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Hearing Aids vs. Personal Sound Amplifiers: Which One Should You Be Using?

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As we get older, living with hearing loss becomes more and more likely. Talking to loved ones, watching television, and even listening to the birds outside your window can be difficult for Americans with hearing loss. What’s more, of the many adults 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, less than one-third of them have ever used one.

Despite many being hesitant to embrace this technology, there is no better way to restore one’s hearing than with a pair of hearing aids. Not only do they allow you to hear the world around you, but they’ll also let you participate in life again, rather than living on the sidelines.

2 of the Embrace Hearing Aids
2 of the Embrace Hearing Aids

When purchasing a hearing aid, you have a few different options. First, there are prescription hearing aids, which are regulated by the FDA and require a visit with an audiologist or hearing health professional.

Alternatively, there are what we’d call personal sound amplifiers (PSAPs). While these devices are not designed to compensate for hearing loss, they still offer many people a handy way to hear better.

OTC Hearing Aids: While there are technically no FDA-approved OTC hearing aids, there are still many similar devices that can be purchased directly online.

What is a Personal Sound Amplifier?

A personal sound amplifier is not the same thing as a hearing aid. People wear a personal sound amplifier in or on the ear. It amplifies sound so that you can watch TV quietly or perhaps hear children sleeping in the next room. They work by picking up noises with a microphone and amplifying the sound into your ear. They can be quite convenient for hearing noises no one would ordinarily be able to hear. Their intention is to give someone without hearing loss a kind of superpower hearing rather than to make up for hearing loss.

Personal Sound Amplifier vs. Hearing Aid

Personal Sound Amplifier Hearing Aids
  • Not FDA-regulated
  • Not intended to compensate for hearing loss
  • Can be purchased without a prescription
  • Generally cost from $20 – $500 for a pair
  • Class 1 medical device regulated by the FDA
  • Intended to compensate for mild to profound hearing loss
  • Require a prescription from an audiologist or hearing healthcare professional
  • Programmed to a person’s unique hearing loss pattern
  • Generally cost $1,000 – $3,000 per aid

What Level of Hearing Loss Requires a Hearing Aid?

While there is no exact formula for when a person needs a hearing aid, you might want to consider a hearing aid––as opposed to a personal sound amplifier––if you notice the following:

With the rising cost of hearing aids, many people turn to personal sound amplifiers because they are a cheap alternative. But the truth is that the FDA released guidance in 2009 stating that personal sound amplifiers are not intended for use by people with hearing loss. However, people with mild hearing loss do sometimes choose to use them. If you have more serious hearing loss, you should definitely buy a hearing aid. Talk to your audiologist about your options.

FDA Exempt Hearing Aids: Alternatively, there are FDA Registered Exempt medical devices such as those from Eargo.

Can AirPods Be Used as Hearing Aids?

If you have a pair of Apple’s AirPods, their new wireless earbuds, then you can use these as a personal sound amplifier; however, it’s important to note that these are not a full-fledged substitute for hearing aids. By using the “Live Listen” feature with your AirPods, you can use your iPhone as a microphone and amplify sounds directly to your ears.

How to Use AirPods to Amplify Sounds

Step 1. Put in your AirPods.
Step 2. Go to Settings on your iPhone.
Step 3. Select Control Center.
Step 4. Tap on the green plus sign next to Hearing.

Connecting AirPods
Connecting AirPods

Step 5. Open the control center panel by swiping downwards from the top right-hand corner.
Step 6. Select the button marked with an ear.

Using Apple AirPods
Using Apple AirPods

Step 7. Tap the Live Listen button.

Using AirPods Live Listen
Using AirPods Live Listen

The microphone on your phone will now be streaming directly to your AirPods. This is a great way to amplify specific sounds, especially in noisy environments. For example, if you’re in a noisy coffee shop and struggling to hear a person, simply hand them your phone. When they speak into it, you’ll be able to hear them loud and clear!

