Advertisement
Starkey image
Advertisement
Phonak image

Best Hearing Aids in Background Noise of 2024: OTC & Rx Options

After reviewing over 60 modern hearing aids in an acoustic lab, we're ready to reveal the top performers. Grab a pair of headphones and see if you can hear the difference.
Expert review by Abram Bailey, AuD
Graphic of Sony CRE-E10 OTC hearing aid

The Sony CRE-E10 is one of our top performers in noise.

Struggling to hear in background noise? Are your existing hearing aids not helping? We tested over 60 modern hearing aids in an acoustic lab to provide the first list of top-performing hearing aids for background noise based on hard science.

Hearing Aid Vetting Experts
Over 100 hours

We've recorded over 100 hours of hearing aid audio in the lab.

40+ models tested

We've scientifically evaluated over 40 models, including OTC hearing aids.

5 leading experts

Our expert panel includes four audiologists (3 AuDs) and one PhD.

10 years of service

Working independently for consumers with hearing loss since 2013

Read more

The Problems with Speech in Noise

We've all been there—out at a loud restaurant asking the server to repeat themselves. The combination of music, chatter, and poor acoustics can create the perfect storm for poor communications. Add hearing loss to the mix, and you're pretty much hopeless.

Problems understanding what others are saying can happen when loud sounds in the background drown out, or cover up, the words we're trying to hear. This makes it hard for us to understand what's being said. Our brain has to work hard to "fill in the blanks", often relying on a combination of context clues, facial cues, and lipreading.

This extra effort can lead to listening fatigue and physical exhaustion, and you may find yourself retreating from demanding social gatherings altogether to avoid the effort and potential embarrassment.

The inability to clearly hear speech in background noise, sometimes referred to as the "cocktail party problem", is well known—and a common focus of hearing technology manufacturers. Hearing aids, and other assistive devices, offer various means of improving speech clarity and listening comfort in noise.

Cocktail Party Problem

When you can't focus on the voice of interest in a crowd—often referred to as the cocktail party problem.

How Do Hearing Aids Help in Noise?

Hearing aids and assistive listening devices employ various technologies, like directional microphones, to improve your ability to hear in background noise. The key to any such technology is to improve the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), i.e. how much louder is the speech of you want to hear versus the noise you don't want to hear. Here are some examples of how hearing aids improve performance in noise:

Directional Microphones

Hearing aids generally have multiple microphones located either above the ear and or down near the ear canal. These microphones provide slight differences in audio input and can be combined in different ways to boost all sounds or mainly those from one direction. More advanced hearing aids even have the power to analyze different microphone combinations in real-time and use the one(s) most appropriate for your environment. One example of this is SpeechSensor in Phonak's Audéo Lumity.

Directional microphones can be found in most prescription and OTC hearing aids—and even advanced earbuds like AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus. The quality of directional microphones can vary between products and the SNR benefits can depend on factors such as individual hearing loss, the environment, noise levels, distance, and more. Most people can likely expect 3 to 6 dB SNR improvement in real-world situations.7, 9 However, individual benefits will vary based on many factors.

Directional Mics

An illustration of directional microphones in action on the AirPods Pro 2 with Conversation Boost. Source: Apple

Digital Noise Reduction (DNR)

Noise reduction is another common type of signal processing offered in hearing aids. These algorithms work by splitting sound into different channels and providing less volume to those with greater noise. In doing so, the relative volume between speech and noise can be improved.

Steady state noise, such as the constant hum of an air conditioner, fan, or car engine, is generally easier for the noise reduction algorithms in hearing aids to manage because its acoustic characteristics are stable over time. Therefore, a hearing aid should be more successful at reducing these types of noise compared to transient or fluctuating noise sources, which change rapidly over time.

By reducing steady state sounds, the hearing aids can enhance the contrast between speech and background noise. However, the actual improvement in speech recognition will depend on several factors including the user's degree of hearing loss, the characteristics of the noise, the quality and sophistication of the noise reduction algorithm, and the individual's ability to adapt to and benefit from the technology.

It's important to note that while noise reduction can help with speech recognition, it's not a perfect solution. Noise reduction algorithms can sometimes inadvertently reduce some aspects of speech, which can make it harder for the listener to understand. Also, there are limitations in reducing non-steady state noises like those coming from multiple talkers in a crowded room.

