When over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids hit the market earlier this year, we were excited to see innovative new devices that cut back on traditionally high costs. Brands such as Eargo and Jabra Enhance delivered high-quality performance at a cost far below prescription hearing aids.
Many brands have emerged, however, that offer little more than glorified earbuds. Sure, the brands on this list won’t hurt you to try, but our tests found that they have little to offer in terms of helping with hearing loss.
Pro Tip: Ready to pull the trigger on a pair of hearing aids? Read our rundown of this year’s best OTC hearing aids.
LumiEar markets itself as an accessible newcomer to the hearing aid market. Its ads focus on comfort and discretion, arguing that its devices are small and create natural sounds clearly and without distortion.
After testing LumiEar’s hearing aids, we weren’t as impressed by the charging speed or sound quality as the company predicted. Many users report muffled sounds and failed devices within a few months of ownership. The technology, however, is not the main drawback of LumiEar devices.
As many online reviews have noted, the reason to stay clear of LumiEar is its customer service. The company has no listed phone number, which is unheard of for a manufacturer of safety-critical devices a lot of users will have questions about. The only way to contact the company is by email.
As one reviewer notes, “[I] have never dealt with a company that has no customer service and no phone number.”
LumiEar is slow to respond to requests — if it responds at all — and many users say they have returned devices and never received a refund, or received only one communication before the company went silent. Long delivery times and average-at-best hearing aid technology aside, it’s the consumer-hostile company practices that earn LumiEar a spot on our hearing aid hit list.
Nano Hearing Aids
Nano hearing aids come with many options for sound modes, wireless control through a mobile app, noise control, environment settings, feedback filters, adaptive hearing, and more. They also tend to be discreet and affordable, which the company wastes no time marketing.
Our issue with Nano is that its marketing misleads customers by saying its hearing aids are “medical-grade hearing solutions” when that’s not what they are. Nano’s insistence on branding its sound amplifiers as replacements for prescription hearing aid technology is mismarketing at its worst.
Nano “hearing aids” may work decently well for what they were designed to do, which is augment a normal person’s hearing in a situation like a hunting trip. That may be why about half of its online reviews are positive despite its questionable customer service.
As one reviewer noted after trying to return his fourth replacement set: “The customer service reps will tell you anything to keep you from returning in the 45-day guarantee window.” The company’s sales reps seem to be told to push customers outside the return window with long delays and false claims before going silent.
Contrary to Nano’s marketing, these devices are not suitable for seniors who have experienced hearing loss and who need individually programmed hearing aids. Even if the customer service was perfect, these are one-size-fits-all sound amplifiers that should not be mistaken for medical-grade hearing aids.
Bossa advertises its devices as “the most affordable hearing aids in America.” Its products are indeed cheap at under $200 for a pair, but you get what you pay.
The first major issue is the build quality. We found the hearing aids to be too large, but the company offers a mini size that may have fit better. The real problem is in how the devices filter sound activity at a distance. Conversations within arm’s reach are reasonably clear, but any competing sounds in the vicinity instantly garble the audio source right in front of you.
That isn’t the worst thing about Bossa though. Poor customer service and long wait times for refunds dominate its online reviews. Many users claim to still be waiting for refunds after months of no communication.
As one reviewer put it: “Wanted to return and was asked if I wanted to upgrade to mini. I declined and now, seven weeks later, I still have not had my return processed. I’ve called three times, and it’s always the same story.”
Being on hold for an hour, having refundable insurance payments stolen, and never receiving communication about pending customer-service cases seem to be common situations for unfortunate Bossa customers. Rather than endure that hassle, we recommend going with a reputable hearing aid brand, which we’ll help you find below.
How to Find a Reputable Hearing Aid Brand
There are many reputable hearing aid brands. The above list should give you an idea of some red flags to look for, including over-marketed medical claims and a lack of a customer service number. But what are the good qualities reputable brands share?
The first thing we look for is the price, but not in the same way you may shop for a normal product. Since hearing aids are necessary health-care devices, you don’t want to scrimp. Spending less than $200 on hearing aids puts you at risk of buying underpowered technology from a disreputable brand.
Next we look at how the brand handles trial periods, warranties, and return policies. A company that has put in the time and effort to develop a great hearing aid will usually offer a generous trial, a long warranty, and a consumer-friendly return policy because it’s confident in its products.
Last, we look for customer service. Our favorite hearing aid brands include remote assistance from hearing-health specialists, who can help you program your hearing aids to suit your individual type of hearing loss. That’s the type of help a person would normally receive from an audiologist, so before you purchase an OTC hearing aid, you should be sure you’ll have the help you need to fine-tune them.