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Are you shopping for invisible hearing aids? You’re not alone. Many people with hearing loss, especially first-time buyers, fear that hearing aids will make them appear old or infirm. What better way to quell those fears than wearing hearing aids so small they can’t be seen?
More invisible options than ever before
While hearing aid stigma has certainly lessened in recent years—especially as Bluetooth earbuds have become popular with consumers of all ages—there’s still healthy demand for invisible hearing aids. And reputable hearing aid manufacturers have responded with a range of excellent invisible and near-invisible products.
How much do invisible hearing aids cost?
In 2023, there’s a broader range of products and prices than ever before. While invisible hearing aids used to be extremely expensive, several new products are priced to meet the needs of cost-conscious first-time buyers.
On the higher end, you can spend $5,000 or more for a pair of high-performance invisible in-the-ear hearing aids programmed to your specific hearing loss and customized to the exact size and shape of your ear canals. And now, thanks to the new crop of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, you can now purchase hearing aids that fit completely within your ear canals for under $1,000.
Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) vs. completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids
Before you start your search, it’s important to understand important differences between several types of invisible hearing aids. First, invisible hearing aids are smaller than the Bluetooth earbuds that people wear at the gym. You can buy excellent hearing aids in earbud form factors at a broad range of prices and performance levels. But you will need a much smaller form factor if want hearing aids that can’t be seen.
There are two form factors that we regard as “invisible.” A hearing aid with an “invisible in-the-canal” (IIC) form factor sits so deeply within the ear canal that it’s nearly impossible to see. A second, slightly larger form factor sits “completely in the canal” (CIC) and is nearly invisible but can be seen if someone is looking straight into your ear.
A CIC with brown faceplate color (left) and an IIC with black faceplate color (right). Both the deeper insertion depth and black faceplate help the IIC to remain invisible. Image Source: Starkey
If you’re shopping for invisible hearing aids, get to know those acronyms and decide which may be right for you. IIC’s are so tiny no one will ever see them, but the larger CIC’s can barely be seen and in many cases are more affordable. We recommend trying out both form factors.
Custom prescription vs. self-fit invisible hearing aids
There’s another difference to be aware of, and it can have a big impact on price. Custom invisible hearing aids are programmed by a healthcare professional to your specific hearing loss, whereas invisible OTC hearing aids generally require you to adjust volume and program settings yourself.
Custom-programmed prescription hearing aids can help you hear a lot better, especially if you have more than very mild hearing loss. And many custom models are manufactured to match the specific shape of your ear canal based on an earmold impression taken by your provider, which can make them more comfortable. But you pay a premium, with custom models from leading manufacturers costing several thousand dollars each.
Over-the-counter hearing aids, on the other hand, are one size fits all and aren’t sold or serviced by audiologists. They don’t provide exact tuning to your hearing-loss prescription, instead allowing you to adjust some amplification and sound processing settings yourself. But they perform well, especially for people with mild hearing loss. And you can get a pair of invisible OTC hearing aids for less than $1,000.
Eargo 7 OTC hearing aids are considered "instant-fit" because they are not custom molded to your unique ear canal.
How well do invisible hearing aids work?
Because they are so small, invisible hearing aids can’t provide as many bells and whistles as larger hearing aids with processors that sit behind the ear. But they can still provide excellent amplification with advanced sound-processing features. In fact, recent product introductions from the largest hearing-aid manufacturers have integrated their latest chip technologies and sound processing upgrades into their smallest hearing aids.
But there are tradeoffs. While invisible hearing aids provide plenty of amplification for people with mild or moderate hearing loss, they work less well for more severe hearing loss. While there are some high output models on the market today offered by companies like Phonak, Oticon, and Starkey, acoustic feedback is likely to limit amplification well before the maximum output is reached. This is due to the close proximity of speaker output and microphone.
Battery life is also an issue: smaller batteries need to be changed or recharged more often than many hearing aid users would like. And while many of today’s custom and OTC hearing aids that sit behind the ear provide Bluetooth streaming of phone calls and other audio, invisible hearing aids are too small to include the wireless circuitry required for audio streaming (with one notable exception).
The best invisible hearing aids of 2023
Without further ado, let's get into my top picks for invisible hearing aids in 2023. In the last 12 months alone, I've fit hundreds of invisible hearing aids, and these are the devices that consistently exceed my (and my patients') expectations.
Invisible Hearing Aids: A Few Key Differences
|Virto P IIC||Custom-fit||IP68||Push button or magnetic wand|
|Genesis AI IIC||Custom-fit||IP68||None|
|Silk X||Instant-fit||Not rated||App|
|CRE-C10||Instant-fit OTC||Not rated||App|
|Eargo 7||Instant-fit OTC||IPX7||App and tap controls|
Invisible Hearing Aids: A Few Key Differences
Rugged and Tiny: Phonak Virto P Titanium
The Phonak Virto P is the only IIC available with a fully-custom titanium outer shell, which Phonak claims is 15x stronger than acrylic. The titanium shell is also thinner than acrylic, allowing for a smaller hearing aid that is more rugged than competing IICs.
