New Jabra and Sennheiser Earbuds Deliver High-End Hearing Enhancement

True wireless earbuds combine high performance audio streaming with technology from hearing aid industry leaders
Sennheiser and Jabra Hearing Enhancement Earbuds

Over the past few years, makers of high-fidelity true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds began delivering a steady stream of hearing enhancements that made them perform a lot like hearing aids. At the same time, hearing-aid makers delivered smaller form factors with an array of new features at lower costs that in some cases made them seem more like traditional audio earbuds.

At this year’s CES 2023 consumer electronics show in January, those worlds converged seamlessly with two new earbud products that combine high-quality streaming of music and calls with hearing-aid-caliber hearing enhancement. Two leading consumer audio brands, Jabra and Sennheiser, showed off new, high-performance true wireless earbuds that integrate hearing enhancement technology developed by corporate partners who rank among the world’s five largest hearing aid companies.

Jabra, a subsidiary of GN Hearing, showed its Jabra Enhance Plus “3-in-1” earbuds designed for better hearing, music streaming, and phone calls. The rechargeable earbuds are also FDA-approved over-the-counter (OTC) self-fitting hearing aids for consumers with mild to moderate hearing loss. And Sennheiser, recently acquired by Sonova Group, introduced its new rechargeable Conversation Clear Plus Earbuds integrating Sonova hearing aid technology designed to make it easier to understand speech in noisy environments.

Jabra Enhance Plus: $799 OTC hearing aids

Jabra Enhance Plus Earbud

Jabra Enhance Plus earbuds are approximately half the size of Jabra's other true wireless earbuds. They include calls and music streaming that users expect from true wireless earbuds. At the same time, they provide advanced audiological features from GN Hearing including digital noise reduction for keeping speech clear, digital feedback suppression to keep feedback from interfering with sound quality, and directional beam-forming microphones that focus on the person you are talking to. Priced at $799 for a pair, they compete with other OTC hearing aids offering comparable features.

Jabra says its intention is for Jabra Enhance Plus to be bought as easily as a pair of headphones at Best Buy or online. At the online store, they are available with two other advanced earbud products shown at CES, the Jabra Elite 5 ($149) with active noise cancellation technology utilizing six microphones, and Jabra Evolve3 Buds ($269), optimized with background noise reduction technology for video calls and office conversations.

"Will this be the BEST OTC hearing aid of 2023?"

Check out our Jabra Enhance Plus product review on the HearingTracker YouTube Channel by Matthew Allsop, AuD.

The high-end hearing enhancement technology in Jabra Enhance Plus has passed muster with hearing industry professionals. GN Hearing is a top-five hearing-aid maker, parent of the well-respected ReSound and Beltone hearing aid brands. At Hearing Tracker, we’ve rated the Jabra Enhance Plus earbuds as the number one OTC hearing aid for 2023.

For consumers looking for hearing aids in more traditional receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) form factors that sit behind the ear, Jabra also offers three additional OTC hearing aids at its e-store with prices ranging from $1,195 to $1,995. And if you want in-store support from a hearing professional, GN Hearing provides Jabra RIC-style prescription hearing aids through Costco hearing centers with prices starting at $1,999.

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus: $849.99 earbuds for situational listening

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Recharging Case

In March 2022, Sonova Group completed its acquisition of the Sennheiser Group, a well-known global consumer audio brand that has also long provided assistive listening devices for people with hearing loss. The two companies wasted no time combining forces to develop and deliver the new Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus Earbuds priced at $849.99 a pair.

Sonova Group is a top-five global hearing aid manufacturer that sells Phonak, Unitron and other leading brands and is known for advanced sound processing software in their hearing aids. Among other features, automatic scene detection software analyzes the noise level of a user’s environment and matches speech enhancement levels to the surroundings. Combined with active noise cancellation software in the Conversation Clear Plus Earbuds, it works dynamically to block distracting noises and improve the clarity of conversations for various levels of background noise.

Sennheiser says the earbuds are best suited for “situational listening,” occasions when you need noise reduction in noisy settings. It says they work for nine hours on a single charge, including streaming. Then the portable charging case, which can be charged overnight, stores enough power to recharge the earbuds twice more.

The Conversation Clear Plus Earbuds are TWS earbud products, not OTC hearing aids—yet. To date, neither Sonova nor Sennheiser has committed to entering OTC markets with FDA-approved direct-to-consumer hearing aids. Like Apple with its Airpods Pro 2, which provide enough hearing enhancement to qualify as OTC hearing aids but are not yet entering the “medical” hearing aid market, Sonova has indicated it will wait to see how OTC markets develop before leaping into the fray. But if or when it decides the time is right, Sonova is well positioned with a Sennheiser product that provides sophisticated hearing enhancement features and a price that matches many of the OTC hearing aids currently coming to market.

It's still early days for OTC hearing aids

It’s too soon to say how big an impact true wireless earbud designs will have on the OTC hearing aid marketplace. Two early entrants, Nuheara's HP Hearing Pro OTC hearing aids and Sony's CRE-E10 OTC hearing aids, come in earbud form factors and are loaded with hearing technologies. Sony inked a deal with WS Audiology, another top-five hearing aid manufacturer, to design the CRE-E10 and its smaller CRE-C10 invisible OTC hearing aids that sit completely within the ear canal.

No one knows yet how popular the larger earbuds will be for all-day hearing enhancement versus situational use. Many of the other early OTC hearing aids come in the larger RIC-style form factor, with a processor that sits behind the ear, and are designed for all-day use. Nevertheless, it’s a good bet that the technologies that have driven the growth of streaming audio earbuds over the past several years will continue to make their way into the OTC hearing aid mix, while hearing enhancement features continue to show up in true wireless earbuds.