Bluetooth Hearing Aids

How to Connect Your Hearing Aids With the Wider World

Abram Bailey, AuD

Doctor of Audiology

Updated 11 September 2020

Hearing aids that connect you to smartphones and other Bluetooth devices have opened up new worlds to hearing aid wearers. Previously, hearing aids simply helped you hear better. Now, your MP3 or iTunes player can stream recorded music directly to your Bluetooth hearing aids, no wires necessary. You can make calls, and you don't even have to put the phone to your ear. You can stream video chats or Netflix movies. And there are countless other possible applications.

Phonak Marvel Bluetooth Hearing Aids

But shopping for a Bluetooth hearing aid can be confusing. Bluetooth- and smartphone-compatible hearing instruments come in dozens of different flavors. And there always seems to be a catch. So knowing the basics can help.

Only one hearing aid manufacturer offers universal accessory-free Bluetooth connectivity

Here's the first catch. Only one manufacturer­ currently offers true, accessory-free universal Bluetooth connectivity. Phonak and Unitron, owned by number-one manufacturer Sonova, offer several hearing aid models that offer completely wireless connectivity to the many millions of Bluetooth devices out there. And Costco's new Kirkland Signature 9.0 hearing aid, also manufactured by Sonova, offers universal Bluetooth as well.

Most other Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids—manufactured by competing brands—are only able to stream audio directly from iOS devices like iPhone and iPad, and not from Android phones or other standard Bluetooth devices. This means that an audio-streaming device is currently required to enable non-iOS Bluetooth audio streaming for all other hearing aid brands.

Why? The chip and battery technologies to handle all Bluetooth transmissions are still too bulky to fit within most small hearing aids. So most manufacturers put those components into a separate audio-streaming device. Sonova was the first to fit all that wireless technology onto a single chip with Marvel. Others are now working to catch up.

Bluetooth hearing aid FAQ

The only hearing aid models currently offering 100% universal wireless Bluetooth connectivity are Marvel hearing aids from Phonak. However, “Made-for-iPhone” hearing aids provide wireless connectivity to most Bluetooth devices, but not with Android phones. Many other brands promote “Bluetooth compatibility,” but they require an intermediate streamer to receive and retransmit Bluetooth audio to their hearing aids form all Bluetooth devices.

Made-for-iPhone (MFi) hearing aids are natively compatible with most iOS devices, like iPhone and iPad. Most MFi hearing aids may achieve Bluetooth connectivity with a broader range of devices using using an intermediary accessory. In some cases they may also be natively compatible with Android devices, but this varies by manufacturer and Android device.

The current list includes Phonak Marvel, Phonak Paradise, Starkey Livio, ReSound One, ReSound LiNX Quattro, Beltone Imagine, and ReSound ENZO Q. Widex MOMENT is expected to add ASHA compatibility in 2020.

A streamer either hangs from your neck or clips to your clothing, and receives audio from Bluetooth-enabled phones, MP3 music players, computers, tablets and other electronic devices. Once the streamer has picked up the sound from the Bluetooth-device, it re-transmits the audio to the hearing aids, typically via a proprietary 2.4GHz radio signal.

Made-for-iPhone hearing aids and Phonak’s Bluetooth hearing aids are most often premium products from top hearing aid brands. So prices for a pair can range anywhere from less than $3,000 to more than $6,000 per pair, depending on what other features and functions they have. Hearing aids that require an intermediate streamer for Bluetooth connectivity may be less expensive.

The latest hearing aid streamers make Bluetooth easy

Aside from Sonova, most hearing aid manufacturers put the non-iOS Bluetooth processing and communications technology into an audio-streaming device (referred to as a “streamer”). Streamers are typically purchased as an add-on to hearing aids, but the good news is that today's Bluetooth hearing aid streamers provide a relatively painless workaround to achieving universal Bluetooth connectivity with your hearing aids.

Hearing Aid Streamer

Bluetooth audio may be streamed from a laptop to a pair of Widex MOMENT hearing aids through COM-DEX, an intermediary streaming device.

