The hearing aid accessories highlighted in this article might span a wide gamut of product types and purposes, but all are designed to allow you to hear or understand speech more clearly and confidently. Note: Devices not shown to scale.
Are there some situations where you don't hear as well as you’d like, even when wearing your hearing aids? Perhaps the background noise in a busy restaurant makes it difficult to focus on the person you are speaking to, and you’d like to improve your listening experience. Or, maybe, you want to discover some new and innovative gadgets to get the best out of your hearing aids.
Accessories for hearing aids can be extremely helpful—whether you're listening to a lecture, trying to hear someone in a noisy bar or restaurant, watching TV at a low volume, or having a conversation on the phone. They also perform a variety of other functions.
Lise Hamlin, director of public policy at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and a hearing aid wearer, explains, “There are many hearing aid accessories and technologies available. The key is to determine your specific needs, where and when you have the most challenges hearing and know what’s available to help. Checking HLAA’s resources can be a good place to start.”
In this article, we explain the benefits of Bluetooth streaming, share some of our favorite hearing aid listening and control accessories, and talk about technologies that can improve the understanding of speech and music, including a new and innovative type of broadcast audio set to revolutionize the hearing aid experience!
The power of Bluetooth streaming
Nearly all hearing aids can connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth technology, whether directly or through a wireless streamer often worn around the neck (which can be paired with the streamer and then with external devices). Bluetooth technology enables you to hear your phone calls streamed directly through your hearing aids and often “hands-free,” meaning you can listen to and speak with the person on the line without even touching your phone.
For music, Bluetooth can also transform your hearing aids into a wireless set of earbuds. You can usually stream to one or both hearing aids, which take into account your hearing loss, delivering customized music to your ears.
Below you can find some valuable gadgets—many of which use Bluetooth streaming—and technologies that improve and enhance your listening experiences with your hearing aids:
1) TV streamers
Turning up the volume of your TV makes the audio louder, but not necessarily clearer. TV streamers can help with this.
What do TV streamers do?
A TV streamer wirelessly streams audio directly from most modern televisions to your hearing aids or cochlear implants (CI), enabling you to have direct and customized sound.
This video from HearingTracker Audiologist Matthew Allsop in May 2022 provides a good primer on the different types of hearing aid accessories available for Phonak Paradise hearing aids (now generally applicable for the Phonak Lumina line). However, as you'll see in the video about Oticon More accessories below, many of the showcased products are generally representative of what may be found in other other hearing aid brands. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
TV streamers are generally quick to set up. Basically, the streamer is a tabletop accessory that connects to a power source and your television set. You then pair the streamer via Bluetooth with your hearing aids—generally, you only need to do this once—and you can then stream directly to your hearing aids.
How are TV streamers helpful?
TV streamers enhance your TV listening experience, allowing you to enjoy watching TV at your preferred volume, while the rest of the family can keep the volume at a level that suits them.
You can hear audio more clearly, making it easier to understand speech, and you can set your own volume levels. The latest TV streamers boast impressive ranges—up to 50 ft (15 meters)—meaning you can even hear the TV while in another room.
Many streamers are not confined to working only with your TV, but will also work with any electronic audio device with Bluetooth capability, including sound systems, laptops, and tablets.
2) Remote microphones
A remote microphone, also known as a “partner” or “clip-on” mic, is a special type of wireless mic for your hearing aid, which can help communication in everyday situations where you are mainly focused on one speaker.
What do remote mics do?
A remote mic pairs with your hearing aids via Bluetooth connection. Once paired, it picks up speech from the person you choose to listen to, sending signals straight to your hearing aid processor. In this way, it cuts out all the noise between you and what you are trying to hear and is far more powerful than the directional microphones on your hearing aid.
The speaker clips the mic onto their clothing or on the lectern in a lecture hall, and everything the mic pics up is sent to your hearing aids. You hear the person clearly as though they are standing next to you, limiting background noise—with their voice sounding crisp, sharp, and tailored to your ears.
Curious about accessories for Oticon hearing aids? Audiologist Matthew Allsop reviews accessories that can be used with the Oticon More and Real hearing aid families. As with the video above, there are functional similarities—but unique differences too— between hearing aid accessories in the various brands. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
How are remote mics helpful?
Remote mics enable you to hear someone who is not located close to you. They can be helpful in a variety of situations, such as in lectures, when in a restaurant with a loved one, or in an exercise class where you need to hear instructions. You can even have your spouse wear it throughout the day so you can hear them better.
