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Difference Between A Hearing Aid and A Personal Sound Amplifier

We published an article back in 2014 regarding the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers. A few of the comments we received requested more info on this topic to include additional details regarding product differences. Let's dig in and discuss the difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier. With a billion people at risk for hearing loss, this market still has significant upside (for consumers and suppliers alike).

First – What are these devices, and what are they used for?

What Is A Hearing Aid?

Difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers
Receiver In Canal Hearing Aid | courtesy Starkey Hearing Technologies

The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) defines a hearing aid as “a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.”

Hearing aids are FDA regulated devices and they typically consist of 3 distinct parts; a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker.

A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker. – NIDCD

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What Is A Personal Sound Amplifier?

Difference between personal sound amplifiers and hearing aids
A Personal Sound Amplifier

Personal sound amplifiers come in all shapes and sizes and are considerably less expensive than traditional hearing aids. Personal Sound Amplifiers also known as (Personal Sound Amplification Products), increase environmental sounds  can help people hear better in certain situations, like hunting or birdwatching.  Interesting to note that these devices are not designed for hearing impaired people. That's right these devices are specifically designed for non-hearing-impaired-consumers!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to make sure you know the difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier. Here's what the FDA says about personal sound amplifiers:

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), or sound amplifiers, increase environmental sounds for non-hearing impaired consumers. Examples of situations when these products would be used include hunting (listening for prey), bird watching, listening to a lecture with a distant speaker, and listening to soft sounds that would be difficult for normal hearing individuals to hear (e.g., distant conversations, performances). PSAPs are not intended to be used as hearing aids to compensate for hearing impairment. – FDA 

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The FDA's Dr. Eric Mann, deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices says that the personal sound amplifiers can actually cause further hearing loss if used improperly.”It can cause a delay in diagnosis of a potentially treatable condition. And that delay can allow the condition to get worse and lead to other complications,”

Difference Between Hearing Aid and Personal Sound Amplifier

Difference In Cost

Despite what the FDA says, the difference in cost between a traditional hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier will have consumers curious about personal sound amplifiers.  According to The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the cost of a single hearing aid is $2,300. If you need a pair, you'll be plunking down $4,600… That's a tremendous amount of money when you consider that a personal sound amplifier might cost you between $250 and $400.

There is some good news on the hearing aid front. If you shop around you can find deals out there (on quality products) that bring the cost of hearing aids down substantially. Doing some online research, finding innovative new companies (like Elevated Hearing), or simply visiting your local Costco store can arm you with information that can save you money.

If you think you're suffering with hearing loss, it's important to consult with a professional. Buying a personal sound amplifier might seem like a good idea because of cost concerns, but one shouldn't do so without carefully evaluating the potential risks that may accompany that decision.

