If you have mild to moderate hearing loss but can’t afford expensive hearing aids, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are a viable and less expensive option.
The top 3 questions about PSAPs are:
- Do they really work? Yes, PSAPs with the latest digital sound processing can effectively amplify sounds for mild to moderate hearing loss. For severe hearing loss, hearing aids remain more effective.
- What should I look for? Focus on comfort, battery life, ease of use, trial periods, positive reviews, and tech features like noise reduction. Devices that serve multiple purposes, like amplifying speech, TV, and phones, are ideal.
- How much do they cost? Quality PSAPs range from $200-$500. Very cheap models under $50 are not recommended. Though not as costly as hearing aids that run thousands of dollars, PSAPs can still provide noticeable sound amplification and affordability.
If you have severe hearing loss, a prescription hearing aid may be your only viable option for proper hearing care, so check with your audiologist. For any degree of hearing impairment, please consult a medical professional before purchasing a PSAP to ensure it will meet your needs.
Lower Cost Alternatives to Hearing Aids
While hearing aids will cost you thousands of dollars, here are several more affordable options that may cost you only a couple of hundred dollars instead.
While you may be searching for cheap hearing aid alternatives specifically, it’s important to note that you probably won’t find a hearing amplifier for $75 that you will be happy with. As a matter of fact, Consumer Reports says to stay away from any PSAP that costs less than $50.00!
- Easy to use with a familiar “remote control” feel
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Connects to multiple devices simultaneously
- Use as a general speech amplifier, an audio booster for audio devices, a TV listener and works with hearing aids
- 70-hour battery life with 2.5 hours of charge time
- A rechargeable battery is replaceable
- Buttons are easy to read and understand
- Few customizations for people with severe hearing loss
- No telecoil system for hearing loop-enabled venues
- May need additional accessories for full use
What I really like about a device like this is that it is multi-purpose.
In addition to amplifying speech and conversation, it can pair with your mobile phone to improve your ability to hear calls. This option lets you wirelessly amplify sound from your TV and music through Bluetooth streaming. It even works with your current hearing aids if you have them.
My first and top recommendation is the Maxi Pro Personal Speech amplifier from Bellman & Symfon. The folks at Bellman sent me one of these to try for myself a while back, and I was quite impressed.
Here is a video of my full review and guide to using the Maxi Pro. You can read my even more in-depth review of the Maxi Pro here.
Using the Maxi Pro to Amplify Speech
For clarifying and amplifying speech, the Maxi Pro uses an omnidirectional microphone that picks up sounds around you. This is extremely helpful when conversing with a group of people.
The volume buttons are front and center on the device and are large and easy to see and use. To hear speech better, plug in the headphones, turn them on, adjust your volume, and you are all set.
You can set the amplifier on the table before you, clip it to a belt, purse, or pocket, or wear it around the neck with the included lanyard.
Bluetooth Devices and Pairing
One of the reasons it works with so many devices is that it is Bluetooth-enabled. I know, that sometimes pairing a Bluetooth device can be a real pain. But, I have used this amplifier many times, and it has always paired for me the first time.
You hold down a button on the Maxi Pro, go into your device’s Bluetooth settings, and select it from the menu. The headphones even confirmed they worked by playing the words “paired” in the headphones.
This same simple pairing process connects the Maxi Pro to your mobile phone. Once connected, you can answer and end calls from the amplifier and control the volume.
If you are listening to music or the TV through the amplifier, the music will mute while the phone rings so you can decide whether you want to take the call.
Using the Maxi Pro With TV
If your TV has a Bluetooth transmitter, you may use the Maxi Pro to stream audio without needing additional equipment to hear the TV better. Bellman also offers a TV Streamer that you plug into your TV that sends sound wirelessly directly to the Maxi Pro.
With this option, you’ll get better results, with the sound always matching the lip movements on the screen.
You can listen to amplified audio with the Maxi Pro: headphones, earbuds, stetoclips, etc. That way, you can choose your preferred – and most comfortable – way to listen.
I know. This sounds like a lot – and it is. But, Bellman has designed the device to be extremely user-friendly and easy to use. Most seniors and older adults will have no problem using it.
- Small, lightweight, and discreet
- Works with multiple types of devices
- Dual microphones for quiet and noisy environments
- Built-in telecoil system
- Works with hearing aids
- Options can be customized
- Easy to use with minimal buttons
- 29 hours of battery life with 4-hour recharge
- Not Bluetooth enabled
- Some technical understanding recommended
- The button print could be better contrasted
- Does not work with mobile phones
Bellman offers another personal amplifier that I like called the Mino. The Mino Personal Amplifier is designed for people who prefer a more discreet hearing aid alternative and are more technically inclined.