Some manufacturers have apps that enable you to adjust the balance between how much input you receive from the remote mic and how much you receive from your hearing aid mics. Some remote mics include other functionalities, such as hands-free phone calls and music streaming from your smartphone!
Struggling to hear in background noise or at meetings even when wearing your Phonak hearing aid? Roger On V2 may be the answer. And with table mode, presenter mode, and pointing mode, HearingTracker's Matthew Allsop thinks Roger On is the most versatile accessory on the market—handling almost all of the demanding listening situations you throw at it. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
3) Table microphones
Though remote clip-on mics can be used in communication situations that involve a group of people, they need to be placed on a surface in front of everyone or passed around from speaker to speaker, which isn’t always practical. In these situations, table mics or conference mics are generally a better option.
What do table mics do?
Table mics are designed for group settings and environments with significant background noise, like busy restaurants, meetings, or family gatherings. They enable you to focus on the conversation and hear your colleagues or loved ones better.
Simply place the table mic in the center of a table, and it will utilize built-in microphones to detect where speech is coming from and stream it directly to your hearing aids.
How are table mics helpful?
They can be particularly useful in work meetings, enabling you to hear more clearly and confidently participate in the workplace.
Most table mics can connect to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone for online meetings so that you can communicate and participate in conference calls. Many also have settings that adapt to background noise and allow you to change volume levels.
Like the Phonak Roger On V2, the Widex Sound Assist is another good example of a hearing aid accessory with multifunctional uses. In this video, Audiologist Matthew Allsop likens Sound Assist to the Swiss Army Knife of hearing aid accessories. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
4) Remote controls
Generally, hearing aid remote controls are easy to use and can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks. They are usually small and can fit in your pocket or purse so that you can keep them with you throughout the day. Today, the primary control for advanced hearing aids is usually a smartphone app, but some people don't have or don't want to use a phone to control their aids. For them, a remote control may be just the right choice.
What do hearing aid remote controls do?
Remote controls for hearing aids allow you to change settings, such as adjusting the volume or moving between hearing aid programs.
Pocket-size hearing aid remote controls can be exceptionally useful for people who either don't use a smartphone or who want faster and more discreet access to their hearing aid controls (volume, programs, etc.) without having to use an app. Sizes of devices not shown to scale.
How are hearing aid remote controls helpful?
Remote controls enable you to operate your hearing aids without touching them. This can be particularly helpful for people who have difficulty operating hearing aids using push-buttons or for anyone who prefers adjusting their hearing aids discreetly and with minimal effort. One downside is you may have fewer controls compared to the app.
As with all hearing aid accessories, the brand will depend on your type of hearing aid.
5) Captioned telephones
If you have hearing loss, phone calls can be challenging, even with hearing technology such as hearing aids and CIs. You may find yourself avoiding using the telephone, meaning you are at risk of losing contact with loved ones, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The good news? Captioned telephones can make phone calls easier and enhance communication with friends, family, and colleagues.
What do captioned telephones do?
Captioned telephones for landlines are connected to a telephone line like a traditional phone. They are generally easy to operate and can be used with or without hearing aids.
When you call from a captioned telephone, it automatically connects to the Captioned Telephone Services (CTS). You then speak to the person you have called, just like a standard phone call. The CTS then uses voice-recognition technology, and a specially trained communications assistant transcribes everything said into captions. When the person at the end of the line responds, the captions appear in easy-to-read text almost simultaneously on your phone screen.
Captioned telephones are amplified and allow you to read the text of your conversation partner while they are speaking. Best of all: they're free to people with hearing loss who qualify for them. Ask your hearing care professional for more information.
How are captioned telephones helpful?
Captioned telephones can help you stay more connected with loved ones and can also be helpful in offices for employees with hearing loss. Both hearing the speaker and reading the captioned text can enhance understanding and improve confidence when conversing.
How do you get a captioned telephone?
For qualified people with hearing loss, they're free! Captioned telephones are funded by the government through the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), which is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If you or a loved one qualifies, you can receive a free or discounted caption-enabled phone.
In some cases, the FCC may require you to provide a certification form signed by your doctor or another healthcare professional to attest that you have hearing loss before receiving a free captioned telephone and service.
Some providers will deliver and install your captioned telephone free of charge and provide you with free training on how to use it.
You can ask your hearing care provider for more information or register directly with a captioned telephone retailer.