A streamer either hangs from your neck or clips to your clothing, and receives audio from Bluetooth-enabled phones, MP3 music players, computers, tablets and other electronic devices. Once the streamer has picked up the sound from your favorite Bluetooth-enabled audio device, it re-transmits the audio to the hearing aids, typically via a proprietary 2.4GHz radio signal.

Hearing aid makers have started delivering Bluetooth streaming accessories that are smaller, more feature-rich, and easier to use. They provide wireless communication with all Bluetooth-enabled devices. And their associated apps work well with both iPhones and Android smartphones.

"Made-for-iPhone" hearing aids help fill the gap

In the meantime, most premium-brand hearing makers actually do meet a major portion of the market's need for a better listening experience with "Made-for-iPhone" hearing aids. First introduced in 2015 by GN ReSound, Made-for-iPhone hearing aids launched an entirely new era of connectivity. Other manufacturers quickly followed.

Made-for-iPhone hearing aids connect you to the entire Apple universe. With them, you enjoy better hearing through complete wireless interaction not only with your phone, but with your iPad, your Apple computer, and your iPod Touch—no streamer required.

Android compatibility

In 2018, Google finally announced a new Android streaming spec for hearing aids—Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA). The announcement from Google signaled their intention to pair hearing aids with the much larger universe of Android phones.

Flash forward to 2020, and we now have three hearing aid companies—Beltone, ReSound, and Starkey—with ASHA-compatible hearing aids on the market. Beltone offers Imagine, Starkey offers Livio, and ReSound offers One, LiNX Quattro and ENZO Q (for more severe hearing loss).

While Made-for-iPhone is supported by all iOS devices (from recent years), Android ASHA is only supported on select Android phones. In general, any phone with Bluetooth 5.0+ and Android 10 (or higher) is capable of providing wireless streaming via ASHA, but ASHA must be enabled by each phone manufacturer and service carrier, so it pays to check with your carrier on whether your specific Android model can support ASHA connectivity.

Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid models

Following are Bluetooth solutions from the top hearing aid brands. We don’t just look at the Phonak, Unitron, and Costco models with universal Bluetooth connectivity. We also list Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. And we provide a guide to the streaming accessories that the top brands use to make their hearing aids Bluetooth-compatible.

Where can you buy Bluetooth hearing aids? Bluetooth hearing aids are available pretty much everywhere these days. Book an appointment with your local hearing health professional to discuss the options.

Note: what follows is not a "ranking" of the best Bluetooth hearing aids. Rather, we provide as much information as we can about the Bluetooth solutions available from each of the top hearing aid brands. Collectively, the brands we mention account for more than 80 percent of the premium hearing aids sold worldwide.

Phonak Bluetooth solutions

Phonak's Audéo Marvel established the gold standard in Bluetooth hearing aid connectivity. Introduced in November 2019, Marvel was the first to stream music and other audio—in stereo—directly to and from any Bluetooth-enabled device.

Marvel has since been superseded by the newer Audéo Paradise. Paradise offers improved Bluetooth connectivity—it can pair with up to 8 Bluetooth devices and have 2 active Bluetooth connections. This makes switching between your two favorite devices much easier. Marvel only offered one active connection.

To deliver binaural streaming of music and phone calls, Phonak developed the third generation of its SWORD wireless chip. It integrated all the communication protocols on a single hearing aid chip, including Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). Together they lessened power consumption and overcome the battery life limitations of earlier chipsets. And the newest chip (PRISM), which runs Paradise, offers the same integration with double the memory.

Phonak Audéo Paradise Hearing Aid Detailed Review | The Marvel Only BETTER!

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

For its other hearing aids, Phonak has an array of wireless accessories, including streamers, remote microphones, and a TV audio transmitter (which works for Marvel too). We also recommend reading up on Roger, Phonak’s suite of wireless remote microphones for those who need extra help hearing in background noise.