Given the limited benefits in noisy situations like restaurants, DNR should not be considered a viable solution to the cocktail party problem. However, DNR can greatly improve listening comfort by reducing the annoyance of noise, including background chatter.1, 3, 8

Active Noise Cancellation

Active noise cancellation (ANC) can be found in some advanced earbuds such as Apple AirPods Pro 2, Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus, and Nuheara IQBuds2 Max. This is a newer form of noise abatement that can effectively reduce constant lower-frequency noises such as hums and whirring.

When ANC is enabled on an earbud, the sounds around you are "cancelled" through an acoustical technique called phase inversion. Basically, the earbud's speaker plays the same sounds that the microphone hears, but completely flipped, or inverted. When the outside sound and processed sounds combine, they interfere resulting in a cancellation of the unwanted sounds from around you.

The quality of ANC varies between companies and it works best with more occluding devices such as earbuds and over-the-ear headphones. We also do not currently see ANC in traditional hearing aids.

Remote Microphones

Remote microphones can wirelessly pair with hearing devices to significantly improve speech understanding. By placing a remote microphone near a person, or clipping it to your spouse's collar, you're effectively bringing their voices closer to your ears. This is much easier than trying to hear someone from across a noisy table. It also minimizes the effect a room play on what you hear.

Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

Hearing aids are most effective at processing sounds within roughly 3 to 6 feet. Remote microphones can therefore extend the useful range of hearing devices and have been found to offer SNR improvements of 15 dB or more.5, 6

It is worth noting that companies have been using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to further improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their noise reduction algorithms. Starkey Genesis AI is a great example of this and, while the benefits of these systems are not fully understood, we can expect to see AI push the boundaries of hearing aid speech-in-noise performance.

Benefits of Fine-Tuning with a Hearing Care Provider

Hearing devices are marvels of modern science and they work best when programmed specifically for an individual's hearing needs. Real-ear measurements, or REMs, are the gold standard for doing this and it involves a hearing professional using prob microphones to analyze hearing aid output within the ear. REMs ultimately optimize speech audibility by verifying that your devices provide appropriate amplification for your hearing loss.

Real Ear Measurements Performed

Hearing aid performance can be measured on the ear using a process called Real Ear Measurements, or REMs.

While REMs are not embraced by all providers4, it remains the best means of optimizing hearing aid performance and has been shown to improve speech understanding over other manufacturer instant-fit methods2.

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are also available, for those with a perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss, and promise to offer similar benefits without the need to visit a doctor's office. HearAdvisor™, an independent hearing devices test lab, is working to verify such claims. While performance varies greatly between companies, it is clear that OTC hearing aids can benefit from similar fine-tuning as traditional devices.

Best Hearing Aids for Noise: Our Top Picks

After measuring background noise reduction in over 60 products in the HearAdvisor acoustic lab, we've identified the top performers on the market in 2024. Here we present the top 2 products—a winner and runner up—from three product categories: (1) prescription hearing aids, (2) OTC hearing aids, and (3) speech-enhancing earbuds.

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, so be sure to check out the full list of winners, which includes devices from ReSound, Starkey, Bose, and more.

A Few Key Differences

Here we compare the key noise-reducing features offered by each device:

Hearing Aid Type Multi Mics DNR ANC Remote mics
🥇 Oticon Intent Rx Optional
🥈 Phonak Lumity Rx Optional
🥇 Sony CRE-E10 OTC
🥈 Lucid Engage OTC
🥇 Sennheiser CCP Earbud
🥈 AirPods Pro 2 Earbud Live Listen

Best hearing aids and earbuds for background noise.

How We Tested

A key part of HearAdvisor's hearing aid evaluation process involves testing devices in realistic spatial sound fields. These are generated using widely-favored ambisonic recordings and the statistical properties of an extensive variety of authentic spaces. This allows us to replicate the sound environments that users will encounter in their daily lives.

Hearadvisor Kemar W Lucid Engage

The KEMAR acoustic manikin wearing Lucid's Engage OTC hearing aids.

