Personal Sound Amplifiers: Cheap(er) Hearing Aid Alternatives that Actually Work

Certified Senior Advisor®
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alternative to hearing aids

If you aren't ready for hearing aids or don't want the expense, here are some great alternatives to hearing aids that are cheaper but actually work! These personal sound amplifiers can be a great choice for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

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Income Disclosure: Product recommendations are based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from affiliate links in this guide. Learn More.

When most people start experiencing any level of hearing loss, the first thing that comes to mind is having to get a hearing aid. And, in some cases, this might be necessary.

But, let me state the obvious. Hearing aids are expensive. Learning that Medicare and other insurers do not pay for hearing aids just adds to the frustration.

The high cost of hearing aids is why most people end up seeking out less costly hearing aid options. So, what are some of the best hearing aid alternatives? 

This is where Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) enter the picture. Studies have found some PSAPs to be as good as hearing aids when it comes to enhancing the wearer’s ability to hear sounds clearly. This means that while these devices are not FDA approved for use in helping with hearing loss, they can act as an effective and reliable alternative to hearing aids, especially for those suffering from mild or moderate hearing impairment.

In this guide, I’ll show you some of the best – and cheaper – alternatives to hearing aids. Read on to find out more about PSAPs as alternatives to hearing aids.

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 aren’t going to find a hearing amplifier for $75 that you are going to be happy with. As a matter of fact, Consumer Reports says to stay away from any PSAP that costs less than $50.00!

TOP RECOMMENDATION

Bellman & Symfon Maxi Pro Personal Amplifier

What I really like about a device like this is that it is multi-purpose. In addition to just amplifying speech and conversation, it can also pair with your mobile phone to improve your ability to hear calls, it can amplify sound from your TV, it can stream music wirelessly and it even works with your current hearing aids if you have them.

Bellman-Maxi-Pro-Personal-Amplifier

Learn More at Bellman

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.

In Depth Review of the Maxi Pro Personal Amplifier

Using the Maxi Pro to Amplify Speech

For clarifying and amplifying speech, the Maxi Pro uses an omnidirectional microphone that picks up sounds from all 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, simply plug in the headphones, turn them on, adjust your volume and you are all set.

You can set the amplifier on the table in front of you, clip it to a belt, purse, or pocket, or wear it around the neck with the included lanyard.

Maxi pro buttons and controls
Buttons and controls of the Maxi Pro

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 simply hold down a button on the Maxi Pro then go into your device’s Bluetooth settings and select it from the menu. The headphones even confirm they worked by playing the words “paired” in the headphones.

This same simple pairing process is how you connect the Maxi Pro to your mobile phone. Once connected, you’ll be able to answer and end calls right from the amplifier plus control the volume too. If you are listening to music or the TV through the amplifier, the music will mute while the phone rings so you can decide if you want to take the call or not.

Using the Maxi Pro With TV

If your TV has a Bluetooth transmitter, you may be able to use the Maxi Pro without needing any additional equipment to hear the TV better. Bellman does also offer 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 have multiple ways to listen to the 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. 

Pros:

  •  Easy to use with a familiar “remote control” feel
  •  Bluetooth-enabled
  •  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

Cons:

  •  Few customizations for people with severe hearing loss
  •  No telecoil system for hearing loop-enabled venues
  •  May need additional accessories for full use

See the Maxi Pro at Bellman


DISCREET OPTION

Bellman & Symfon Mino Personal Amplifier

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 a bit 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.

mino-personal-amplifier

Here is my video review of the Mino. If you prefer, you can read my even more in-depth Mino review here.

In Depth Review of the Mino Personal Amplifier

Speech Amplification

For amplifying speech, the Mino offers two different microphones – an omnidirectional and a 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 it 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 who have hearing loss and 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. 

mino button locations
Mino Buttons and Controls

To make any of these changes to your settings, you need to enter the customization menu. 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 of the 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” which consists of a lapel microphone and a single earbud that is plug and play. This is a more discreet way of using it and should attract less attention if that matters to you. Of course, you have the other options too: headphones, earphones, stetoclips, and more.

