I Tried the New Jabra Hearing Aid. You Can Too, Today.

Last week, I received a surprise package from Denmark. I had a feeling I knew what was inside, and I was not disappointed. Jabra, a brand that is more commonly associated with consumer true-wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds and business-grade communication devices (headsets, speakers, and cameras), is gearing up to enter the budding direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aid market—and the Jabra Enhance™ Plus hearing aids are their first foray.

Jabra Vs Airpods

My pair of Jabra Enhance™ Plus hearing aids arrived last week. Here they are next to my AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2.

Where to purchase the Enhance Plus

You may be disappointed to learn that Enhance Plus cannot currently be purchased online or in your local Best Buy. I know, I know, what about the promise of DTC? Well, that’s the long term strategy, according to Gitte Aabo, the CEO of Jabra’s parent company, GN. But GN is playing it safe for now—due to a complicated patchwork of state and local hearing aid sales regulations, GN has opted to sell its FDA-cleared self-fitting hearing aid exclusively through state-licensed audiologists and hearing instrument specialists.

Most industry pundits expect the FDA to issue rules that will preempt state laws regulating the sale of hearing aids. This will clear the way for cautious companies like GN to sell their self-fitting hearing aids directly to consumers, without threat state-level lawsuits getting in the way.

So where exactly can you buy the Enhance Plus hearing aids, today? When you visit Jabra’s Certified Jabra Enhance Centers webpage, you’ll notice that Beltone is the primary local distributor on the map (more businesses will likely be added over time). Jabra’s parent company GN also owns Beltone, so distributing Jabra’s self-fitting device in a tightly regulated market makes a lot of sense. They have licensed hearing care professionals across the country that can help Jabra move the new devices with as little friction as possible.

Adding value to the product?

But Beltone is doing more than just acting as a point of sale. According to the sales page for Enhance Plus, on the Beltone website, the $799 cannot be purchased without a $199 Belcare+ package.

Jabra Enhance Plus Shop Beltone 2022 02 25 11 08 03

My shopping cart at Beltone

Once in your cart, Beltone provides a little more explanation about the Belcare+ package:

For a one-time cost of $199, Belcare+ includes everything you need to get started with your Jabra Enhance Plus earbuds, including:

  • Your initial hearing evaluation
  • Fitting assistance with your earbuds
  • Access to Beltone Hearing Care Professionals service and support

In my personal opinion, as an audiologist, I’m actually really glad to see this. While the FDA seems willing to let consumers forego a traditional medical workup when purchasing hearing aids, I’ve simply seen too much in the clinic … too many people with treatable medical issues. Earwax is a surprisingly common culprit, but other more sinister medical conditions (which are often treatable), should absolutely be ruled out by a medical professional before moving on to treating a hearing loss. It’s true that sometimes the treatment can solve the hearing problem, and why should anyone buy a device before investigating the root cause of their problem?

And while self-fitting hearing aids can be fit on your own (by definition), I feel like $199 is a completely reasonable amount to pay to have a professional work through the process with you. I know that not everyone will require help, but it certainly won’t hurt anyone. Once the FDA rules pass, I fully expect that a number of DIYers will end up in the clinic for assistance. The future will provide options for those who do and don’t need the help, and that is a great thing. I see Beltone’s model as a great example of how hearing professionals will remain relevant even when companies like Jabra do make their hearing aids available without professional care.

Check your local audiologist

One thing to keep in mind. Jabra will be selling the Enhance Plus through independent audiologists as well. If you have an audiologist you love working with, give them a call and see if they plan to stock Enhance Plus.

Setting up Enhance App

First things first. I’m an Android guy. Enhance Plus is not currently compatible with Android, so I had to pair it with my iPad at home. The Enhance app is not currently optimized for iPad, so I got the weird small iPhone-shaped app experience. Regardless, the app worked well, and setting up the hearing aids was fairly seamless. The only weird part was the Bluetooth pairing, which had to be done through the iOS accessibility / hearing aids menus instead of the traditional pairing method. I had to exit the Jabra app to accomplish the pairing, and then return to finish setup, and that part of the experience might throw a few people off.

Jabra Enhance App

Jabra Enhance App

Checking my hearing

Once the Jabras were in my ears and paired up, Jabra sent me through a hearing check, which tests one ear at a time by having you listen to a number of different-pitched soft warble tones. The test was fast but you do need to find a quiet place and focus if you want to achieve an accurate result. And of course, the result will have a big impact on the functionality of the hearing aids, so be sure to get that part right.

Comfort and hearing aid functionality

Full disclosure, I don’t have a hearing loss, so I can’t tell you how well this product works as a hearing aid. What I can say is the hearing aids fit really, really well in my ears, they were very small and comfortable, and the sound quality sounded… well… like any other hearing aid I’ve put in my ears. Jabra’s parent company owns one of the largest hearing aid companies in the world (ReSound), and I have every reason to believe that the hearing aid technology in Enhance Plus is similar to what you would find in ReSound’s latest hearing aids. In other words, they will probably function very well as hearing aids, but I can’t give you my subjective opinion. You’ll have to try them yourself.

Streaming audio sound quality

For me, this was main let down. I was kind of hoping that these earbuds would provide the same streaming sound quality as other TWS earbuds offered by Jabra. Unfortunately, that was not the case. While streaming music on Spotify from my iPad, I found the audio quality to sound like the same overly-compressed sound that you typically hear from every other hearing aid on the market. I had to accept the reality that there is simply no way to stream high-definition audio over Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and the Made For iPhone (MFi) protocol. And using traditional Bluetooth streaming is simply too energy demanding to provide 10-hour battery life.

The overall sound quality when listening to ambient sounds and people talking around me was good. The bass reproduction was decent (thanks to the good seal provided by the more occluding ear tips) on both streaming audio and ambient sounds. Sound compression was only an issue with streaming audio.

Controlling the earbuds

I typically use the Apple AirPods Pro, which provide ear-level media controls (play/pause) and the ability to toggle on or off the ambient sounds around you (transparency mode). Enhance Plus is missing media controls (bummer), but does allow you to toggle ambient sounds, and provides the ability to change the volume and answer / reject calls.

Should you buy the Jabra Enhance Plus?

This all comes down to your preferences for style. If you like the look of the new buds (I personally do), and you have the right amount of hearing loss (mild to moderate), you should absolutely give them a try. They are great value for money.

If you are someone (like me) who needs the onboard media controls, you might want to check out my article on setting up the AirPods Pro as hearing aids. They won’t work as well as hearing aids, but might provide some benefit if you have nothing else.

Either way, if you haven’t had your hearing tested, and you suspect you have a hearing loss, go and see an audiologist, and get a baseline. Make sure there’s nothing you can do to medically treat your hearing loss, and then take a look at your hearing aid and hearing assistance technology options. There’s a whole world of help out there for those who need it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a firmware upgrade would arrive soon after launch. GN has stated that this is not the case.