Written By
Amie Clark

Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here


  1. I found that the hearing aid just blasted the sound into my ear & didn’t make it any clearer. The AirPod option seems more selective. However, it is not that easily hidden & I get a lot of grandma jokes when I use it.
  2. I am 88 yrs young and am wearing aids that are over 5 yrs and out of date. My income doesn’t allow for $$$$ or more for professionaly purchased HAs. The concept of sound amplifiers (OTC purchased) seems more likely than the alternative – BUT which one is the question. I have done my research but there is no resolve yet. Still looking!!!.
  3. I have a 15% hearing loss in both my ears. I can’t afford the $5000+ for hearing aids. I find watching tv I need the volume a lot louder but it’s too loud for others in the same room, unless someone is nearby I struggle to hear what they are saying. They sound mumbled, I’m alwsys saying pardon, what did you say and it’s frustrating. Would a sound amplifier work for me?
      1. YES a hearing amplifier will definitely help I have 20% loss in both ears. Watching TV is much better, also peoples conversations Not perfect but neither is a $ 3600.00 hearing aid.
    1. For watching TV a hearing amplifier will work great. I am now 77 and have had serious hearing problems since I was a teenager… and yes, I do have a pair of those $6000 hearing aids that I am quick to get out of my ears when I get home (uncomfortable to me). I have a RadioShack Amplified Stereo Listener With 3-Band Equalizer ( get it on Amazon) for $36.00- and buy a set of inexpensive headphones and you will be thrilled for less than 50 bucks. I guess you could get earbuds also, but they do not amplify enough for me. The amplifier (I think they are made by Optimus) has a lot of controls, so you can customize it to our needs.
  4. My husband is 86 years old and his hearing is not great. Background noises bother him. Getting hard to hear people close to him. Would an amplifier be helpful! Hearing aids will cost us $6,000. What brand would you recommend? Thank you for your help.
    1. I have read all the previous comments and am surprised that no-one has mentioned the on-line availability of brand name, programmable hearing aids like Siemens and Phonak being offered for a hundred dollars and less. I have checked the specs. of many of these instruments and they compare favourably with models carried by audiology clinics that sell similar articles bundled with their testing and analytical services for ten to twenty times the price, If I could get these services provided for a reasonable price, I would then buy the suggested type of hearing aid on line and programme it with my smart phone.
    2. Go to Costco and get their Kirkland brand. Current price for latest model is $1499 for a PAIR (both ears), their audiologists are generally quite good, and these are real hearing aids that work well. I’m 80 yrs old and have to drive more than an hour to find a Costco, but the value is worth it.
  5. My stepdad will be 81 in March..He is deaf in one ear and has 5% of hearing left in his other..he’s had many hearing aids in his time an he always get the most up to date ones possible ..he is struggling alot lately with his hearing even more than normal an I’m just wondering if an amplifier would work for him .i hope someone out there can suggest something too even try .
    1. My grandma is extremely hard of hearing too.. we have spent thousands of dollars trying to make it where she can hear. We now use an amplifier with a microphone. We talk into the microphone and she can hear us. We also bought a good set of Sony with noise cancelling headphones that helped even more. Pocket talker pro model PKT C1… to use the Sony headphones we had to buy a Jack to convert the sound from mono to stereo.. the Jack was a couple of dollars. We love it. She can hear.
    2. My good friend had a cancer treatment which caused her to lose her hearing. She is almost deaf. However, she used the pocket talker and can HEAR! It is easy to use, not too expensive (around 130.00 bucks) and it’s wonderful. She can’t hear without it.
