Searching for genuine consumer-generated hearing aid reviews online can be frustrating. Just try Googling “hearing aid reviews” sometime – if you haven’t already. You’ll find a number of hearing aid “buying guides,” from the likes of AARP, Mayo Clinic, Consumer Affairs, and more. While we highly recommend familiarizing yourself with a reputable buying guide before purchasing hearing aids, we’re also disappointed with Google’s poor delivery. Where are the hearing aid reviews?
Before moving on to a thorough discussion of Hearing Tracker’s consumer reviews, we’d like to take a moment to further inspect Google’s top 10 results for “hearing aid reviews” (collected in January, 2016). The way we see it, the lack of relevant results is only part of the problem; only a handful of these links lead to independent, unbiased resources.
Google’s Top 10 Results for “Hearing Aid Reviews”
Conflict of Interest
There are a number of results in the top 10 that we take issue with, due to clear (and masked) conflicts of interest. Some of the conflicts are clear; Starkey is a well-known hearing aid manufacturer (not an unbiased resource by any means), and somehow they’ve managed to come up on the first page of Google for “hearing aid reviews.” Well done Starkey. Not as well known, Audicus sells its own line of Audicus-branded hearing aids directly to consumers over the internet. Another clear conflict of interest. Let’s take a look at some of the less obvious conflicts of interest:
Better Hearing Institute
The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is a subsidiary of the Hearing Instruments Association (HIA), “the national trade association of manufacturers of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, component parts, and power sources.” While the HIA represents most of the top players in the hearing aid industry, smaller companies like Zounds, and newer companies like Eargo, are missing from the HIA membership. While we don’t specifically take issue with BHI’s messaging, we think consumers should be aware of the conflict of interest when visiting the site.
While we couldn’t find any hearing aid reviews (expert or otherwise) on Healthy Hearing (what’s up with that Google?), we did find a number of informational hearing aid guides, which cover topics such as “Hearing Aid Fittings” and “Hearing Aid Comparisons.” While the guides themselves are generally useful, they ultimately serve the purpose of directing consumers to Healthy Hearing’s own hearing clinic finder. The problem? It is well known in the industry that Healthy Hearing promotes providers who sell more Oticon products. Another conflict of interest served up by Google. Just check out this video if you don’t believe us:
AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, “is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization” that is committed to never compromising their integrity for “personal gain or to achieve a goal.” However, AARP has a deep dark secret when it comes to its promotion of the HearUSA brand. Check out this excerpt, which comes from a letter from the Committee on Ways and Means (US House of Representatives) to the IRS:
On May 16, 20 11, HearUSA , Inc. (“HearUSA “) filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in the Southern District of Florida bankruptcy court. According to press reports, in 2008, HearUSA entered into an agreement with AARP to endorse hearing aids and to offer these products to AARP’s members at a reduced price. ‘ The HearUSA website (www.hearusa.com) states AARP members receive a 15 percent discount on certain purchases. Documents that emerged during the bankruptcy detailed the business agreement between AARP and HearUSA. Initially, HearUSA offered to pay AARP $7.6 million a year to become the only hearing aid provider endorsed by AARP. However, the final contract included the following terms: (1) that AARP received a $55 “royalty” fee on each hearing aid sold; (2) HearUSA would spend $4.4 million a year in advertisements promoting AARP-endorsed hearing aids, and (3) HearUSA would make a $250,000 “donation” to the AARP Foundation. According to the press reports, AARP has collected more than $660,000 in “royalty” payments under the agreement.
Connect Hearing is a division of Sonova, the same company that owns Phonak, Lyric, Unitron, Advanced Bionics (cochlear implants), and HearingPlanet.com (online hearing aid retailer). Interestingly, this Google result leads to a page which highlights hearing aid models from Phonak and Unitron, but also competing brands like Oticon and Widex.
Based on the information provided on Connect Hearing’s website, it’s hard to determine how much the conflict of interest is affecting consumers. For example, the “Hearing Aid Brands” page also says:
Although we make a point to carry brands devoted to providing the most advanced technology and high quality products, there is no one “best” hearing aid brand. More important than finding the best brand is finding the best hearing aid for your unique hearing loss and personal lifestyle.
This statement suggests that Connect Hearing is willing to consider all brands equally for each customer. However, when you take a look at Connect Hearing employee feedback on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed, it’s not so clear. Check out this review of Connect Hearing from one former employee:
Decent compensation & benefits package. Phonak is a good product to fit.
