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JLab HEAR OTC Hearing Aid Review: Features, Test Drive, and Audio Lab Results

Reviews, Prices, and Sound Samples

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Right Column Top Image
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Hands-Free Calling Yes
iPhone Streaming Yes
Android Streaming Yes
Rechargeable Yes
IP Rating IPx4

JLab introduced its first over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid, HEAR, for $99 in April 2024, and frankly, these devices are impressive—punching above their weight with an earbud-style design, desirable features, and respectable audio processing at a very attractive price. While JLab HEAR has several shortcomings, it may be the best OTC hearing aid currently available at this price point—earning it a SoundGrade of B at the HearAdvisor™ test lab.

HEAR is an instant-fit OTC hearing aid that offers four pre-set programs, Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free calling for Android and iOS, directional microphones, and customization through the JLab Hearing Health App. It comes with a 30-day trial period and a 2-year limited warranty.

Below, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the JLab HEAR OTC hearing aid, including its features, my experience using it, and the results from our audio testing at the independent HearAdvisor lab.

What I loved about JLab Hear...

Attractive Low Price: One of the most attractive qualities of HEAR is its $99 price tag, making it an amazing overall value.
Comfortable Design: I was impressed with how comfortable and lightweight the devices were for an earbud-like hearing aid.
Can Help with Speech Clarity: While not on par with prescription hearing aids, HEAR was found to offer respectable speech benefits for a $99 OTC hearing aid.
Rechargeable: HEAR earbuds are rechargeable offering you around 10 hours of use in their general hearing modes and roughly 7 hours with audio streaming.
Instant-Fit for Most People: Soft silicone ear tips allow you to insert and wear them without the need for custom earmolds.
Latest Wireless Streaming: Offers the latest Bluetooth™ features such as streaming and hands-free calling with iOS and Android devices.
Available in Multiple Colors: Three different color options: graphite, beige, and cloud (light grey).
Wireless App Control: The JLab Hearing Health app can be used to control your sound quality, offering many desirable features for customizing it.
Portable Case with Power Bank: Comes with a portable charging case that holds an additional 40 hours of rechargeable battery power.
Avoid the Doctor: Some may like that HEAR does not require you to visit a clinic; you are able to program the device by yourself using the four presets and app-based customization.

Limitations

Amount of Benefit is a Gamble: It is not possible to verify the gain, or amplification, you receive from hearing aids without real-ear measurements. As HEAR relies on presets and app personalization, it is uncertain how accurate the gain will be for your hearing loss and whether some hearing benefit is left on the table.
Not the Best Personalization: The JLab Hearing Health app gives you various controls, but I would have liked to see either an on-ear hearing test or the ability to input hearing thresholds into the app—which would allow for more customization for your individual hearing loss.
No Professional Care: You can receive technical support, but JLab does not currently offer professional assistance from a hearing care provider.
Not Evaluated by the FDA: HEAR is registered as a 510(k)-exempt prescription hearing aid with the FDA, meaning it is an “instant-fit” device that has not gone through the more rigorous approval process required of “self-fitting” OTC hearing aids.
Not Appropriate for Everyone: JLab HEAR is a direct-to-consumer hearing aid and, therefore, should not be used by children (under age 18) or those with more significant hearing loss or other complex needs.
Portable Case is Somewhat Flimsy: The portable charging case is not the most robust. For example, the lid is made of a thin plastic that appears like it could break easily with minor pressure.
Shorter Battery Life: HEAR rechargeable batteries last roughly 10 hours per charge, less with streaming, compared to other hearing aids that can operate well over 24 hours.
No T-coil: You will not be able to pick up audio broadcasted by hearing loops in public auditoriums or other places where hearing loops are in use.
Low IP Rating: With an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of X4, HEAR is not very resistant to moisture or debris; it will require extra care and protection from moisture and dirt to keep the aids working well long-term.
No Accessories: Currently, it does not offer any wireless accessories, such as remote microphones or a TV Streamer, like prescription hearing aids.
Jlab Hear Earbuds Case And App

JLab HEAR earbuds, portable charging case, and Hearing Health App.

Who is JLab?

Founded in 2005, JLab is a California-based consumer electronics company. They are known for their true-wireless stereo earbuds, such as the JLab Epic Air series, as well as a range of headphones and computer accessories. JLab has gained popularity for its affordable yet high-quality audio solutions, and it prides itself on offering exceptional customer support. Overall, JLab caters to a range of users—from casual listeners to gaming enthusiasts—by offering a range of products with modern, desirable features like active noise cancellation, sweat resistance, long battery life, and customizable sound settings.