They sent me one to try and, even though it is a more technical unit, it is still easy to set up and use.
Here is my video review of the Mino. If you prefer, you can read my even more in-depth Mino review here.
The Mino offers two microphones for amplifying speech: omnidirectional and directional. Omnidirectional microphones pick up surrounding sounds and are best used in quiet environments like talking one-on-one or with a small group.
Directional microphones, however, pick up sound from one direction only and can be “aimed” at what you want to hear.
So, they are best used in noisy environments so that you can focus on what you want to hear specifically. Switching between the two is as simple as pressing the “mic” button on the Mino.
Customization and Personalization
People with hearing loss who are a bit more “techy” will like the customization and personalization options of the Mino. With the Mino, you can set the balance control from more left to more right if you have more profound hearing loss in one ear or the other.
You can also limit the max volume and disable certain features for safety when using it with children or elderly folks. Controlling the bass settings, stereo vs. mono settings, and setting your own personal default levels are also part of the customization menu.
You need to enter the customization menu to make any of these changes to your settings. This menu can only be accessed with a very specific sequence of keystrokes. So, you or an elderly user can’t accidentally get into the menu and mess up your settings.
The Mino is smaller than many other devices on the market and can easily be stashed in a pocket, hidden on a belt, or hung around the neck with the included lanyard.
It comes with a “Microset,” consisting of a lapel microphone and a plug-and-play single earbud. This is a more discreet way of using it and should attract less attention if that matters to you. Of course, you have other options too: headphones, earphones, stetoclips, and more.
Using the Mino with TV
Finally, the Mino can also be used for TV listening, but you have to use a corded connection and run a line from the TV audio to your Mino. It’s a simple plug-and-play operation, but it isn’t wireless. Bellman makes a special audio cord that makes this a simple process.
- Custom hearing profile
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Multiple use device
- Easy pairing with other devices
- It can be used without app
- Buttons difficult to see
- Can’t be used with hearing aids
- Short charging cord
This is another amplifier that I have personally used and was very happy with. I like that the bHearing tailors itself to improve your ability to hear the specific frequencies you have trouble hearing.
bHearing App and Hearing Test
Once you get the product and charge it fully, download the bHearing smartphone app onto your mobile phone (via Apple App Store or Google Play). The app will walk you through pairing the amplifier with your phone and some initial setup.
You can also give yourself a quick hearing test through the app to determine the areas where you need help hearing. Once done, the app sends your customized hearing profile to the device to amplify those specific frequencies.
Wearing the bHearing
The bHearing is designed to be worn around the neck – something like a collar. Once slipped around the neck, the ends are magnetic and lock together to keep it from falling off.
There are two earphones that you insert into each ear. They include several sizes of ear tips that you can try to get the best, most comfortable fit. The control buttons for the device are right on the neckpiece as well.
Bluetooth Devices and Batteries
Because the bHearing is Bluetooth-enabled, it can be used with many audio and video devices. For example, you can sync it to your Bluetooth-enabled TV, tablet, or computer. You can even pair it with your mobile phone to hear calls better and answer/hang up right from the amplifier.
For battery management and charging, the bHearing comes with a charging capsule and two batteries that you can use to keep it charged even when on the go.
Each battery lasts 5 hours, and the capsule will charge a battery fully three times so that you can get 20 hours (3X5 + 5) of nearly continuous use.
For my more extensive review of the bHearing Sound Amplifier, click here.
- Lots of sound modes and volume settings for the best sound
- Small, light, with accessories to customize the fit
- Live tech support hotline for questions and problems
- Track record of outstanding online reviews from actual users
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Not a major issue, but it must be ordered for the right or left side
- It uses disposable batteries that must be changed every 5-7 days
If you prefer a personal sound amplifier that is a bit more discreet, the Otofonix Elite Hearing Aid might be a good choice for you. The Elite Hearing Aids look more like standard hearing aids and work behind the ear, where they are less noticeable and can be easily hidden.
In addition to being small and discreet, these amplifiers offer settings to tweak the sound amplification for the user, can be worn in just one ear or both ears and are operated by a simple rocker switch. If you need help, they offer live tech support on the phone too.
This hearing aid alternative is very small, measuring just 0.5″ x 0.3″ x 1″ long. It only weighs 0.2 oz, so it is extremely lightweight. It has multiple ear tips and tubes to get a more custom fit.
It is not interchangeable from ear to ear, so you must order it in right or left ear configuration or get a matched pair for use in both ears.