Unitron Bluetooth solutions

Unitron, another Sonova brand, recently introduced its new Discover wireless hearing aids featuring universal Bluetooth connectivity. Like the Phonak Marvel hearing aids, Unitron's Moxi Jump R and Moxi Fit models offer direct connections with all Bluetooth devices. They also enable hands-free phone calls and video calls to both ears. The only significant limitation is that, as with the Phonak Marvel hearing aids, they only connect to one Bluetooth device at a time.

For its other hearing aid models, Unitron offers a range of accessories. They include two different kinds of Bluetooth streamers—the U-Stream clip-on and the neck-worn uDirect 3. Unitron also offers a TV audio transmitter. The streamers can handle multiple Bluetooth connections with your hearing aids at the same time. And Unitron offers a Remote Plus app to manage Bluetooth connections with your smartphone.

Costco Bluetooth solutions

Costco, the big box retailer, has hearing centers that offer hearing tests, professional services, and affordable prices. Costco doesn't manufacture its own hearing aids but resells products and technology from top manufacturers. Costco created a stir with its new hearing aid, the Kirkland Signature 9.0, which utilizes Sonova's universal Bluetooth SWORD-chip technology. The Kirkland 9.0 model works with all Bluetooth devices and has an associated app to manage them. Like the Phonak and Unitron Bluetooth hearing aids, the only significant drawback is that they only pair with one Bluetooth device at a time.

For its other hearing aid models, Costco offers Bluetooth-streaming accessories including a remote control device, a TV audio streamer, a streamer for your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, and a remote microphone.

Costco Kirkland Signature 9.0 Hearing Aids Review

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

ReSound Bluetooth solutions

GN ReSound was the first brand to introduce Made-for-iPhone hearing aids and more recently ReSound has been a pioneer on direct Android streaming. They now offer a number of Apple and Android compatible hearing aids including One, LiNX Quattro, and ENZO Q. Streaming from Android is accomplished using the new Audio Streaming for Hearing Aid (ASHA) protocol.

For other Bluetooth devices, ReSound also offers a variety of accessories that connect its hearing aids with high-quality audio. The ReSound Phone Clip+ streams calls or audio from your Bluetooth-enabled phone. ReSound Mics can be placed on a podium, on a speaker's lapel, or on a conference table to pick up voices and stream them to your hearing aids. And ReSound Bluetooth TV streamer attached to the back of your TV delivers audio directly to your hearing aids without having to go through your streamer. And the ReSound Remote Control 2 makes it easy to adjust the volume, change programs or switch between streaming accessories.

NEW ReSound LiNX Quattro Made for Android & iPhone Hearing Aid Review!

Dr Cliff's review of Quattro, which has now been superseded by "One", is still relevant in terms of the Bluetooth connectivity story it tells. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

Oticon Bluetooth solutions

Oticon Opn and OpnS hearing aids are Made for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, allowing you to stream audio directly from those devices into your hearing aids. And with a variety of streamers, Opn and OpnS hearing aids and most others from Oticon provide Bluetooth connectivity with good sound quality.

Oticon's ConnectClip streamer delivers wireless audio from iPhone and Android smartphones, as well as Bluetooth tablets, computers and other devices, directly to most Oticon hearing aids. And an Oticon TV Adapter connects to almost most TVs and other audio devices using standard cables. Stereo sound from the TV streams wirelessly directly to your hearing aids from a range of up to 45 feet. And the Oticon ON app makes it easy to manage Bluetooth connections.

Oticon OPN S Hearing Aid Review

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

Starkey Bluetooth solutions

Starkey Hearing Technologies was the second brand to introduce a Made-for-iPhone hearing. The U.S. manufacturer quickly expanded its Apple-compatible product line and now sells Starkey Halo, Halo2, Halo IQ, Livio, and Livio AI Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. Livio and Livio AI also now support direct audio streaming to select Android devices via Android ASHA.