Jlab Product Range

JLab makes a wide range of products, including headphones and computer/work headsets, but it is best known for its earbuds.

More recently, JLab has turned its attention towards hearing health, offering hearing protection devices such as JBuds Protect earplugs and volume-regulated safe headphones for kids like JBuddies Studio 2.

In April 2024, the company released JLab HEAR for $99, its first-ever OTC hearing aid. HEAR is “a hearing aid that doesn’t look like a hearing aid,” offering the wireless benefits and aesthetics of an earbud with the speech-focused personalization of a hearing aid.

In a recent interview with HearingTracker, JLab CEO Win Cramer said he thinks consumers should have more low-cost, high-quality alternatives when it comes to OTC hearing aids. “We're going to hold the big players accountable to price,” said Cramer. “We're going to put some pressure to keep this world fair which was the original intent [of the OTC hearing aid legislation]: Let's deregulate this a little bit, give it to the [manufacturers] who have done some consumer work, and drive pricing down. And that will absolutely happen.”

He also said the company is looking at developing a self-fitting hearing aid with more customization—as opposed to HEAR which is an instant-fit device with pre-set programs from which you have to choose—as a “Phase 2 product.”

Jlab Hear Otc Hearing Aid Unboxed

Unboxing of JLab HEAR. You can see the various open (vented) and closed ear tips as well as the Crush Fins.

My experience with setting up and using JLab HEAR OTC hearing aids

Getting JLab HEAR up and running was straightforward and took only a few minutes (see photo of unboxed product). After unboxing the earbuds, I went through the included ear tips and ultimately found the default medium closed dome to fit best.

The earbuds arrived partially charged, so I was able to try them right away, though the user manual recommends charging them first. The charging will take roughly 2 hours and you will first need to remove small stickers on the back of HEAR. These cover the contact plates and HEAR will not be able to charge unless they are removed. I have neglected to do this in the past and it is definitely frustrating to wait several hours and return to uncharged hearing aids.

Jlab Hear On Dr Taddei Ear

Here's how the JLab HEAR OTC hearing aid looks on my ear.

My initial impression of JLab HEAR earbuds was that they are similar to other true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds. Their in-the-ear (ITE) design was comfortable and lightweight, though they are very noticeable due to their color and size.

I ran into some issues when initially pairing HEAR with my iPhone 12, which arose from them being in what JLab calls “Hearing Aid Only Mode.” After some troubleshooting, I discovered how to switch them to the correct Bluetooth pairing mode. This is explained in the user manual—which I would have known had I read it first! I was then able to pair them to my iPhone and use the JLab Hearing Health App, which is discussed in more detail below.

Two figures for troubleshooting the pairing of JLab HEAR

Be sure to switch JLab HEAR to Bluetooth + Hearing Mode in order to pair them with your mobile device.

What is JLab HEAR’s sound quality and amplification like?

For $99, the 2-in-1 hearing aid earbuds have quite good sound quality. The streamed audio is full, although a tad too bass-heavy for my liking. However, I was able to tune it to my taste with the accompanying Hearing Health app (more on this below).

As a hearing aid, HEAR offers a modest boost to speech clarity and is much better than comparably priced OTC products I have tested. I did not notice a large difference when switching between the 4 available sound modes, though I ultimately found myself using the Conversation or Quiet Environment presets. These sounded the most natural and seemed to offer the greatest overall speech clarity. They are not as crisp or clean-sounding as prescription products, but that is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

One sound quality shortcoming you are sure to notice with HEAR is wind noise. Even a mild breeze or brisk walking pace caused a paper-crumpling-like distortion as air moved over the microphones. I did not have much success trying to improve this with the sound modes or settings.

Touch and Bluetooth controls for JLab HEAR

JLab HEAR offers both touch controls for volume and program changes and app controls for a larger variety of adjustments. We’ll cover each below.

Manual touch controls

One of the things I liked about HEAR’s touch controls was their responsiveness. In the past, I have struggled with touch controls on other OTC hearing aids and advanced earbuds (e.g., Apple Airpods Pro). This was not the case with HEAR where finger presses worked and activated the intended programming change. One reason for the success of HEAR’s touch controls may be the large button size which covers most of the exposed outer surface of the earpieces.