In order to offer a more thorough analysis, we perform tests across multiple talkers from a variety of spatial locations. This helps us understand how a hearing device might perform in a number of real-world environments.

For testing, all hearing aids were setup for a mild to moderate hearing loss. So all test results are strictly limited to mild to moderate hearing loss. We have not evaluated any device's performance for more severe hearing loss levels, yet. And remember, the OTC hearing aids and earbuds that we tested are not intended for those with greater than mild to moderate loss, so we'd expect them to score poorly for severe hearing loss.

We used the Hearing Aid Speech Perception Index v2 (HASPIv2) to quantify the expected improvement in speech intelligibility for each hearing aid. We chose this metric because it models the impaired auditory system and predicts intelligibility for a wide range of acoustic environments. For those looking to dive deeper, please check out our vetting process and HearAdvisor's whitepaper.

Please note that HearAdvisor has tested more than 20 new hearing aids since this video was published. This article has been updated to reflect the latest tests, including replacing Oticon Real with Oticon Intent, Real's successor. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

Best Prescription Hearing Aid for Noise: Oticon Intent

After testing over 60 modern hearing aids in the HearAdvisor acoustic lab, Oticon Intent emerged as the top performing prescription device in background noise. Danish manufacturer Oticon claims to use Deep Neural Network (DNN) technology to help users "access the sounds" most important to them, and based on our testing, the technology seems to be working.

Oticon Intent

4.5 stars stars
2 reviews

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Intent pairs with the Oticon On App, which provides the user with numerous ways to adjust the audio and noise handling. For example, you can adjust the "Soft Speech Booster" to bring up soft speech sounds, and there's even a 3-band EQ for adjusting the tone of streaming Bluetooth audio.

Intent can also pair with Oticon's ConnectClip remote microphone, allowing you to transmit audio directly to your ears from up to 20 meters away. Remote mics like ConnectClip can drastically improve the signal to noise ratio, making speech much much easier to understand.

The Oticon ConnectClip

The Oticon ConnectClip brings voices closer to you, elevating them over background noise.

In the lab, Intent was a top-performer for speech in quiet, moderate, and loud noise when programmed for a common age-related hearing loss. When paired with the app and other wireless technologies it offers some of the greatest speech audibility available on the market today.

As it is a prescription hearing aid, a hearing professional is involved in the fitting process to guide you through any programming and or physical adjustments needed.

Oticon Intent Pros

Wireless Control and Streaming: Oticon Intent hearing aids offer wireless streaming and hands-free calling for both iOS and Android devices.
Remote Assistance: Oticon also offers the Companion app which provides remote care features with your hearing care provider.
Rechargeable only: Intent is available in a single rechargeable form factor for the time being.
Open-Ear Comfort: Most people can wear Intent with open ear tips, leaving your ears canals open. This means no blocked up feeling, and your voice will sound more natural to you.
Accessories: Intent hearing aids can be paired with Oticon accessories, such as the ConnectClip, improving audibility from far distances and or in noise.

Oticon Intent Cons

Expensive: Oticon Intent carry the price of a typical prescription device at an average retail cost of $3,613 per hearing aid. While this price generally includes various professional services from a hearing professional, depending on your budget, you may need/want to pursue a lower-cost hearing solution.
Professional Assistance Required: While not entirely negative, Intent are traditional hearing aids and must be fit by a hearing professional. There is no self-fit option and some may prefer this approach.

Runner-Up Prescription Device: Phonak Lumity

Phonak Audéo Lumity prescription hearing aids are a contending alternative offering similar features, app control, and wireless accessories. Both Lumity and Intent performed similarly in the lab and both received a 2023 Expert Choice Award. One major difference between these hearing aids is the Fitness and Health tracking features Lumity offers. Those interested in Fitbit-like features may prefer this as an alternative to Intent.

Phonak Audéo Lumity

4 stars stars
8 reviews

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Best OTC for Noise: Sony CRE-E10

The Sony CRE-E10 is an over-the-counter self-fitting hearing aid with the look and feel of a typical earbud. The Sony's are designed for everyday use and adjust automatically per environment for comfort and speech enhancement. They also offer wireless control with the Hearing Control app, rechargeability, noise reduction, directional microphones, and audio streaming (currently only available for iOS).

