Hearing aids are breaking free of the paradigms of medical equipment and adopting the ideas of consumer technology.
I’m not an engineer, but as a tech-savvy 32-year-old with hearing loss, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are changing hearing aids.
AI has been the driving force behind the most significant tech shifts over the last several years. TikTok has famously used AI to learn about its users in real-time and serve up the perfect video, and Amazon uses AI to suggest what laundry detergent you might want to purchase.
This innovation has led the hearing industry to a question.
Prefer to watch?
Click below to hear Dr. Amy Sarow talk about where AI and hearing health is headed.
Can AI help us hear the right sounds in a crowded room?
Simply put, yes.
AI is the force behind a wide range of breakthroughs in hearing technology.
Digital hearing aids traditionally operated with “programs” or “modes.” A “restaurant program,” “home mode,” “tv mode,” etc.
These are static settings that are programmed to match up with different environments. The programs often feel clunky and don’t match up to unique environments or situations.
AI hearing technology takes a different path. Instead of a pre-set program, AI hearing aids listen to the millions of sounds you hear daily and make millions of fine-tune adjustments in real-time.
Imagine these scenarios made possible by AI.
- Your AI hearing aids "listen" for voices that you hear most often (like your spouse) and prioritize them in a busy restaurant.
- Your AI hearing aids know that you usually watch TV at night and are ready to tune into that sound right when you sit down.
- Your AI hearing aid learns to detect when someone is speaking through a mask and decides in real-time how to amplify the sound.
Now consider how AI could go beyond speech clarity. Studies show that the ear is one of the most accurate places to track general health signals.
Some AI hearing aids can track your heart rate, notify loved ones in the event of a fall, track fitness (like a Fitbit) and even help predict and prevent early signs of dementia.
While some of these features are only in the test phase, the foundation of this next generation of AI-powered hearing aids has already begun to roll out.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the leading AI-powered hearing aids on the market.
#1. Orka Two
Disruptors from ex. Apple and Facebook employees
Orka is a new entrant to the hearing health category, but its founders are far from novice. CEO Ben Sun cut his teeth as a product designer at Apple and brought on technical co-founders from Siemens and Facebook.
Unlike hearing aid incumbents, Orka has figured out how to use a much more powerful General Chip inside their devices (the same chip as Airpods and other consumer tech).
The chip gives them up to 1,000 times the processing power and unlocks features like AI Denoise and universal Bluetooth connection. The tradeoff is battery life - Orka Two lasts 12 hours on a single charge compared to 20-30 hours among traditional options.
AI Hearing Aids With Extra Features
Starkey is a US-based manufacturer that has a long history of quality hearing aids. In 2017 the company hired Intel executive Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D., as Chief Technology Officer. The hire put Starkey on the path to lead the industry in hearing aid AI.
After more than five years of years of work, Achin and his team launched the Starkey Genesis AI with some fantastic features. The hearing aids come with a built-in fitness tracker, a sensor that can notify loved ones of a fall, brain tracking to detect early risk signals for dementia, and even a personal assistant that can help with tasks like reminders and transcriptions. During the pandemic Starkey also released “mask mode,” which used data from thousands of masked voices to create a better sound.
- Overall notes: Starkey Genesis AI has more built-in tech than any other brand of hearing aid. If you can afford the premium price and lead an active lifestyle, this product is a great choice.
- Price: The national average price for Starkey Genesis AI is $6,352 per pair. In my price research I found some national providers with prices as low as $3,198/pair. Click here for more on prices.
- Features: AI Powered Sound, Fitness Tracking, Fall Detection, Bluetooth Streaming
- What audiologists say: “Starkey Genesis AI is more than a hearing aid. It's also a smart device that helps track your physical activity and overall health.” - Ramsay Poindexter, AuD
#3. Widex Moment Sheer
AI Hearing Aids With User Inputs
Widex Moment Sheer launched in September 2022. Widex is best known for its focus on sound quality, and its newest release stays true to that reputation. Widex uses a feature called SoundSense Learn to gather anonymized real-time feedback from users.
More simply, Widex users worldwide use the Widex app to note what settings work well for them in various environments. Widex then gives that feedback to an AI-powered computer to adjust automatically over time.
Ultimately Widex is using the best of user data and AI to create better sound quality.
- Overall notes: Widex Moment Sheer stays focused on job #1, sound quality. They use AI and user-data to get better over time.
- Price: The national average price for Widex Moment Sheer is $5,891 per pair. In my price research I found some national providers with prices as low as $2,798/pair. Click here for more on prices.
- Features: Bluetooth Streaming, Rechargeable Batteries, Leading Sound Quality
- What audiologists say: “Widex has built a fan base, particularly among musicians and audiophiles, based on their impressive input range and sound quality.” - Ramsay Poindexter, AuD
#4. Oticon Real
AI - Powered Natural Sound
Oticon Real was released in February 2023 with some exciting AI claims.
To design the hearing aid, Oticon placed 360 microphones in common environments where they gathered 12M real-life sounds. Oticon then used those sounds to train the computers inside their hearing aids to respond to nearly infinite sound scenes.
Oticon’s goal is to use less rigid rule-based programs and mimic the way the brain processes sound naturally. This sophisticated approach to sound processing lets Oticon keep the soundscape more open than competitors (more birds, water sounds etc.) without losing speech clarity.
So far, user reviews for the Oticon Real are glowing, so all this AI magic seems to be working.
- Overall notes: Oticon Real is an undisputed leader among top-tier hearing aids. If you are attracted to the idea of hearing more of the sounds around you vs. solely focusing on voices, this product is a great choice.
- Price: The national average price for Oticon Real is $6,330 per pair. In my price research I found some national providers with prices as low as $3,198/pair. Click here for more on prices.
- Features: AI Powered Sound, Rechargeable, Bluetooth (not hands-free), Behind The Ear Style
- What audiologists say: “Oticon More is among the best. If you are looking for all-around, top-of-the-line technology, this is an excellent choice.” - Ramsay Poindexter, AuD
AI will continue to push the boundaries of what we think is possible, and I’m genuinely excited to imagine how it might change what it means to wear hearing aids in the future.
Most premium hearing aid brands use some AI in their sound-processing algorithms and I expect that the use of AI will continue to grow in the years ahead.