6) Captioning apps for smartphones
Just as captioned telephones for landlines translate speech into text, various smartphone apps do the same. This means you can benefit from speech-to-text captioning when you’re on the go.
Captioning apps for smartphones, like the CaptionCall mobile app shown here, allow for speech-to-text captioning when you're on the go.
In fact, there are many innovative apps making their way online. In this video, HearingTracker Audiologist Matthew Allsop gives his review of the top-5 best free apps for people with hearing loss. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
7) Loop systems for telecoils
A hearing loop, or audio induction loop, is an assistive listening technology that consists of one or more loops of cable placed around a particular area, such as a meeting room, theater, shop counter, or place of worship.
What do telecoils and loop systems do?
Hearing loops provide an electromagnetic signal and are usually connected to a microphone. The sound of the person speaking or other audio, such as music, is picked up by an in-built tiny metal coil in hearing aids and CIs called a telecoil. The audio is then sent wirelessly and directly to your hearing aids.
The international symbol for a telecoil-compatible loop listening system for hearing aids and cochlear implants.
How are telecoils helpful?
Since audio from a hearing loop doesn’t have to travel the entire distance via sound waves to meet your ears, they eliminate most background noise, meaning you receive clear sound customized to your unique hearing aid settings. It can also be used by many people at the same time, making it a great option for accessible audio in public spaces. In this way, loop systems are a little like remote mics—except they're meant for larger areas and are much less expensive.
Hamlin explains, “One of the most important features to look for in a hearing aid is to ensure it has either a telecoil or Bluetooth capability to tie into assistive listening in public places. We find some hearing aids users still don’t know about this technology, which can dramatically improve listening in a conference room, concert hall, or other location. HLAA explains how this all works here. Bluetooth is a newer, emerging technology, but telecoils have been around for years.”
How to use a hearing loop
In a space or venue with a hearing loop, set your hearing device to the “T” (telecoil) setting to enable you to receive the audio from inside the hearing loop directly to your hearing aids.
You can use loop system technology if your hearing aid or CI has an in-built telecoil. Note that if your current hearing aid doesn’t have a telecoil, you may be able to get a telecoil-equipped accessory that works with your hearing aid.
How to locate a venue with a hearing loop
Places with hearing loops will usually display a blue sign with a white ear and a white slash through it with a “T” in the bottom right corner.
Hamlin also recommends a new feature on Google Maps that an HLAA group helped advocate for: “It tells you if a venue has a hearing loop, which works with telecoils in hearing aids. As you’ll see in the article, many people call this life-changing.”
8) The future and Auracast
Termed “the next generation of assistive listening technology,” Auracast broadcast audio could be a game changer for hearing aid wearers. Auracast is a new broadcast technology introduced in 2022, supported by Bluetooth low energy (LE) audio.
What does it do?
Using Auracast, you will be able to use an audio transmitter, e.g., a smartphone, laptop, television, or public address (PA) system, to share your audio to an unlimited number of nearby Bluetooth audio receivers, including earbuds, hearing aids, and CIs.
Earbuds, hearing aids, and CIs implementing Auracast broadcast audio will be able to join broadcasts and directly stream high-quality audio in public spaces.
Auricast will allow you to tap into audio sources the same way you connect to WiFi networks.
How will it be helpful?
For people with hearing loss who use listening devices, Auracast is said to be set to “improve audio accessibility and promote better living through better hearing.” Like telecoils, Auracast will be deployed in public locations broadcasting audio, such as movie theaters, places of worship, and conference rooms. But, with Auracast, access to steamed audio for hearing aid wearers will no longer be limited to the physical confines of the hearing loop cable.
You will be able to stream high-quality audio from a lecture or play directly to your hearing aids. In public places such as busy airports, you will be able to receive important announcements, such as gate changes, to your hearing device. At service counters, you will be able to stream the voices of staff behind the counter.
Auracast is still in the development stages and is not currently widely available. It is expected to gradually roll out over the next 3-7 years, and certainly, one to watch when it comes to improving audio accessibility for people with hearing loss. Until then, however, telecoils and other Bluetooth-assisted devices will remain an extremely valuable listening technology for many hearing aid wearers.
Hearing Health Writer
Carly Sygrove is a hearing loss coach and a hearing health writer who has single-sided deafness. She writes about living with hearing loss at My Hearing Loss Story and manages an online support group for people with hearing loss. She is also the founder of the Sudden Hearing Loss Support website, a source of information and support for people affected by sudden hearing loss.