Here is a quick summary of the touch controls offered.

Function Touch Control
GENERAL USE
Volume change Press and hold
Program change Double tap
BLUETOOTH MEDIA CONTROLS
Play/Pause Single press
Volume up/down (R & L earbuds respectively) Long press
HANDS-FREE CALLING CONTROLS
Answer or hang up Double tap

Summary of the touch controls for JLab HEAR.

The touch controls work well, but they feel slightly antiquated, as button presses cause both volume and programs to cycle through all available options, as opposed to up/down or back/forth. This can be annoying if you accidentally pass your desired setting, but in all fairness the app offers better access to both of these controls.

Here is a list of the four available preset Sound Modes on HEAR.

Hearing Mode Description
Loud Environment Decreases surrounding noise and white noise to reduce ear fatigue.
Restaurant Decreases background noises in crowded environments.
Conversation Enhances the voices of people you're facing.
Quiet Environment Enhances all noises to hear surroundings and voices clearly.

Here you can see the four available programs in JLab HEAR (adopted from JLab’s Quick Start Guide).

Bluetooth capabilities and JLab Hearing Health app for wireless control

JLab HEAR offers wireless control and streaming for iOS and Android devices with Bluetooth 5.3. You also get hands-free calling, which, in my experience using an Apple iPhone 12 (iOS 17.5.1), worked flawlessly. This also means HEAR should be compatible with Auracast broadcast audio, an exciting new technology first announced in 2020. This newer Bluetooth feature allows “Auracast-ready” devices to receive and transmit audio from or to multiple other Auracast-enabled devices.

JLab Hearing Health App

The JLab Hearing Health App is a nice addition to HEAR giving you easy access to the features we have covered so far. If you are like me, you have too many unused apps sitting on your phone. However, the Hearing Health app is one you will want to install to use HEAR as a full-featured advanced earbud.

Jlab Hear App Main Controls

The JLab Hearing Health App offers you various tabs for personalizing your listening experience. Here you can see the Preset, Volume, and Background Noise controls (left to right, respectively). One trick within the Preset tab is you can disable unwanted sound modes, making it easier for you to cycle between programs with touch controls.

As previously mentioned, I found HEAR’s touch control to work better than other OTC products I have tested. However, I still found it quicker and ultimately preferable to make changes through the app. You also gain access to several features not otherwise accessible, such as noise reduction, which can significantly help reduce unwanted environmental hums and buzzes (see right-most app image above).

There is also an Equalizer tab which allows you to switch from JLab’s Signature filter to one of your choosing. This is one of my favorite app features as it offers you 10 bands of adjustment from bass (32 Hz) to treble (16 kHz). However, your settings only apply to streamed audio and not environmental sounds. This is a tremendous disappointment as it would otherwise allow you to loosely program HEAR to specific hearing losses. As HEAR relies solely on presets to match your hearing profile, this would have been a beneficial addition—and may possibly be slated for their “Phase 2 product” that JLab CEO Win Cramer mentions above.

Jlab Hear App Equalizer

The app also provides you with an equalizer to further customize the sound to your own preferences—and can be reverted to the default setting (second panel) if needed. Unfortunately, the equalizer is only available for audio streaming and not for amplification.

A final point worth mentioning is that environmental sounds are muted when streaming audio. It would have been nice if JLab included a blend or transparency feature so you can control the mix between streamed and environmental sounds.

Limited remote assistance from JLab

JLab does not currently offer support from hearing care providers or technical experts. If you need assistance, you can visit their Help Center or contact their customer support staff by email or phone.

No accessories at this time

Various supplies and replacement parts are available through JLab, but you will not find any wireless accessories, such as remote microphones or TV Streamers, for HEAR.

Power and Rechargeability

One aspect of JLab HEAR that you may find disappointing is the battery life. You can expect 10 hours of use or 7 while streaming on a fully charged battery. This is impressive given the price and size of HEAR, but it falls short of many OTC hearing aids and will not be enough to get you through an entire day.

Many OTC devices, like HEAR, are often described as “situational hearing devices.” This means they can be used in specific difficult listening situations but perhaps not continuously all day like prescription hearing aids. This is obviously up to you and depends on many factors, but HEAR will not be the best option if you are looking for all-day hearing assistance.

