Olive Union is the brainchild of Owen Song, who created the company in 2013 after watching his uncle struggle with a new pair of hearing aids. As the story goes, Owen broke open an expensive pair of hearing aids and felt he could build something similar.
A few years later, Owen had a prototype and turned to Kickstarter to get his dream off the ground. After some iteration, Owen and his team launched the Earbud-style device for sale today - Olive SmartEar Plus.
Owen's story is the thing of Shark Tank legends, but is the product any good? I recently got a pair to find out.
This review will review some quick Olive Pro facts, my unboxing experience, app setup, and more. Ultimately I'll share my thoughts on whether Olive Union's SmartEar Plus can stand in for a traditional pair of hearing aids.
Let's dig in!
- SmartEar Plus earbuds look like slightly larger AirPods
- Olive devices connect with Apple and Android devices through standard Bluetooth (no ASHA or MFI needed)
- SmartEar Plus gives a 7-hour continuous charge with an additional charge available inside the portable recharge case
- SmartEar Plus has pretty good passive noise canceling but does not provide any active noise-canceling features
- Olive Union has offices in Japan, Nevada, and Korea
- Olive Pro is the existing flagship, but the company has a new model, Olive Max, available for pre-sale on Kickstarter
Olive Union came in a compact box that looks much like my AirPods Pro 2. The package comes with a USB-C charger (very standard) and a range of foam tips for various ear sizes. My SmartEar Plus devices came with the batteries charged, so I didn't have to wait to get the new devices into my ear.
Olive's earbud-style design is a bit chunkier than my Airpods Pro 2, but comfort in the ear is pretty comparable.
Olive Uses foam tips instead of Apple's silicon which has a slightly different (fuller) ear feel but also does a better job of passively blocking out background sounds.
These devices aren't as comfortable as premium RIC-style hearing aids, but I wore them for a few hours without issue.
Let's dig into the app.
You'll need to pair your Olive Union hearing aids in the settings section of your phone: Settings > Bluetooth > Tap "Olive". Now you can move over to the app setup process.
The app requires you to set up an Olive Union account with basic information like date of birth, email, phone, and gender.
Once your account is set up, the app will take you through a quick tutorial. The design throughout the experience is very modern and informative.
Ultimately you'll land on the primary control screen inside the app, which you'll use most often. The main screen includes the following:
- Volume control (controlled separately by ear)
- Mode control lets you choose between quiet, boost and clear. Boost gives you more gain and clarity if you are struggling to hear. I found that the Clear setting was the most comfortable and helpful.
- Manual EQ adjustment allows you to customize your sound based on your hearing loss. If you know your hearing loss, you can quickly set this manually. If you don't know your hearing loss, you'll want to take Olive Union's onboard hearing test (accessed in the settings tab).
- Feedback management gives you tools to reduce squealing if that becomes an issue. I did not have any problems with squealing during my trial.
- The app's settings tab has a couple of important features, including the hearing test and Music EQ adjustment.
- The hearing test starts with a hearing-in-noise test where a series of words are spoken in varying background noise levels. The test then switches to a typical pure-tone test which prompts the user to tap a button each time they hear a tone.
- Music EQ lets you set the sound profile of the music you stream through your Olive Union devices, and music EQ must be set separately from hearing EQ.
We've talked about setup and app controls, but we still need to answer the question, do these things work? To answer that question, let's take a look at a few factors.
The first feature of good hearing aids (or headphones) is customization. The best devices let you fine-tune to match your hearing loss. Olive Union's SmartEar Plus gives you control over sound quality using the EQ section of the app and gives assistance through their hearing test. While Olive Union doesn't have as many points of adjustment as premium devices, it does give you lots of control. If you know what you are doing, you can get reasonably close to your own hearing profile.
On customization, we'll give Olive Union SmartEar Plus a passing score. ✅
Background Noise Management
The second feature of good hearing aids is intelligence. How well can a device handle complexity and isolate the essential sounds (typically voices)?
Here is where I was surprised by Olive Union. The sound quality was surprisingly good! Passing cars and background music are managed smoothly, and voices are prioritized. No hearing aid is perfect, but it seems Olive Union's extra size and processing power might give it some additional computing power. These devices are more sophisticated than cheap OTC alternatives.
On background noise, I'll give Olive Union a thumbs up. 👍👍
Music Sound Quality
The streaming quality didn't do as well as I had hoped. The Airpod-like form factor had my expectations high, and ultimately Olive SmartEar Plus was just ok. The music quality was a bit thin. I boosted the bass in the music EQ controls which helped a bit, but I still prefer my AirPods or Jabra Enhance Plus.
In contrast, listening to non-streamed music (through my car radio) was reasonably good. I got the best results by temporarily flattening the EQ in the app to prevent sound processing.
My experience with streaming leads me to believe that Olive has more robust hearing features than streaming features. For a product that calls itself a hearing aid, that's probably a good thing.
Overall, I'll give Olive Union a "meh" on music sound quality.
Quirks and Features
Olive Union's SmartEar Plus works as advertised. The devices have some built-in intelligence like wear recognition that understands when the device is in your ear. The devices come with several easy-to-change eartip sizes.
One thing I found strange is that while the devices recognize they are in your ear (with a little beep) they don't turn on until you press them for three seconds or click the power button on the app.
Another quirk is that the onboard power button turns off the amplification of the devices but does not turn off the music. To end music streaming, you'll need to pause your phone.
I didn't have high expectations going into this Olive SmartEar Plus review, but the product impressed me. Background noise handling was solid, and the app was reasonably easy to use.
For me, Olive SmartEar Plus is not a stand-in for a standard hearing aid. The battery life and comfort only allow for a few hours of wear at a time, and RIC hearing aids like Lexie B2 are almost certainly a better fit for hours of wear at a time.
Is Olive SmartEar Plus worth the price? That's a good question. I would pay a few hundred dollars for this product, but $1,049 feels steep. At that price, you are within striking distance of some leading products like Sony CRE-E10 or even Jabra Enhance Select.
If you are an iPhone user, it's worth noting that AirPods Pro 2 has a lot of the same amplification features found in Olive Pro. Read our full review of AirPods as hearing aids here.
If you want to try the product for yourself, you can try Olive Union's SmartEar Plus for $49 and send back the product if it doesn't meet your needs.
I hope you've found this review helpful! If you have questions or thoughts, feel free to shoot us a note at [email protected].