Sony CRE-E10

4 stars stars
3 reviews

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Sony CRE-E10 was chosen due to its performance in the HearAdvisor™ lab, where it was found to offer greater speech-in-noise benefits than any other OTC devices tested to-date. It also received a SoundScore of 5.0, making it the top-performer of all devices based on their testing methods. The accompanying app also offers numerous adjustments to further tune CRE-E10 in difficult listening situations.

Sony CRE-E10 Hearing Aids next to their charging case.

Sony CRE-E10 Hearing Aids next to their charging case.

Sony CRE-E10 Pros

Comfortable: I liked how light and comfortable CRE-E10 were in my ears. Wireless connection and overall use was also straightforward with my iOS mobile device.
Top Performer at HearAdvisor: Sony CRE-E10 is currently the top performer among all devices tested by HearAdvisor™.
Self-Fitting Hearing Aid: Some may like that CRE-E10 is self-fit and does not require you to visit a doctor's office. However, hearing care providers can still perform real-ear verifications using the app settings to further tune it to your hearing. 
All-Day Battery Life: Sony states that CRE-E10 will last up to 26 hours of general use, 23 with 2 hours of streaming, before needing to be recharged.
Bluetooth™ Audio Streaming: Sony CRE-E10 offers excellent quality bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling (iOS only).

Sony CRE-E10 Cons

Your Ears May Feel Plugged: Some may not like the “plugged” feal of an in-the-ear style device. The non-custom fit may also lead to poor retention for some people. 
Expensive: CRE-E10 is expensive, being priced similar to some prescription hearing aids. While these devices are impressive, for the same price it’s fair to say some people will do better seeing a “best-practices” audiologist to be fit with traditional devices. 
No Wireless Accessories: A common downside to OTC devices like CRE-E10 is that they lack a family of accessories, such as a remote microphone, to pair with. If you are interested in specific accessories a prescription device will provide more options here. 
No Physical Buttons: I was quite shocked to learn that CRE-E10 does not have any physical buttons or touch controls. While they adjust automatically per environment, changes can only be made within the Hearing Control app.
No Android Support: Sony does not currently support Bluetooth or hands-free calling for Android.

Runner-Up OTC: Lucid Engage

Lucid Engage is another OTC hearing aid offering speech benefits in noisy environments. While it does not perform as well as the CRE-E10, it is a receiver-in-canal device which many people will prefer due to the decreased “plugged” feeling in ear.

Lucid Hearing Engage

4 stars stars
1 review

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Best Speech-Enhancing Earbud for Noise: Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus

Sennheiser’s Conversation Clear Plus are advanced earbuds designed to improve speech understanding in noisy environments. They offer many useful features such as automatic adjustments, speech enhancement, beamforming microphones, wireless app control, and Bluetooth™ streaming for most devices. They are also offer Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus

2.5 stars stars
2 reviews

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Since the Conversation Clear Plus (CCP) is not an FDA-registered hearing aid, Sennheiser needs to be very careful about the claims it makes about the product. Sennheiser can't legally call the CCP a hearing aid, and can't say anything about the product helping with hearing loss. However, the speech enhancement features are clearly intended to help people with hearing loss, and it's fair to assume that many people with hearing loss are using the CCP to accommodate for those lost decibels.

CCP is our top-pick in the earbud category as we found it to offer impressive noise reduction capabilities. It is the highest scoring PSAP to-date at HearAdvisor and even outperformed other prescription and OTC devices in loud noisy environments when programmed for a common age-related hearing loss. It also offers ANC which can further reduce the annoyance of lower-tone noises. While not related to noise performance, it is worth noting that CCP also offered excellent streamed audio quality. Listen here.

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus next to their case.

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus next to their case.

Conversation Clear Plus Pros

Impressive Speech Clarity: This device offers effective speech benefits in noise (we tested it). 
Customizable Settings: The Conversation Clear App provides many adjustments for customizing sound quality. These can also be used by a hearing professional to objectively fine-tune settings for your hearing.
Advanced Noise Reduction Features: Conversation Clear Plus offers Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and Active Occlusion Cancellation (AOC) which can reduce the “plugged” sensation and or boomy voice sound quality when speaking. 
Bluetooth™ Audio Streaming: Conversation Clear Plus offers quality bluetooth audio streaming.

