After a long wait, Bose has finally launched its new self-fitting hearing aids—Bose SoundControl™. The new hearing aids look a lot like traditional medical-grade hearing aids, but promise a radically different do-it-yourself experience that allows you to "tune it yourself”, “skip the appointments” and “pay (much) less”. The new hearing aids come with 90-day risk-free trial, dedicated product support, and will be available to purchase on May 18 in select states for $849.95.
Bose SoundControl™ hearing aids and Bose Hear app
Tune it yourself
Unlike traditional hearing aids, Bose’s new SoundControl™ hearing aids are designed to be adjusted by the user. Citing a study conducted with researchers at Northwestern University, Bose touts “clinically proven results” using its proprietary CustomTune™ technology. Based on the research, Bose makes three primary claims:
- CustomTune™ provides audiologist-quality customization.
- Users were happier with sound quality compared to prescription-fit users.
- On average, there was no difference in hearing-in-noise performance or hearing benefit between CustomTune™ and prescription-fit.
- World volume - This control is the primary control for amplification. It adjusts the gain, compression, and output limiting across 12 bands to approximate the settings that would be required to professionally-fit 36 common audiograms.
- Treble - The treble control adjusts “spectral tilt” by applying “additional adjustment to the gain” across 12 bands.
In the research cited by Bose, most users found themselves in the ballpark of a good hearing aid fitting. This was established by running ear canal measurements to see how close research participants self-selected amplification output was to the output of a perfectly-fit hearing aid.
One serious limitation I see in the research is that product used in the study was a product that closed the ears using earbud-style eartips. The SoundControl™ hearing aids use open-ear eartips, which means less bass, and a fundamentally different sound quality. I would personally like to see Bose replicate their findings using the SoundControl™ product.
The Bose SoundControl™ hearing aids are lacking many of the features found in today’s medical-grade hearing aids. For example, the hearing aids are non-rechargeable, and do not offer Bluetooth connectivity or audio streaming from iOS or Android devices. As a result, hands-free calling is also not supported.
The product page does not mention typical hearing aid features like feedback reduction and digital noise suppression, but being Bose, we expect the basics to be in place, and noise reduction should be an obvious highlight.
The Bose SoundControl™ hearing aids do not include telecoils. This means no access to hearing loops, and acoustic-only amplification for telephones.
Who is the Bose Hearing Aid for?
While the FDA’s rules do not explicitly state anything about decibel limits for self-fitting hearing aids, the agency does indicate that self-fitting hearing aids are “intended to amplify sound for individuals 18 years of age or older with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment”. The SoundControl™ product page clearly states that the Bose hearing aid is not suitable for those with severe hearing loss. The FDA states that no hearing test is necessary.
Initially, the Bose Hearing Aid will not be available nationwide. The Bose website states that the new product will be “available on a limited geographic basis.” Bose expects availability within the United States to “expand within the coming year.” If you live in Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, you can purchase the SoundControl™ hearing aids now.
How did Bose do it?
In 2018, Bose trailblazed a completely new FDA product classification for direct-to-consumer hearing aids—hearing aids that could be fitted without the assistance of a state-licensed hearing care professional. Bose was able to create the new product classification by successfully filing a De Novo Classification Request for the Bose Hearing Aid with the FDA in 2018. At the time the “Bose Hearing Aid” was a prototype hearing aid that more closely resembled the now legacy Bose Hearphones.
In April, Bose filed a 510k with the FDA to seek approval to sell the new Bose SoundControl™ hearing aids under the new self-fitting category. The FDA approved the request a few days ago, calling the new hearing aids “substantially equivalent” to the prototype reviewed in 2018.
What’s in the box?
Bose produced the following video to highlight everything that comes with SoundControl™. The price for the pair of hearing aids, and all included accessories, is $849.95. Replacement batteries are purchased separately.
What does the future hold?
In August 2017, President Trump signed the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act, which authorizes direct sales of hearing aids without a medical referral or prescription. However, OTC hearing aids still technically don’t exist yet, and it’s unclear if the new class of hearing will be substantially different from the self-fitting class established by Bose.
In the meantime, it’s an all-out wild west situation when it comes to online hearing aid sales, and there is a lot that consumers need to be aware of. I provided an overview of the entire market in a recent talk I did for Knowles Electronics. Check it out here.