Using the Mino with TV

Finally, the Mino can also be used for TV listening too but you have to use a corded connection and run a line from the TV audio out to your Mino. It’s a simple plug-and-play operation too but it isn’t wireless. Bellman makes a special audio cord that makes this a simple process.

Pros:

  •  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

Cons:

  •  Not Bluetooth enabled
  •  Some technical understanding recommended
  •  Button print could be better contrasted
  •  Does not work with mobile phones

See the Mino at Bellman


PERSONALIZED

Jabees BHearing Next-Gen Personal Sound Amplifier

This is another amplifier that I have personally used and was very happy with. What I really like is that the bHearing tailors itself to improve your ability to hear the specific frequencies you have trouble hearing.

Bhearing in box

This is another amplifier that I have personally used and was very happy with. What I really like is 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 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 take a quick hearing test through the app that will determine the specific areas where you need help hearing. Once this is 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 2 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.

Jabees BHearing buttons and controls
Buttons and Controls for the Jabees bHearing

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 2 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 3 times, so you can get 20 hours (3X5 + 5) of nearly continuous use. 

Pros:

  •  Custom Hearing Profile
  •  Lightweight and Comfortable
  •  Multiple Use Device
  •  Easy Pairing With Other Devices
  •  Can Be Used Without App

Cons:

  •  Buttons Difficult to See
  •  Can’t Be Used With Hearing Aids
  •  Short Charging Cord

See the bHearing at Jabees

For my more extensive review of the bHearing Sound Amplifier, click here.


FITS LIKE STANDARD HEARING AIDS

Otofonix Elite Hearing Aid

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 are work behind the ear where they are less noticeable and can be hidden more easily.

Otofonix Elite Hearing Aid

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 comes with multiple ear tips and tubes so that you can get a more custom fit. It is not interchangeable from ear to ear though 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:

Otofonix Tutorials | Getting Started With Your Otofonix Hearing Aid Amplifier

To help you hear better, the Elite offers both noise reduction and feedback cancellation. You can also choose from 10 different volume levels and 4 different pre-configured setting choices depending on where and how you are using 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, make sure you order lots of extra batteries. This amplifier is not rechargeable and uses special disposable batteries. Each battery lasts about 7 days and the device does initially come with 7 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!

Pros:

  •  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

Cons:

  •  Not a major issue but must be ordered for the right or left side
  •  Uses disposable batteries that must be changed every 5-7 days

See the Elite at Otofonix


Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra 2.0

The Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra 2.0 is a different style of hearing amplifier. Rather than being worn in the ear, it is essentially a microphone, an amplifier, and headphones that sits 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. 

pocketalker-2

Here is a video I did that compares the Pocketalker Ultra 2.0 and the Bellman Mino that I recommended above. You can read my written comparison of the Mino vs. the Pocketalker 2.0 here if you prefer.

Comparison of the Mino Personal Amplifier and the Pocketalker 2.0

Overall, it’s an easy device to set up and use. To start listening, just plug in the earpiece or headphones then adjust the volume to your preferred level. You can also adjust the overall tone from more treble to less treble.

This sound amplifier is quite versatile and can work with a variety of 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, it is easy to move it closer to the sound the user is trying to hear. For example, it comes with a longer cord so that 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 the situation they’re in.

RELATED: Best Bluetooth Earbuds for Seniors

There is nothing at all discreet though with the Pocketalker. So, it’s probably not a good choice for people who are 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.

Pros:

  •  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

Cons:

  •  Rotary switches are more difficult to use than buttons
  •  The volume control is combined with the power button

See the PockeTalker 2.0 at Amazon


FDA-Cleared

Bose SoundControl™ Hearing Aids

A newer entry into the hearing aid alternative market is the SoundControl™ Hearing Aids from Bose. Of course, Bose is known for high-quality audio products and they have now brought their expertise to help people with hearing loss hear better. These hearing aids have been FDA-cleared according to Bose but do not require a prescription or doctor’s visit.

bose sound control

Learn More at Bose

For more tech-oriented users, these hearing aids are highly customizable. Simply download the app, pair them with your mobile phone, and you are ready to customize how you hear the world around you. Through the app, you control the bass, treble, and volume (and more) of the sound around you on the fly at any time. 