Comments like this certainly make you wonder. If you have any personal experience with Connect Hearing, we’d love to get your feedback (use the comments section below).
When I first saw this result on Google, I must admit, I was duped. The name “Consumer Affairs” struck me as instantly credible. I assumed Consumer Affairs would be an independent non-profit resource (like Consumer Reports), but after a little detective work, I discovered this clearly was not the case. Let’s take a look at the page for “Best Hearing Aids for 2015” with some extra clear clarification (Paid!) added:
Yes, it’s true. Zounds, Miracle Ear, and Beltone all pay Consumer Affairs monthly fees to maintain their “accredited” status. How much money are we talking about? Somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000 a month, with one commenter suggesting the fees may be as high as $10,000 per month. Consumer Affairs has also been accused of meddling with the ratings, and holding back positive or negative ratings (depending on accredited status). The Better Business Bureau even stepped in and recommended that Consumer Affairs more clearly disclose “paid affiliation with company members on its website.” Thanks for serving up this excellent result Google!
Hearing Aid Reviews
Thanks for sticking with me during that diversion. Google’s results for “hearing aid reviews” have bothered me for a long time, so it feels good to finally get that out of my system. Now, we’ll move on to the main attraction. Some bonafide consumer-generated hearing aid reviews!
Understanding Hearing Aid Reviews
Hearing aid reviews are fundamentally different from reviews for most other consumer electronic products. The reason is because individual factors, like degree of hearing loss, have a profound effect one’s success and overall satisfaction with the product. Consider the following example:
Bob and Steve both purchase a new pair of Sony headphones. Bob and Steve both have normal hearing, and are are on even ground when it comes to evaluating the sound quality of the headphones. Bob has a slightly bigger head, and gives the Sony headphones 5 stars on Amazon, because they’re a perfect fit for him, and he loves the sound quality. Steve also loves the sound quality, but finds the headphones slightly loose on his smaller head. He only gives the headphones 4 stars.
As you can see, there are individual factors with any consumer electronic. Bob’s larger head size made the Sony headphones a perfect fit. Now consider an example from the world of hearing aids:
Bob and Steve both suffer from hearing loss. Bob has a severe hearing loss while Steve has only mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Bob and Steve are both fitted with the new Resound LiNX2 hearing aids by the same hearing provider, and both have textbook perfect hearing aid fittings. Steve sees a dramatic improvement in his hearing with the new hearing aids, and streamlines right back into the social scene he’s been missing. He gives the hearing aid 5 stars. Bob, with his severe hearing loss, sees a definite improvement in his hearing, but still misses about half of what people are saying, and can’t hear soft speech, or the television, very well. He gives the LiNX2 only 3 stars.
In the example above, the hearing aid is performing perfectly for both Bob and Steve, but Steve achieves a more perfect hearing result, since he has better hearing to begin with. Due to the inherent limitations of more severe forms of hearing loss, Bob cannot possibly achieve the same result. While he has been counseled by his hearing provider about these limitations, he still feels the hearing aids are imperfect, and his hearing aid review reflects that concern.
Only the names in this example are hypothetical. In my years in clinical practice, I have seen this scenario play out again and again, with satisfaction varying wildly for the same exact products, and a clear pattern of greater satisfaction in patients with less severe hearing loss.
To muddy the waters further, imagine now that Bob and Steve both have the exact same hearing loss, both purchase the same LiNX2 hearing aids, but are each fitted by a different hearing provider. If Bob’s hearing provider is superior to Steve’s, Bob will likely achieve a better result with his LiNX2s and report greater satisfaction with the product. Many argue (and I agree) that comprehensive hearing care is the the most important factor in achieving a good outcome with hearing aids – even above the product itself.
Why Hearing Aid Reviews Still Matter
When purchasing a hearing aid, you’ll need to consider more than just your hearing outcome. Hearing aids are manufactured with varying levels of quality; some hearing aids are extremely durable, while others suffer frequent breakage. Battery life also varies between models, and manufacturer predictions of battery life are often optimistic. By collecting feedback from consumers, we can get a better idea of real world product durability and battery life.
Technology reliability and accessory functionality are other areas where consumer feedback can be useful. Are the manual controls on the hearing aid working consistently? Does your phone maintain a persistent Bluetooth pairing with your Made for iPhone hearing aid? Does your remote control work every time you press a button, or are there some inconsistencies. Do your synchronized hearing aids always change volume and program setting together? Does your remote microphone maintain a steady connection?
