They’re not really hearing aids in the traditional sense, according to the strict FDA definition of an approved medical device, but they can make life better for a large chunk of the population. If you’re beginning to develop mild to moderate hearing losses or find it hard to carry on conversations when you’re in a noisy environment, Nuheara’s IQbuds may be worth looking into.
If you want to call them by the more technically accurate name, they’re personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), or if you prefer, hearables. You could also refer to the devices as over-the-counter audio sound boosters, or OTC Hearing Aids. Nuheara calls them IQbuds, which is not at all inappropriate considering that they’re wireless earbuds and come with some rather intelligent features.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017
The bipartisan-sponsored OTC Hearing Aid Act was signed into law in August of 2017 and was designed to enable adults with mild to moderate hearing loss to obtain OTC hearing devices without a doctor’s prescription. This does not mean that OTC hearing aids are now considered FDA-approved medical devices, but it does make certain hearing-device products available to consumers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.
Who Can Benefit?
According to a study made by the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost one quarter of U.S. adults between the ages of 50 and 59 have some form of hearing loss that can make it hard to understand speech. For a working adult, that can mean having a tough time with a conference call, finding it difficult to hear someone at the other end of a large conference table or not catching all of the conversation going on while commuting in a ride share. For an adult of any age with this degree of hearing loss, the IQbuds can be a great OTC alternative to FDA-approved medical devices, which can come with a cost of more than $2,000 and also require a licensed-physician’s evaluation.
IQbuds work like other in-ear wireless devices that stream hands-free phone calls and music from smartphones. FDA-approved medical devices that work with smartphones can, however, cost about 10 times as much as a pair of IQbuds. What also makes the Nuheara devices different is their ability to effectively combine background-noise cancellation with speech amplification. The digital signal processing required to differentiate and individually modify the components of an audio signal is complex, but Nuheara appears to possess a greater degree of expertise in this area than the other companies in the field.
The IQbuds are also a lifestyle product that can filter out background noise, such as what you’d hear on a train or airplane. In addition to helping you hear a conversation while at a noisy social event, you can block out the background noise at a gym while working out so that you can better enjoy your music. You can also use the IQbuds app to customize and control how much of the outside world is let in through your earbuds.
Nuheara introduced its IQbuds to the market at the start of 2017, and the company has gone on to win seven international awards for innovation. Since the first release, Nuheara has increased the original IQbuds’ battery life to 40 hours with 32 hours of on-the-go Bluetooth streaming. You get four different sizes of earbud tips with the product, and they come in both oval and round shapes. In order to work properly, a tight in-ear fit is required, so you’ll need to try out all of the included tip sizes to see which one fully blocks your ear canal without feeling too uncomfortable. Also included is a USB charging cable and a portable charging case that easily fits into a coat pocket or handbag.
Nuheara’s IQbuds come with a touch-tap system that lets you control things by simply tapping the earbuds. If you get a phone call, a single earbud tap answers the call. To hang up or reject the call, a long tap is used. You can pause or play music from your smartphone with a single tap on the left earbud. By double-tapping either earbud, you can activate Google Now or Siri and verbally tell your device what you want it to do. All of these settings and functions can be customized through the IQbuds smartphone Android or iOS app.
In addition to custom tapping configurations, the app lets you select from seven pre-set and location-based environmental settings: Driving, Street, Plane, Workout, Office, Restaurant and Home. You can also dial out the world to your liking by using a circular slider to lower the volume of what’s going on outside or around you.
The Upgraded IQbuds Boost Model
The next and upgraded issuing of the original IQbuds release brings the product as close as possible to a medical device as you can get without an FDA approval and a licensed-physician’s evaluation. The IQbuds Boost model includes Nuheara’s Ear ID feature, which calibrates the device to match your individual degree of hearing loss. The company refers to Ear ID as an assessment, but it’s very much like the type of a hearing test you would get from an ENT physician. When you perform the Ear ID assessment, you’ll hear a set of six different frequencies in each ear. You touch your smartphone screen when you first hear the faintest trace of a tone. The device is keeping track of your hearing threshold at varying frequencies. The entire Ear ID assessment lasts between five and eight minutes. When it’s finished, the device will be calibrated to match your unique and fully personalized hearing profile.
To accomplish the Ear ID personalization, the IQbuds Boost makes use of the recognized National Acoustics Laboratory NAL-NL2 algorithm for fitting traditional hearing-aid devices. The NAL-NL2 fitting process is licensed to major hearing-aid manufacturers and is the most-used fitting procedure for hearing aids worldwide. Nuheara’s licensing of the NAL-NL2 technology enables the company to achieve a degree of personalized amplification with the IQbuds Boost release that is usually found only in prescription-fitted medical devices.
Summary and Cost
Nuheara says that the primary purpose of its IQbuds is to help people hear speech better by controlling environmental background noise. Although they have some great features, they are not being sold as medical devices, and the company makes no claim about its products’ ability to restore hearing. Individuals with severe hearing loss should look into obtaining a medical device after seeing a physician for a thorough evaluation. The IQbuds can, however, improve the quality of life for people with mild to moderate hearing loss and who are having problems hearing what’s being said in noisy places. With all of their many features and uses, the IQbuds and IQbuds Boost products pack a surprisingly large degree of functionality into their $299 and $499 respective price tags.
|EAR ID NAL-NL2 calibration||—||Yes|
|SINC (Super Intelligent Noise Control)||Yes||Yes|
|Focus (directional hearing control)||—||Yes|
|Customizable Android and iOS App||Yes||Yes|
|Audio Transparency: Awareness of surroundings and world noise while still listening to music||Yes||Yes|
|Speech Amplification: Enhanced ability to hear speech in noisy and crowded places||Yes||—|
|Intelligent Amplification: Background-noise suppression customizable to different environments||—||Yes|
|Battery Life: 20 hours of on-the-go Bluetooth Streaming
and 32 hours of on-the-go Hearing Processing
|Customizable fit: Eight sizes and two shapes of silicone tips||Yes||Yes|