Jlab Hear Earbuds On Desk

JLab HEAR on my desk in the portable charging case before use.

You will also get a sleek portable charging case offering an additional 40 hours of battery life. Both the case and earbuds should charge in around 2 hours which is relatively fast compared to some other OTC hearing aids. JLab has also made the charging process easier by integrating a concealed USB-C cable directly into the portable case. As I noted above, the case is a little flimsy and I'm wary about how it might hold up to being in a pocket or purse long durations.

Durability and longevity of JLab HEAR

JLab HEAR was released earlier in 2024 so they have not been on the market long enough for consumers to report on its lifespan. By comparison, traditional hearing aids typically last between 3 to 5 years, so it is fair to assume that HEAR will have a shorter lifespan given their lower Ingress Protection rating of IPX4. A good care and maintenance routine will help them last longer; however, you are protected by the 2-year warranty JLab offers on all of their Bluetooth devices.

Unique webpage devoted to hearing health and protecting your hearing

While browsing JLab’s website, I stumbled upon an entire page dedicated to Hearing Health. The webpage offers useful information about our hearing, hazardous sound levels, and their range of products for hearing protection and hearing loss.

As an audiologist, it is fantastic to see a consumer electronics company shed light on this topic, which is often neglected, and even devote resources to protecting their patrons through hearing conscientious design. JLab notes that all of their products developed in 2023 and beyond have a “Hearing Safe Mode” that lowers the output of their devices to safer sound levels. An associated image suggests that this feature is available through the JLab Hearing Health app, but I was unfortunately unable to find it (hopefully it will be available for HEAR via an update shortly).

JLab’s commitment to safer audio products is commendable, and I hope to see other consumer electronics audio companies follow their lead. In a time where nearly 40 million Americans report some hearing difficulty, and we are seeing rates of hearing injury rise in children and teens, this should be one of our highest priorities.1,2

HearAdvisor Lab gives JLab HEAR OTC hearing aid a SoundGrade of B (a pleasant surprise for a $99 OTC hearing aid!)

HearAdvisor testing shows that JLab HEAR performs well compared to other OTC hearing aids in this price range and it received a respectable SoundGrade of B. You will likely experience improvements to speech clarity, especially in quieter environments, and can expect excellent streamed audio quality when worn properly.

Jlab Hear On Kemar In Test Lab

JLab HEAR on the KEMAR audio testing manikin in the HearAdvisor lab.

Below are the lab scores for JLab Hear for the five test parameters evaluated at HearAdvisor. The Initial Fit can be considered the results you are likely to get after unboxing and closely following the manufacturer’s instructions during setup. For many hearing aids, we also measure an improved “Tuned Fitting,” but this was not possible as JLab HEAR offered no further means for adjustment. (For overall scores and to hear sound samples, please see the sidebar at the top-right of this page.)

Overall SoundScore: 3.6 (B SoundGrade) Score
Speech in Quiet/Moderate Noise 2.7
Speech in Noise 1.0
Feedback 5.0
Own Voice 1.8
Streamed Audio 4.6

JLab Hear scores (0 to 5 points, with 5 being the highest performance level) for the five HearAdvisor sound quality parameters. The overall SoundGrade at the top is determined by weighting the factors considered most important by consumers.

Speech Performance

HEAR was found to offer respectable speech intelligibility improvements in quiet environments with decreased performance in louder noise settings. This is expected and common across all hearing aids, as it is technically challenging to separate speech and noise. Overall, the estimated speech benefits of HEAR were above most hearing aids at this price range.

Feedback Performance

No feedback was noted in dynamic situations such as cupping the ear and hearing aid during normal use.

Will your voice sound boomy or distorted?

The Own-voice metric is largely determined by the ear tip used and how the device fits your ear. When using the default medium closed dome that HEAR ships with, performance was on the lower end as it caused a more occluding, or plugged, fit. This means you may experience an exaggerated “boomy” or closed-off feeling when wearing the devices.

Streamed Music

This metric is also largely determined by the ear tip used and how the device fits your ear. JLab HEAR was found to have excellent audio quality when streaming music, which can likely be attributed to the more occluding, or plugged, fit on the ear. You would likely experience lower audio quality while streaming if using one of the provided open (vented) ear tips.

Final Verdict

At the $99 price point, JLab HEAR represents an exceptional value, offering desirable features and respectable audio processing.