These types of issues have been reported by many users on Hearing Tracker. Knowing about product limitations ahead of time can help establish realistic expectations or help avoid bad products completely. Note: It’s important to read written review comments to learn about specific product limitations. See what one reviewer said about the Resound LiNX2:
The iphone app causes phone conversations to move from ear to ear and sometimes cut out altogether. You can watch the connection failures on the phone. Very disconcerting for a mature technology like bluetooth.
Rating Hearing Improvement
Is it possible to compare two different hearing aids based on the hearing improvement they can deliver? As crazy as this sounds, we think it might be possible, but you’d need to collect hundreds (or even thousands) of reviews for each hearing aid model to minimize the effect of individual factors like hearing loss severity (remember Bob and Steve?). This is certainly the holy grail for a hearing aid review website like ours, and we hope to deliver this kind of value in the future. In the meantime, interpret with caution!
Our Hearing Aid Review Process
We are proud to host the industry’s most comprehensive hearing aid review system. Rather than implementing the ubiquitous 1-to-5 star product review system, Hearing Tracker built its product review system from the ground up, specifically to accommodate the nuances of hearing aids. We devised a 10-question survey using established hearing aid outcome questionnaires as guidance. We ask the following 10 questions:
- How much does your hearing aid help you to hear speech in quiet environments?
- How much does your hearing aid help you to hear speech in noisy situations (restaurants, crowds, etc)?
- How much does your hearing aid help you to hear speech on the phone?
- How clear and natural does the hearing aid sound?
- How much does your hearing aid improve your hearing for music?
- How comfortable is the hearing aid?
- How reliable is the hearing aid?
- Does the hearing aid do a good job of stopping unwanted feedback?
- How much does the hearing aid improve your hearing?
- How would you rate the value of your hearing aid?
Each of these survey questions is averaged (between surveys) to give us a nice bar chart showing the ratings for each model, by question. Here are the ratings for the Phonak Audeo V90 312T, as of January 2016:
Aside from gathering more relevant information in our survey, we also encourage reviewers to add their audiograms (hearing tests) and select their hearing provider from our database when submitting a review. By collecting relevant feedback from reviewers and connecting hearing aid reviews with hearing tests and hearing providers, we hope to provide a more complete picture of the reviewer’s experience and circumstances. To view the audiogram associated with a given review, click on the graph icon next to the user (only available if the reviewer submitted a hearing test):
If you want to know who fit the reviewer’s hearing aid, click on the user’s name or photo, and you’ll find the provider shown on their profile page (if the review is linked to a provider).
Hearing Aid Models
While many websites only allow consumers to review hearing aid technology families (e.g. Phonak Bolero), Hearing Tracker is model specific (e.g. Phonak Bolero Q70 M312). Different hearing aid models from the same technology family can differ in appearance, power, and performance, and some models may be missing important technological features like directional microphones or telecoils. Battery life can also vary wildly, depending on the size of the battery, power required by the device, and wireless functionality of the device. As a result of these differences, we believe it is important to review the device, not the product family.
Summary of Hearing Aid Reviews
Now that we’ve covered all the disclaimers and caveats, we feel pretty comfortable sharing a summary of our hearing aid reviews.
Best Hearing Aids Overall
Up-to-date rankings for best hearing aids.
Best Value Hearing Aids
How would you rate the value of your hearing aid?
Up-to-date rankings for best value hearing aids.
Most Comfortable Hearing Aids
Up-to-date rankings for most comfortable hearing aids.
Most Reliable Hearing Aids
Up-to-date rankings for best hearing aids.
Finding hearing aid reviews online can be a daunting task. Google makes it almost impossible to find anything relevant, and instead serves up a collection of misleading/biased resources. Those who make it as far as Hearing Tracker will find it hard to compare hearing aids based on the ratings due to the limited number of reviews available. It will take time, and greater community involvement, to enable truly meaningful hearing aid model comparisons. For now we advise soaking up the insightful written comments, and interpreting the product ratings with caution.
One last piece of advice (and this is an important one). While hearing aid reviews do have some value (for the reasons I mentioned above), your best bet is to find a trusted advisor who lives and breathes hearing aid technology. Be sure to find a hearing aid provider who embraces a contemporary approach to hearing enhancement. If you’re interested in a specific hearing aid brand or model, let your hearing aid provider know, but be prepared to discuss alternative options! They truly do know best!
Help us make Hearing Tracker better! Review your hearing aids today, and receive a free 3 month supply of batteries!
Last modified: September 3, 2016