five standards required for hearing aids.

To compare the effectiveness of AirPods to that of hearing aids, the researchers submitted 21 patients (nine men and twelve women) with an average age of 43 years. None of these patients had ever worn a hearing aid.

AirPods Pro soundtone
© iScience

As effective and less expensive than hearing aids

In addition to meeting most of the electroacoustic criteria of conventional hearing aids, the AirPods Pro offer similar performance. Although the patients tested had better speech perception with high-end hearing aids, they did not perceive any noticeable difference between the AirPods Pro and the hearing aids in a quiet environment.

For the researchers, the results obtained prove that Apple headphones offer similar performance and could therefore perfectly be used as a hearing aid. They thus consider that although they are not classified as a medical device, the AirPods Pro can provide an appropriate hearing aid for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. For them, Apple’s headphones are quite credible substitutes for conventional hearing aids, given their very low cost.

In France, the average price of hearing aids is around 1,500 euros per device (and therefore, per ear). A price very much higher than what the purchase of a pair of AirPods Pro (300 euros) and an iPhone (more or less 1,000 euros) can represent. The latter is indeed essential to use the AirPods Pro as a hearing aid. Indeed, it is the microphone of the iPhone which is used to capture the surrounding sounds by the function “Listening in real time” in order to reproduce them in the earphones.

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