Conversation Clear Plus Cons

Less Discrete: Clear Plus are larger in size, and therefore more visible, than some other earbuds.
Advanced Earbuds, Not Hearing Aids: Conversation Clear Plus are not hearing aids meaning there is no remote-assistance, on-ear hearing assessment, or ability to upload audiogram data. While they can be used to improve speech clarity, they will not work for those with significant hearing loss.
Poor Waterproofing: Conversation Clear Plus have a lower IP rating (X4) meaning they will be more susceptible to moisture and debris complications.

Runner-Up Earbud: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Those interested in an alternative to Clear Plus should consider Apple Airpods Pro 2. They offer a similar feature set and excellent streamed audio quality. They also allow you to take an on-ear hearing assessment or upload hearing data directly through the Health app. We did not find them to provide the same noise benefits but they are available for roughly $199, making them much more accessible. AirPods also pair better with iOS devices, unlocking other desirable health tracking and hearing features. 

Apple AirPods Pro 2

4 stars stars
2 reviews

Listed prices are for a pair of hearing aids in US dollars unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and may vary by region.

Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

All "Hearing Aids" Not Created Equal

Hearing aids continue to advance and offer better tools for solving the noise problem. However, it is not always clear which device is most appropriate for your individual hearing needs. There are many choices available and companies offer similar marketing claims. But beware—not all hearing aids are created equal.

To that second point, our experience shows that some of these claims are either unfounded or completely false. Take for example our deep dive on Amazon’s Top 4 Hearing Aids or this critical review of 24 Walmart hearing aids. All devices offered some claim of speech clarity yet we observed little to no speech intelligibility improvements—one device even made speech worse than normal listening.

There are fortunately numerous technologies that can improve hearing in background noise and hopefully this list offers some viable solutions for you. Speak with a hearing care provider for more specialized care, practice good communication strategies, and do not overlook the benefits of remote microphones if available for your hearing technology.

References

  1. Lakshmi, M. S. K., Rout, A., & O’Donoghue, C. R. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of digital noise reduction hearing aids in adults. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 16(2), 120-129.
  2. Amlani, A. M., Pumford, J. O. H. N., & Gessling, E. (2017). Real-ear measurement and its impact on aided audibility and patient loyalty. Hearing Review, 24(10), 12-21.
  3. Bentler, R., Wu, Y. H., Kettel, J., & Hurtig, R. (2008). Digital noise reduction: Outcomes from laboratory and field studies. International journal of audiology, 47(8), 447-460.
  4. Kirkwood, D.H. (2006). Survey: Dispensers fitted more hearing aids in 2005 at higher prices. The Hearing Journal, 59, 40.
  5. Boothroyd, A. (2004). Hearing aid accessories for adults: The remote FM microphone. Ear and Hearing, 25(1), 22-33.
  6. Lewis, M. S., Crandell, C. C., Valente, M., & Horn, J. E. (2004). Speech perception in noise: Directional microphones versus frequency modulation (FM) systems. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 15(06), 426-439.
  7. Ricketts, T. A. (2001). Directional hearing aids. Trends in Amplification, 5(4), 139-176.
  8. Boymans M, Dreschler WA. (2000) Field trials using Journal of the American Academy of Audiology/Volume 16, Number 7, 2005 482 a digital hearing aid with active noise reduction and dual-microphone directionality. Audiology 39:260–268.
  9. Hawkins, D. B., & Yacullo, W. S. (1984). Signal-to-noise ratio advantage of binaural hearing aids and directional microphones under different levels of reverberation. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 49(3), 278-286.

HearingTracker independently reviews products and services. When you buy through our links or using our discount codes, we may earn a commission.

Steve Taddei

Doctor of Audiology

Dr. Steve Taddei is a licensed audiologist in Rockford, Illinois. He hosts and produces the Hearing Tracker Podcast and is a professor at several institutions proctoring courses in acoustics, hearing conservation, and audio arts. Additionally, he remains an active member in the music and audio engineering community. Whether speaking to students or consumers of hearing technology, he aims to promote self-advocacy and increase hearing health awareness. In his free time, he enjoys woodworking, mountain biking, and playing guitar.