  6. I just got diagnosed with otosclerosis, I am only 25 years old and currently pregnant. I won’t be able to get a stapendectomy for another 4 or so months (2 months until due date, and another 2 to recover from my c section and setting in with two kids and nursing) I will have a lot going on, and I am worried that I won’t be able to hear the baby cries or small noises he will make. I already have to ask my 2 year old to repeat himself constantly. My right ear is pretty severe and my left ear is more moderate hearing loss. I cannot afford hearing aids right now or the time off work to go for multiple consultations. I just want to know if it is safe to get a sound amplifier only for a few months before I can get the surgery. My audiologist office was pretty rude to me when I asked about them and made me feel very uneducated about the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers. This article was helpful but I’m still not sure, would it damage my hearing if I get the amplifier? Any thoughts would be helpful at this point, pregnancy is already stressful enough, not being able to hear my newborn and also not being able to afford hearing aids to solve that problem is making me feel terrible. I just hope there is another option for me. Thanks in advance 🙂
    1. Purchase a personal hearing amplifier for now and when you can and are able to, buy a certified hearing aid. I understand how important it is to hear your children and this is a inexpensive answer….for now.
    2. I had the operation done at Michigan Ear. One year later my hearing improved 100%. it takes time for the implant to bond in place. Very happy with the operation. I still have some hearing loss.
  7. I am amazed that a handheld computer with multiple functions, aka Iphone, sells for $500.00 to $1000.00 but hearing aids sell for thousands of dollars. There has to be an enormous markup along the supply chain. Bill Kalafus Boulder, CO
    1. I sooooo agree! It’s ridiculously absurd that not only are they incredibly expensive, but good luck on finding an insurance plan that covers them. Even worse, try to find a Medicare or even a supplemental to Medicare to cover any of it! This is a sin, should be be against the law, and shameful, shameful, shameful. Anyone have any ideas for my 90 year old mother?
    2. Exactly, makes no sence. I wonder what they would say if we asked them. Probably say, no comment.
    3. i read that the VA who supplies my hearing aid free of charge, bid every five years on hearing aids for veterans. the bid that was taken was from $275 to $400 for the best. that was in 2014. they will bid again this year. the VA buys more hearing aids than any one in the United States. the 5 or 6 companies that bid were all name brand companies. i am sure they didnot bid to lose money. so there is a terrific mark up in hearing aids. of course the name brand companies do give you service during the lifetime of your aids. but you can buy over the counter hearing aids that might cost 1250 a pair and get the same service. you have to educate yourself before buying hearing aids from professionals or OTC aids`
    4. My thoughts exactly. There is a unjustified huge markup. I just purchased $3000 worth of hearing aids and I find the results less than spectacular or even good. I’ve had them re-tuned, but honestly, I am not satisfied with their comfort or the increased level of hearing people talk. I’m not nearly as hard of hearing as some of the people writing here, but I’m trying to stay ahead of my issues…but the cost compared to a Cell phone for example doesn’t make sense. Even listening to radio programs on regular $20 ear buds is much cleaner and clearer and deeper than the hearing aids, which are tinny and don’t provide me the ability to hear people much better than before…i’m finding myself still still saying what …a lot!
  8. My 95 years of mother-in-law cannot hear when having a normal conversation and is also mostly blind and somewhat forgetful, so expensive hearing aids that require that batteries be changed are out of the question. However, if we call her on the phone she has no trouble at all hearing and engaging in conversation. Is there something out there for a person like her, something that is not easily lost, is rechargeable and that does for her what holding up a telephone to her ear does?
    1. Hi John, does she use a smartphone? If so, I wonder if any of the bluetooth hearables would work for her? If she doesn’t have a smartphone, I would recommend searching for hearing amplifiers on Amazon- hope that helps!