In terms of power, Virto P can accommodate a wide range of hearing losses, handling higher frequency hearing loss down to 100 decibels. And AutoSense 4.0 enables automatic adaptation to different listening environments, making it easier for my patients to go through their everyday lives.
While Virto P lacks a smartphone app for adjustments, it features a customizable button for accessing different listening programs and controlling volume.
Virto P Titanium Pros
Virto P Titanium Cons
Less Annoying Sound: Oticon Own IIC
The Oticon Own IIC is a custom-fitted, invisible-in-canal acrylic hearing aid that provides an intimate, secure fit tailored to the user's ear. Designed in Denmark, Oticon utilizes Deep Neural Network (DNN) technology to automatically adapt to various sound environments. Oticon claims Own's DNN was trained on 12 million real-life sounds. And, internal oticon research showed that users found Own's sound less "annoying" than devices from two close competitors.
Available in two different power levels, Own caters to individuals with up to 90 decibel hearing loss. Though it doesn't feature user-adjustable settings, adjustments can be made by an audiologist to fine-tune the hearing aid's performance.
Oticon Own Pros
Oticon Own Cons
Latest AI Tech: Starkey Genesis AI IIC
Another fully-custom audiologist-fitted hearing aid, Starkey Genesis AI IIC offers the very latest in innovative AI technology. Also employing a DNN backend, Starkey claims that their Genesis AI hearing aids make 80 million adjustments per hour to provide "transparent sound for the clearest hearing yet".
Genesis AI IIC is available in three different power levels to provide an option for those with more severe hearing loss. However, user adjustments are limited as settings need to be fine-tuned by an audiologist.
Genesis AI IIC Pros
Genesis AI IIC Cons
The Hearing Aid You Never Remove: Phonak Lyric
Lyric is a unique hearing aid, often referred to as the "contact lens of the ear." Lyric is inserted by an audiologist or ENT close to the eardrum where it is worn continuously for two to three months.
You don't need to charge or replace the batteries, and there's no need to remove Lyric when sleeping or having a shower. However, when the batteries do run down, you'll need to have your Lyrics replaced at your provider's office (replacements are covered under an annual subscription).
Lyric comes in seven sizes, catering to various ear canal shapes and sizes, and its soft biocompatible material ensures comfort during extended use.
American OTC: Eargo 7
Eargo 7 is a stylish self-fitting OTC hearing aid designed and manufactured by Eargo, a Silicon Valley based (and NASDAQ listed) hearing aid company. Eargo 7 offers flexible app-based controls, tap controls, and all-day rechargeable batteries. And, Eargo claims the new Sound Adjust+ mode reduces background noise and enhances speech understanding.
Eargo 7 Pros
Eargo 7 Cons
Quick Professional Fitting: Signia Silk X
The Signia Silk X is a completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid designed to provide a quick and comfortable fit. Using a range of "click sleeves", the device can typically can be fitted in a single office visit. Silk X offers unique features like ear-to-ear communication and Binaural OneMic Directionality 2.0 for improved sound directionality and speech understanding in complex listening situations.
Silk X Pros
Silk X Cons
OTC with Prescription Tech: Sony CRE-C10
The Sony CRE-C10 is basically a Signia Silk X in a Sony wrapper. What's new here is the Sony app that assists you in fitting the hearing aid yourself at home. It's a seamless process, but you'll want to make sure that you're fairly tech savvy and are comfortable handling very small objects.
You can feel good about getting hearing tech from an established medical-model hearing aid company (WSA) from one of the world's most reputable brands.
Sony CRE-C10 Pros
Sony CRE-C10 Cons
Are invisible hearing aids for you?
If you discover your hearing loss is not mild or moderate but severe, you may not benefit fully from invisible hearing aids. And, if you want to stream audio and phone calls, or want long-lasting rechargeability, you'll need to look at larger in-ear or behind-the-ear hearing aids. Lastly, one of the major downsides of any in-ear hearing aid is comfort and occlusion (own voice boominess, etc).
Other discreet hearing aid options
If discretion is the most important thing for you, don't write off behind-the-ear hearing aids without having a look at some of new discreet models offered in 2023. Receiver-in-canal in particular are known to be the most discreet type of behind-the-ear hearing aids—they feature very small microphones and sound processors, with near-invisible wires that run down to a speaker that sits well within the ear canal. Be sure to check out our best of receiver-in-canal hearing for 2023 before settling on the in-ear invisible models.
David Copithorne is a longtime hearing-loss blogger and regular contributor at Hearing Tracker. In 2002, he suffered a sudden and severe hearing impairment. Since then, he has dedicated himself to sharing the valuable information he has learned along his journey.