The manufacturer has this video that explains how this device works:
To help you hear better, the Elite offers both noise reduction and feedback cancellation. You can also choose from 10 different volume levels and four pre-configured setting choices depending on where and how you use it.
- Normal setting for everyday use
- The noisy setting for loud background noise levels like restaurants or in large groups of talking people
- The treble setting for reducing high-pitched annoying squeals and whistles
- Quiet setting for preserving the battery in quiet environments
If you go with this option, order lots of extra batteries. This amplifier is not rechargeable and uses special disposable batteries. Each battery lasts about seven days, and the device initially comes with seven batteries to get you started.
Should you need help setting up or using the device, Otofonix also offers Customer Support to their customers through email or phone. They also offer a 45-day risk-free trial!
- Excellent for up-close interactions
- A great choice for hearing the TV better
- Volume amplification up to 40 dB
- Includes full headphones that fold up and an earbud
- Can be used with hearing aids as a booster
- Rotary switches are more difficult to use than buttons
- The volume control is combined with the power button
The Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra 2.0 is a different style of hearing amplifier. Rather than being worn in the ear, it is a microphone, an amplifier, and headphones on a table or in your pocket.
The microphone picks up the sound around you, amplifies it, and sends it to the user through the headphones for you to listen.
I did a video comparing the Pocketalker Ultra 2.0 and the Bellman Mino I recommended above. You can read my written comparison of the Mino vs. the Pocketalker 2.0 here.
Overall, it’s an easy device to set up and use. To start listening, plug in the earpiece or headphones, then adjust the volume to your preferred level. You can also make adjustments to the overall tone from more treble to less treble.
This sound amplifier is quite versatile and can work with various headphone and earphone options. It also pairs well with telecoil and neck loop-equipped hearing aids.
Because it works with a microphone and doesn’t have to stay in the ear, moving it closer to the sound the user is trying to hear is easy. For example, it comes with a longer cord so the microphone can be placed closer to the TV.
This helps with TV volume, especially for family and friends who don’t like the TV being so loud all the time. But it won’t be the best audio quality, especially when compared to a direct connection.
The user has a choice of headphones too. This set comes with both a full set of headphones and an earbud. That way, the user can choose the best one for their situation.
There is nothing at all discreet, though, with the Pocketalker. So, it’s probably not a good choice for people sensitive about letting others know about their hearing loss.
But for those who don’t care that others see the device, this will improve their hearing, especially in up-close interactions.
What to Look for When Shopping for an Over the Counter Hearing Amplifier
You’ve probably noticed that there are numerous personal sound amplifiers out there. Most of these you should just pass up when you see them. So, to help you wade through all the options, focus on these factors:
- Multi-purpose. Look for devices that serve multiple purposes because chances are your hearing challenges affect all parts of your life. So, having one device for conversation, the TV, and your phone is particularly helpful.
- Comfortable. Many better sound amplifiers come with multiple ear tips and adjustable headphones to customize the fit for your ear canal shape and make them more comfortable to wear. If the device isn’t comfortable, you won’t want to wear or use it, right?
- Latest Tech. The latest technology, including directionality, noise reduction, and other digital sound processing features, is important for getting the best results from these devices.
- Battery Use. Since these devices may be powered by traditional non-rechargeable batteries or rechargeable batteries, you should take some time to think about the type of battery that is suitable for your usage patterns.
- Custom Hearing Profiles. To ensure sound clarity, look for an amplifier that enhances all the frequencies your hearing impairment covers. This frequency range should be at least 250 to 6,000 Hz or wider if possible. Some amplifiers have built-in hearing tests and smartphone apps to set up custom hearing profiles for you. Make sure you at least have some tone control over treble and bass.
- Easy to Use Controls. Especially for older folks, look for a PSAP with simple, easy-to-use and understandable controls. If an app is part of the package, ensure they will use it or have someone available to help with the initial setup.
- Positive Reviews. Even the cheaper sound amplifiers should be backed by many positive reviews from people who have used the device.
- Satisfaction Guarantee. Check the return period and availability of a trial period on any device under consideration, as you need to have enough time (about four weeks or 30 days) to test it out and make sure it works for you. Make sure you know and understand the warranty term as well.
Types of OTC Hearing Aids
Here are the main types of sound amplifiers that people with hearing loss can choose from. Many of these address one situation where hearing loss is a problem, while some address multiple problems.
- Personal Sound Amplifiers. These devices use microphones to take in sound, then clarify and amplify it before playing it back through headphones or earbuds. These can sit in the ear and be worn like traditional hearing aids or have a separate microphone apparatus. Watch out for dubious claims because many of these are not regulated by the FDA.