    2. My mom is 84 and she is mostly blind also, and has lost most of her hearing now. I bought the amplifier, As Seen On TV, and it’s worked wonders for her. They sell them in Walgreens for 19.99. It comes with a charger also to recharge it. Best twenty dollars I’ve spent.
    3. YES, you can get hearing amplifiers that are rechargeable and work well. They can come with their own dock. When you take them out at night, just set them in the dock and they are ready to use the next day. You can find them for under $1000. Usually around $500.
      1. Phyllis, what’s the brand name of the hearing amplifier you bought. There are so many out there that it’s confusing.
        1. I’ve been using the Banglijian ZIV-201 for 6 months and it helps a lot with my moderate hearing issues. Got it on Amazon for around $130 (one unit). You can use it on either ear and the recharging is quick, approx 2 hours.
        2. The Benglijian BLJ-109 rechargeable is good too. 24 hr battery life. 150 bucks a pair. Works great with the thin tube and the large dome. We set the volume at 2 for 50% hearing loss.
  9. my husband has hearing aids that were approx.$2,500 each they have done nothing but fall apart since the beginning and now that the warranty has run out it is costly to have them repaired as well as batteries that only last for 2 or 3 days at a cost of $10.00 for 8 it is pricey with this kind of out of pocket expense. I know he will need another pair but I have no idea where to find the money to pay for them! even his glasses are costing $185.00 and that’s with using his od frames. Don’t get old it is too expensive!
    1. After a hearing test, it was advised that my mom try a personal hearing amplifier first for her moderate to severe hearing loss. They have some styles similar to behind the ear hearing aids which may work great if your hearing loss is not too severe. For moderate to severe hearing loss, you may want to consider trying a hearing amplifier instead. They are more affordable (less than $700/pair) and have many rave reviews on Amazon with success stories from happy users.
    2. Tell your eye doctor that you want your glasses prescription, and then order them on a cheap glasses site. They’ll cost him far less than an eye doctor charges and they’re just as good. You’ll probably have to measure your own pupilary distance, as most eye doctors won’t give that up, and it’s the only number they’re not required to.
      1. I think they are now required to give you that measurement. At least Health Partners is.
  10. I have been having hearing issues for the last 7 years more less, I am 59 right now and I have been wearing a pair of hearing aids, but the right ear went out and it is out of warranty. At a $6k for a pair is quite expensive for the every day person like me, very little financing availability and also I am told that the life expectancy is about 3 to 5 years? I understand that technology is excellent but with those prices they put the product out of the market for people who really need them, but they can not afford it. I have been managing with only my left ear, but I am developing tinnitus on my right ear now and it has been more difficult to compensate for that hearing loss.
  11. My mother hearing in her left ear is totally gone,but she has adequate hearing in her right ear. Do you think a PSA could help her hear stronger on the right side.
  12. I’m in my late 50’s and I’ve been struggling with a hearing aid for the last 15 years due to otosclerosis. (calcification of the tiny bones that should vibrate and bring sound waves to the brain). Why am I struggling? Because the piece of the hearing aid that goes into the ear canal causes pressure in my head and triggers terrible migraine attacks, if I wear the darn thing for more than an hour a day. I’ve tried hard ones, and soft silicone ones, and nothing helps. I finally decided to go ahead and do surgery to replace the stepes with a prostheses, but the required CT showed that my facial nerve is sitting right on the calcified bone! Back to the old drawing board. I have no problem wearing head phones, but I CANNOT wear an earphone. I went back to where I got my hearing aide and asked about attaching the receiver to a head phone. The technician said that it can’t be done, and that I should consider a personal amplifier. (I wear a crocheted hat all the time, anyway, so a headphone would be pretty well camoflaged.) Do you know of a personal amplifier that sits on the ear AND can be plugged into a head phone instead of an earphone, or a hearing aide that can be plugged into a headphone. Saving money is not my top priority. Saving migraines, AND being able to hear is. Thank you!
    1. Was your problem ever resolved? If not do you think something like this could be presented to a Biomedical Engineering Department to assist finding a solution? Just a thought.
  13. Hearing aids are very important and it help to listen voice as a normal person hear. The aids are always get a frequency as your capacity is low or much lower. The blog that you publish is very helpful to selecting which one is compatible according to their hearing capacity. Thanks for publishing it. You are a great writer.
  14. This article does not define any design difference in the devices. It only defines a difference in intent of the user. there is no information here. the writing is pure rubbish.
  15. “A hearing aid is a medical device fitted in or on the ear that is designed to compensate for hearing loss. The technology in a hearing aid is much more advanced than in a personal sound amplifier, which is why they are more expensive. But the cost is worth it because they are specifically for hearing loss. On the other hand, compensating for hearing loss isn’t the primary purpose of a sound amplifier. When you go to an audiologist to have your hearing tested they will talk to you about your options for using a hearing aid, if you need one.” … the whole paragraph no a single word answers “What is a Hearing Aid?”.
  16. We talk about the cost of hearing aids but not of the longevity of them when the average is 5-6 years. I am on my 2nd pair in 8-10 years and have had one in each set repaired for about $300. My aids cost $2400-2600 a pair.
  17. I’ve been doing intricate, precision and high-tech work all my working years, I can’t believe I need a hearing professional for a adjusting, cleaning, and maintenance of a hearing aid. Plus the 6 t0 8 thousand dollars sounds like they are fleecing the consumer.. There’s got to be a more feasible option, I just haven’t found it yet…
  18. You mentioned that a hearing aid is a medical device fitted in or on the ear that is designed to compensate for hearing loss. Do most audiologists prefer to use hearing aids as opposed to personal sound amplifiers? My mother recently fell down some stairs and hasn’t been able to hear very well since. Going to see her ear doctor could be very helpful in restoring her hearing.
    1. Hi Derek, We had hoped a professional would have answered your question, but wanted to come back to it. Most audiologists do prefer hearing aids for a variety of reasons.