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17 Comments

  1. They were great but when they went out I didn’t get the quick service I thought I would have. I’m still waiting and it’s been several months.
  2. Amps only make ALL sound louder. Aids have filters so the close-up conversation is louder without the glasses clinking at the bar driving you batty. Also some folks can’t hear bass tones well, or just treble tones. A good aid has the technology to filter and correct appropriately. That is my understanding though no one writes about it that way, so I can’t be sure.
    1. I’m seriously considering personal amplifiers. I just saw an ENT at the clinic, and she suggested trying amplfiers before investing thousands in ‘real’ hearing aids. Quite refreshing after falling for the ‘hard sell’ from Miracle Ear and Avada in the past. (I’ve been going without since my last pair died over five years ago.) I had two sets of hearing aids, at $8,000 per set. Both lasted about three years. I paid $500 to have one set repaired. When they died a second time, I bought new hearing aids that were no better. I hated all of them. The big lie is that hearing amplifiers are inferior because they make ALL sounds louder, while the digital bluetooth-equipped super hearing aids are ‘selective’. BULLS**T! The audiologist reprogrammed mine several times, but never got them to work as advertised. They were fine for one-on-one conversation, but I always had to take them out in group settings because they made background noise much worse. The truth is that none of them were ever as effective as cupping my hand behind my ear! If you do some Googling, you’ll find the same complaints repeated over and over. I’m now shopping for a pair of amplifiers. I don’t know how I’m going to like them, but I can’t imagine them being any worse than the ‘real’ hearing aids I’ve had (and hated) in the past.
  3. Personal Sound Amplifiers can be had via an app for your phone. I believe hearing aids require a hearing test to determine what is at issue and how it may best be addressed with hearing aids.
  4. My Dad is getting to the age where he has to ask twice about what someone said. Now I think he might need a hearing aid since it’s getting pretty bad. As you said, I think it would be a good idea for him to go to a doctor first. That way, we can see exactly what he needs.
  5. Hearing amplifiers are NOT hearing aids and are not approved by the FDA for use as medical devices. Thank you for sharing the details!
    1. hearing aids do same a an amplifier. A hearing aid has a receiver and an amplifier which gives you better hearing. The cheaper Amplifier ( 200 to 400 for the best ones) Do the exact same thing. All you need to do is check to see what makes up a hearing aid and the same with the amplifiers. They do the same thing. The reason why the Aids cost more is because more people have their hands on them. They are both have parts made in China.. If you want more bells and whistles then do the aid. An adjustable Amp. is a very good thing to check out.
      1. While aids and PSADs have similar parts, there is a reason why hearing aids require the assistance of an audiologist in fitting. While some PSADs have controls to compensate for environmental factors, hearing aids are programmable such that they can be customized to compensate for the nature and extent of hearing loss which may be different for each ear. This programming is based on the analysis of a proper hearing test (audiogram,) and may be different for each ear. Also, the programming process is complex and generally not within the ability of an end-user to accomplish. I am a hearing aid user, not a professional involved in any way with the hearing aid or PSAD business. I’ve had problems all my life in my ears, so I am acutely aware of what may be available to help. I’ve been researching the difference between the two solely for reasons of cost. It seems there are two different markets for these products.
        1. I love my hearing amplifier.i have mild hearing loss but with the amplifier I can hear so good n I don’t even talk loud nomore
      2. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the differences between hearing aids and amplifiers, and they definately aren’t the same. An amplifier just amplifies all of the sound frequencies coming at you without adjusting for your own specific loss frequencies. This can do more harm to your hearing because you wind up amplifying frequencies you don’t need amplified along with the frequencies you do need. This means you will need louder levels of overall sound to get the same effect as a hearing aid that is taylored to your own loss. If you have high frequency hearing loss for example and you have problems with hearing women’s voices (especially with background noise) the amplifier will boost all frequencies low and high and you will still have trouble picking out the woman’s voice that you want to hear in all of the noise, and you will turn the device up even louder. The hearing aid is costomized to your own lost frequencies, and will boost up only the frequencies you need which will give you much more clarity of sound with lower sound levels reaching the eardrums.
  6. I love that you talked about how only about one in five people who would benefit from wearing a hearing aid actually wear one. You reminded me of my uncle who needs them and seems the type to not wear one and just turn up the television. You did a great job of explaining how a hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations.
  7. Basically, personal sound amplifiers are for non-hearing disabled people who are mostly hunting while hearing aids are for those in need of hearing assistance in their daily life. That’s perfect to learn since I’ve been noticing the two recently and didn’t know the difference. I almost bought the wrong one for my hearing impaired father. I’ll go out and purchase him a hearing aid later and just keep this personal sound amplifier for myself the next time my friends invite me to go hunting. Hopefully, my dad would appreciate his very own hearing aid. Thanks!
    1. I am 55yrs old and have recently experienced “sudden hearing loss”. I woke up one morning and my left ear seemed plugged and I could not hear. Many reasons why it could have happened but none are treatable. My cochlear nerve is permanently damaged likely from a virus. I have now have a 75db floor in my left ear and also have male pattern hearing in my right ear meaning I cant pick up higher frequencies below 45db. I purchased a $250 pair of In The Ear amplifiers on Amazon until I get to an audiologist and fitted for a hearing aid. BTW, The $6k price for medical aids is insulting and I am shocked that anyone could think that is acceptable or defendable in any fashion. I am a degreed Electrical Engineer, was a noise and vibration engineer for 8yrs and have been in manufacturing for 34 yrs so I fully understand the electrical designs, digital circuity and assembly process required to make and program a hearing aid. I estimate the cost to produce is less than $100 and that is an overstatement. The rest is for intellectual property and profit but mostly profit. Their size and mass means that packaging and logistics cost is about $1 per pair so don’t kid yourself that they are expensive to ship from Asia. The $250 amplifiers I am now wearing have three frequency settings and one of those modes amplifies only higher frequencies which is what I need. They work great and I can now turn off my closed captioning on the TV and stop asking my wife to repeat herself. I will still investigate the Costco $1499 solution to see if it is better but I hate the thought of wearing behind the ear aids. But I will look into them because the ITE amplifiers have a major one downfall which is that I hear my own voice really loudly now. They are great for listening to EVERYTHING and have fixed my hearing problem, but hearing my own voice so loudly, even on lowest of 8 volume settings, is bothersome. I hope this helps others understand that the amplifiers have a societal place beyond bird watching and bow hunting like so many people have indicated. I both hunt and love birdsong, but my amplifiers are helping me function daily… not just in the woods.
  8. I never knew that the sound amplifiers were so much cheaper than a pair of hearing aids. I’m deaf in my left ear and I was wondering: is there a difference in either option if one ear doesn’t work at all? I just wouldn’t want to buy a set and find out that it doesn’t work with my situation.
  9. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a personal sound amplifier. How awesome! I will surely be telling my grandma about this later today when I give her a call. She will be happy to hear that they aren’t expensive. I will probably just get her one for her birthday in a couple weeks.
  10. Great information on the difference between hearing aids and amplifiers. My dad is starting to use an amplifier but I think he needs a hearing aid. I’ll have to recommend he sees an audiologist to make sure he gets the best fit.

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