- Pocket Talkers and Pocket Amplifiers. While Pocketalker is a trademark of Williams Sound, this term also refers to a group of amplifiers that are designed to be kept in a pocket or on a table and use an internal or external microphone and headphones or earbuds.
- TV Listeners and Amplifiers. This is a group of amplifiers designed specifically for amplifying the sound from television through corded or wireless connections. This function can also be built into personal amplifiers and pocket talkers as an additional feature. You can see my list of the best TV headphones for seniors here. A subcategory of this group is TV speakers that amplify sound without having to be worn by the user.
- Sound Enhancing Headphones. This special set of headphones enhances and amplifies sound rather than just “playing audio.” Several of these even set up custom hearing profiles for the wearer and boost the specific frequencies they have difficulty hearing. You can see these examples in my list of the best headphones for seniors.
- Amplified Phones. Many people first notice their hearing loss when using the telephone. There are lots of options on the market to address this specific need. You can see a list of my favorites in various guides to standard landline phones for seniors and cordless phones for seniors.
Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Amplifiers
What is a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP)?
Simply put, a PSAP is a wearable device designed to amplify sounds in specific situations and environments. Since the FDA does not regulate them, they tend to be cheaper.
Furthermore, they are widely available and can be purchased without a prescription from a doctor. But there are some differences when compared to hearing aids.
How do PSAP’s work?
To deliver amplified sound to the ear of the wearer, PSAPs are designed with a few important components. These include a microphone, speaker, amplifier, power source, and volume controls.
The microphone captures the sound to be amplified before being converted into a digital signal that is amplified and then sent to the speaker or headphones.
Should you see an audiologist?
Yes. You should see an audiologist to have your hearing properly tested by an expert. The results of the hearing tests conducted by your audiologist in a clinic will determine whether you need a hearing aid. (Source)
Are hearing amplifiers safe?
Hearing amplifiers are safe, provided they are used correctly and in the right applications. This is according to the information provided by the FDA.
Do hearing amplifiers really work?
Yes! In a JAMA study published in 2019, the authors concluded that in patients with mild to moderate hearing loss, PSAPs are as effective as high-quality hearing aids.
However, in people suffering from severe hearing loss, the effectiveness of sound amplifiers is lower than hearing aids.
What is the difference between a hearing aid and a sound amplifier?
According to the FDA, a hearing aid is a wearable sound amplification device specifically designed to compensate for any hearing loss.
A sound amplifier, on the other hand, is defined as a wearable electronic product that is designed to amplify sound in some environments. Learn more about the differences between sound amplifiers and prescription hearing aids.
How much hearing loss requires a hearing aid?
You might need a supplemental hearing amplifier if you have any degree of hearing loss. Your degree of hearing loss – mild, moderate, or severe -, as determined by the tests administered by your audiologist, is used to establish whether or not you need a hearing aid.
The term degree of hearing loss can be translated to mean how loud sounds need to be before you hear them clearly. You have mild hearing loss if you can only hear sounds at 30dB, moderate if you only hear at 50dB, and moderately severe if you only hear sounds at 60 dB. (Source)
How do personal amplifiers differ from hearing aids?
To some degree, PSAPs and hearing aids use similar technology to deliver similar functions; however, these two are very different from each other.
While hearing aids are specifically designed to help with hearing loss and have been approved for this use by the FDA, PSAPs are designed to amplify sounds in various situations. The latest PSAPs come with a variety of features that bring their capabilities closer to those of hearing aids.
Why would you want a PSAP instead of a hearing aid?
One of the main reasons you might want a PSAP instead of a hearing aid is its substantially lower cost. While you might need to fork out thousands of dollars for a hearing aid, PSAPs are much cheaper as the FDA does not regulate their production.
Furthermore, getting a PSAP is much easier as you do not need a prescription from your doctor when you purchase one.
Are They Covered by Medicare or Other Insurance?
Medicare does not generally cover hearing improvement products because they aren’t considered medically necessary, believe it or not. Many private insurers tend to follow Medicare guidelines, but you should call the back of the number on your insurance card to verify coverage availability with your particular plan.
Hearing loss can leave you feeling left out and even confused as you struggle to follow conversations. Listening to music and watching the TV can also be challenging as you struggle with hearing speech.
As an alternative to more expensive hearing aids, one of these personal sound amplifiers may prove itself invaluable by making speech clearer through sound amplification.
Maybe they can bridge the gap and be used for a while before more expensive hearing aids are needed. Review your concerns with your doctor or audiologist.
So, do you have any experience with either hearing aids or hearing amplifiers like the products above? Advice, questions, and comments are always welcome here, so leave a comment below!
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