Starkey's streaming accessories provide Bluetooth connections for its other hearing aids, and for non-Apple Bluetooth connectivity to its Halo and Livio models. The Starkey SurfLink streaming accesories provide hands-free phone calls from iPhones and Android smartphones and audio streaming from multiple Bluetooth sources. They also feature remote microphones. And the Starkey TV accessory supports analog and digital input sources to stream audio from your TV or other audio source directly to Livio AI and Livio hearing aids.

Starkey Livio Ai Hearing Aids Review

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

Widex Bluetooth solutions

Widex MOMENT Made-for-iPhone hearing aids offer wireless connectivity with iPhones and other iOS devices. Widex says its signal processing chip set features independent channel separation with minimal-delay filters to offer clean sound even while streaming. The Widex MOMENT app lets you set up and manage your Bluetooth connections with your iPhone. Widex also states that MOMENT is “prepared for future connections with Android (ASHA)”.

For its other hearing aids and non-Apple Bluetooth connectivity for its MOMENT models, Widex offers a range of streaming accessories. The COM-DEX streamer hangs from the neck and streams high-quality sound from any Bluetooth device to your hearing aid. It offers up to eight hours of streaming time and comes with an optional remote mic. Other accessories for the phone, TV and other Bluetooth devices include Uni-Dex, Call-Dex, FM+DEX, TV PLAY, and TV-DEX. The COM-DEX iPhone and Android smartphone app helps manage the Bluetooth connections.

Widex Moment Hearing Aid Review | ZeroDelay Signal Processing

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

Signia Bluetooth solutions

Signia Pure X and Styletto X hearing aids offer Made-for-iPhone direct wireless connectivity with Apple devices. They use a streamer for non-Apple Bluetooth devices.

Other Signia hearing aids stream wireless audio from Android phones and other Bluetooth devices, including TVs, via Signia's StreamLine Mic and StreamLine TV accessories. A Signia myControl remote control app manages Bluetooth applications with both iPhones and Android smartphones.

Bluetooth hearing aid costs

Premium Bluetooth hearing aids aren't inexpensive. A pair can cost anywhere from $1,600 (at Costco) to a product-plus-support package of more than $6,000 for top-end hearing aids with full support from your audiologist.

Because prices are set by providers, they vary based on how much service is bundled with the actual product. (A good place to sample hearing aid prices is by searching our Hearing Aid Discounts section, which shows prices offered by audiologists based on geography and zip codes.)

And that's not all. Streaming accessories cost extra. Again, providers set prices based on how much support is bundled in, so list prices vary. But a clip-on streamer can cost upwards of $500 on top of the cost of the hearing aids. And TV streamers and remote mics can cost even more, depending on their capabilities.

Alternative Bluetooth-enabled hearing devices

Many direct-to-consumer hearing aids available online offer Bluetooth streamers. (You won't be able to buy over-the-counter hearing aids until the FDA sets the rules for the new OTC hearing aid market next year).

And of course there is a whole world of Bluetooth-enabled earpieces, hearables and PSAPs (personal sound amplifiers) to explore. Many of them integrate high-end hearing aid technology. Often they are less expensive than Bluetooth hearing aids. Nuheara's IQbuds² MAX are a good example of a popular hearable offering Bluetooth connectivity.

Introducing IQbuds² MAX

Introducing IQbuds² MAX. Video courtesy Nuheara.

Bluetooth LE Audio: The future of Bluetooth

A new Bluetooth specification, Bluetooth 5.2, will provide higher quality audio with less latency (delay) in wireless streaming and multichannel connectivity with multiple Bluetooth accessories. All of this will be accomplished with Bluetooth LE Audio, the “next generation of Bluetooth audio”, available with Bluetooth 5.2.

New Bluetooth Hearing Aids! | Low Energy LE Audio (LC3)

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

The bottom line

As much as we love Bluetooth technology at Hearing Tracker, it is only one of many variables to consider when purchasing hearing devices. Remember, hearing aids need to function as hearing aids first and foremost, and a local hearing health professional can provide guidance on what hearing aid options may be appropriate for you (given your unique hearing needs).