JLab HEAR is one of many new OTC hearing aids to flood the market following the FDA’s 2022 Hearing Aid Ruling. It offers you a 2-in-1 design, combining desirable features from both advanced earbuds and hearing aids. You can expect features like multiple sound modes, volume control, noise reduction, feedback suppression, audio streaming, and more.

JLab offers exceptional value though there are some key considerations worth mentioning. JLab is new to hearing aids, and they do not currently offer audiologic assistance from hearing care providers. You will want to look elsewhere if guidance and virtual support are top priorities.

HEAR also has a battery life of up to 10 hours meaning they’re probably more suited for situational use rather than the all-day solution provided by traditional hearing aids. I also experienced some app limitations and sound quality hiccups (e.g., wind noise).

Finally, because it is an "instant-fit" OTC hearing aid with preset programs instead of frequency-specific tuning using a hearing test, people with more complex hearing losses may not receive as much benefit.

Where can you buy JLab HEAR and what are other hearing aids might you consider?

JLab HEAR is available for purchase online directly from JLab at JLab.com or online at retailers like Amazon.

For iOS users, it is worth mentioning Apple Airpods Pro 2, available for $199 per pair, as an alternative. They offer similar features with a few additions like Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and the ability to use Live Listen which converts your iOS mobile device into a remote microphone. Apple Airpods are technically hearables and not OTC hearing aids. However, they allow you to input your hearing test through the Apple Health app or take an on-ear hearing test through apps like the Mimi Hearing Test. This makes them very similar to an OTC self-fitting hearing aid. HearingTracker audiologist Matthew Allsop has produced a video that shows you how to set up Apple Airpods as hearing aids.

HP Hearing Pro (and also NuHeara IQBuds Max) is another earbud-like OTC hearing aid available for $499 per pair. It offers an on-ear app-based hearing test and several other hearing-minded features.

The audio performance of these three products can be compared on HearAdvisor’s Leaderboard, but to save you time JLab HEAR performs competitively at a fraction of the price, which highlights its value. Granted, HEAR has several shortcomings, and I certainly have a wishlist for future firmware updates, but it may be the best OTC hearing aid currently available at this price point.

References 

  1. Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012 . National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat. 2014; Feb(260):1-161.
  2. Eichwald J. Survey of teen noise exposure and efforts to protect hearing at school—United States, 2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69.

Table of Contents

HearAdvisor Sound Performance Lab Results

SoundScore 3.6
Speech in quiet 2.7
Speech in noise 1.0
My own voice 1.8
No feedback issues 5.0
Streaming quality 4.6

Maximum score for each category is 5 points. Green triangles (if present) denote above-average performance; hover your cursor over them to see the specific data.

Off
Initial
Tuned
Busy Café
Quiet Office
Audio Stream

Adjust volume to make "Open Ear" as loud as it would be in the real world, without hearing aids. Remove hearing aids while auditioning. High-quality headphones will improve results!

Recordings are made in a sound-treated acoustic test lab an 8-speaker ring presenting ambisonic recordings and an acoustic manikin. For more important listening notes, be sure to check out our hearing aid comparison engine.

HearAdvisor partners with HearingTracker to provide objective laboratory performance data. All hearing aids are fitted and performance-tested for mild sloping to moderate hearing loss. All audio samples cutoff above 10kHz. *Specific model tested: JLab Hear OTC.

JLab Hear OTC Physical Specifications

JLab Hear OTC
JLab Hear OTC
Rating
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Bluetooth® Audio Protocol
  • Bluetooth® (A2DP)
  • SBC
  • AAC
Hands-Free Calling Protocol
  • Bluetooth® (HFP)
IP Rating (Liquid) 4
Rechargeable Batteries Battery Type
Lithium-ion
Tap Controls Tap Options
  • Change program
  • Accept/end calls

Model details listed above may be incomplete or inaccurate. For full specifications please refer to product specifications published by the original equipment manufacturer. To suggest a correction to the details listed, please email info@hearingtracker.com.

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JLab Hear OTC Technology Details

Technology specifications listed above may be incomplete or inaccurate. For full specifications please refer to product specifications published by the original equipment manufacturer. To suggest a correction to the details listed, please email info@hearingtracker.com.

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JLab Hear OTC 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. When purchasing a hearing aid, you'll need to consider more than just your hearing outcome ... Continue reading

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