You can even change the “direction” of the sound the amplifiers are focusing on by using the focus setting of the app. For example, if you are in the car and in the driver’s seat, you can change the focus more to your right side where your passenger is talking to you.

When you find the settings that work best for you, you can save them as profiles called Personal Modes. Then, you just need to touch a button on the app and the settings will be reconfigured to match instantly.

To make them comfortable to wear, they come with multiple ear tips of various sizes, a fitting too, and batteries to get you started. Note that the batteries are disposable and have to be replaced about every 5-7 days.

Pros:

  •  Fully customizable with lots of personalization options
  •  Small, lightweight, and discreet
  •  FDA-cleared for hearing loss
  •  Includes multiple ear tips and a fit kit
  •  Bose quality
  •  90-day risk-free trial

Cons:

  •  Uses disposable batteries
  •  Does not work with mobile phones
  •  Cannot stream music or pair with other devices

See the SoundControl at Bose

older man holding hand to ear because he has hearing loss
Personal amplifiers could be a big help if you find yourself saying “What?” or asking people to repeat themselves frequently.

What to Look For When Shopping for a 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 of the better sound amplifiers come with multiple ear tips and adjustable headphones so that you can customize the fit and make them more comfortable to wear. If the device isn’t comfortable, you won’t want to wear it 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 clarity of sound, look for an amplifier that enhances all the frequencies that 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 can 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 controls that are easy to use and understand. If an app is part of the package, make sure 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 lots of positive reviews from people who have actually used the device.
  • Satisfaction Guarantee. Last but not least, it is important to check the return period on any device under consideration as you need to have enough time (about 4 weeks or 30 days) to test it out and make sure it works for you.

Types of Hearing Amplifiers

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. Sound Enhancing Headphones. This is a special set of headphones that enhance and amplify sound rather than just “playing audio.” Several of these even set up custom hearing profiles for the wearer and boost the specific frequencies that they have difficulty hearing. You can see examples of these in my list of the best headphones for seniors.
  5. 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 landline and cordless phones for seniors.
man getting fit for a hearing aid
PSAP’s are often easier to use independently because most aren’t inserted into the ear.

Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Amplifiers

What is a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP)?

Simply put, a PSAP is a wearable device that is designed to amplify sounds in specific situations and environments. Since they are not regulated by the FDA, 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 sound to be amplified is captured by the microphone 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 in order to have your hearing properly tested by an expert. The results of the hearing tests conducted by your audiologist will determine whether you need to use a hearing aid or not. (Source)

Are hearing amplifiers safe?

Hearing amplifiers are safe provided that 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 back 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 that is specifically designed to compensate for any loss of hearing. 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 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 sound at 60dB. (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 simply 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 why you might want a PSAP instead of a hearing aid is due to its substantially lower cost. While you might need to fork out thousands of dollars for a hearing aid, PSAPs are much cheaper as their production is not regulated by the FDA. Furthermore, it is much easier for you to get your hands on a PSAP as you do not need a prescription from your doctor when looking to buy one.

Conclusion

Hearing loss can leave you feeling left out and even confused as you struggle to follow conversations. Listening to music and hearing the TV can also be a challenge 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!

Also please share this information with friends and family on your social profiles if you found this article helpful!

Photo of author

Scott Grant, CSA®, ATP

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Certified Rehab Technology Supplier (CRTS®)

I have been serving seniors and the elderly for over 20 years as a medical equipment and custom wheelchair specialist for a regional medical equipment company. I am also a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not helping older adult improve the quality of their lives, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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1 thought on “Personal Sound Amplifiers: Cheap(er) Hearing Aid Alternatives that Actually Work”

  1. I appreciate the obvious research you have done. The only item not discussed is with ordinary conversation with living persons. My husband wears an expensive hearing aid and I am a normal hearing partner. However, we have a very difficult time with ordinary conversation. I either have to raise my voice and sound like a shrew or repeat every word. I have tried to speak his name to gain his attention and even then must repeat. This does not permit a conversation but rather a distraction. Please some encouragement in your reviews of each of these alternatives. I may be deaf soon, due to volumes I use or must put up with from outside sources. thank you .

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