      1. Hearing Aids are specifically designed for consumers for hearing loss while PSA’s are designed for improved environmental hearing conditions (like bird watching, hunting, etc.). See our new post on the difference between hearing aids and Personal Sound Amplifiers.

      2. Audiologists make way more money when they sell (and fit) someone a hearing aid. The average cost of a single hearing aid is $2,300 while a PSA runs around $350. Some folks simply don’t have the money for hearing aids, so maybe a PSA could help around the home.

      Hearing aids are preferred by most professionals, but seeing your family doctor, or hearing professional would be a wise move.

  19. Considering the price of hearing aids have not come down at all. Who wants to pay $5,000.00 for a device that cost $350.00 to manufacture ? If you get a device from a audiologist, get ready for a 5X markup on the price or more. The dirty little secret that the audiologist doesn’t want to tell you is that science for sometime now has had the ability to regrow hair cells. Of course, this treatment is being suppressed, just like dentistry, the hearing racket wants to continue to sell hearing aids anywhere from 3K to 5K.
  20. I always thought hearing aids were just hearing aids. I had never heard of personal sound amplifiers, but I thought that’s what all hearing aids did. I’m sure I’m going to need them someday because I’m in a lot of loud music environments. Thanks for the info!
  21. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that hearing aids are designed specifically to help those with hearing loss. My grandpa’s ears are getting worse as he ages, and we want to get something to help. We’ll definitely look into getting a more advanced aid to help instead of an amplifier. Thanks for the great post!
  22. My mother’s hearing is not what it used to be, but she hasn’t got the time to research or obtain a hearing aid. I’m pretty busy myself, but I had a few spare moments and decided to see if I could do some quick research. Thank you for such a clear and informative article; it was quick and easy to read through, but still very helpful. It is nice to know that there are other options besides hearing aids that could be more suitable to my mothers personal needs.
  23. My father has been looking into hearing aids, as he as started to accept the fact that he does need something of the like. He wants to try out the sound amplifiers, and it is his decision in the end, but we wanted to actually weigh all the options, not just price–which was the main reason he wanted an amplifier. Thank you for the information, and we will take it all into consideration before we make a decision.
  24. As you say, it can be really hard to realize you’re losing your hearing as you age, so it’s great that you’ve made this guide to make that transition easier. I think it’s all too easy to go the cheap route, rather than the more helpful one. It’s really important to know your options and find what’s best for you!
  25. Learning about different types of hearing aids is super important. Not everyone has the same hearing problems. Because it is so unique to each person trying multiple ones is a great idea.
  26. Thanks for the information! My mom’s hearing is starting to go, so I want to make sure to choose the best hearing aid device for her to use. I’ve heard about how some people choose to use sound amplifiers since they’re a cheaper alternative to hearing aids. I didn’t know that they’re not meant for people with severe hearing loss. My mother’s hearing is getting progressively worse, so it seems best to find a good hearing aid for her to use instead of a sound amplifier.
  27. Try a PSA if U haven’t. I did and found the hi end ($250 @ Amazon) models are almost identical to hearing aids. Most have a 30 day return with full refund.
  28. Realizing you have bad hearing is the first step in the process. If knew you had a problem you wouldn’t hesitate to get hearing aids. It’s great to hear clearly again! Jim
  29. I think that accepting your hearing loss is really hard to accept, too. That’s the hardest thing my dad has had to deal with. It took him years to accept that he couldn’t hear very well. When he finally got hearing aids, it made things a lot easier on him and our whole family. He loves wearing his hearing aids because then he doesn’t have to ask us to repeat anything.
    1. I agree with you Julia. We also have experience with (accepting) hearing loss… It can be frustrating for all involved.

  30. I had no idea that there were personal sound amplifiers! That would have been useful for when I was raising my little ones. I need to find some good hearing aids now. I would love to get one that you can’t see very well. I think it would just bother me to have something in my ear. It’s all a part of getting older though!
  31. I didn’t even know there was a difference between the two. I think what my uncle needs is a hearing aid. He thinks he needs one, but hasn’t done any research yet. I told him I would help him out. Hopefully this can solve his hearing problem.

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