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Use Airpods as a hearing aid? Learn more now!

With the Conversation Boost, Apple introduced an operating aid in the 2021 iOS15 update that has since brought the use of AirPods Pro as a hearing aid replacement into the conversation. The function can be activated via Settings > Operating aids > Audio/Visual > Headphone adjustments > Apply with transparency mode > Conversation boost. But can the small headphones actually replace hearing aids in the future?

Hearing aids vs. AirPods: differences & similarities

Hearing aids

AirPods Pro

Wireless Bluetooth connectivity to external devices

Connection options depending on model, usually to other manufacturers

Hearing functions only in combination with Apple devices

Unobtrusive fit in the ear (with modern hearing aids)

Available as IdO or HdO

In-ear headphones

Medical device specific for the treatment of hearing loss

Not a medical device, primarily for music streaming

Battery lasts all day

Battery lasts for 4.5 hours of listening

Battery lasts for several hours

20-30 minutes for full charge

Specific fine adjustments can be made

Greater settings via app audiogram

Noise cancellation can serve hearing protection

Using AirPods as hearing aids

The settings for using AirPods can be adjusted to suit individual hearing performance, creating a personalized listening experience. For the configuration, a audiogram, which was created in advance via the corresponding app, can be fed into Apple's health app. Subsequently, the settings of the AirPods are adjusted with regard to the needs recorded in the audiogram. Specific listening features also position the headphones as a listening aid:

Conversation Boost: When the booster is activated, the AirPods' microphones pick up the acoustic environment. In doing so, ambient noise is attenuated and instead the voice of the conversation partner is clearly highlighted and output in the ear.

Live Listen: This feature allows the use of iPhone, iPad or iPod as a remote microphone when positioned in close proximity to speakers. The sound is sent to the AirPods via the respective device and thus - according to Apple - the hearing of people further away is implemented. Especially in noisy environments, according to the manufacturer, offers an application of live listening. Prerequisite is iOS 14.3 or newer and the use of AirPods, AirPods Pro, Powerbeats Pro or Beats Fit Pro.

Background noise: Those who suffer from tinnitus unfortunately, can use their AirPods to mask the disturbing sounds. Under the "Background Sounds" section in the iPhone settings, rain or ocean noise, for example, can be selected to compensate for tinnitus. The control option can be added to the Control Center for access.

Noise cancellation and transparency mode: AirPods Pro and AirPods Max include the ability to cancel external noise. For this purpose, inward- and outward-facing microphones neutralize unwanted ambient noise. In addition, it is possible to switch to transparency mode, in which the noisy environment is completely perceived again despite the headphones. The switch can be realized directly via the headphones or via iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or Mac and can also be controlled via the control center.

AirPods as hearing aids: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of AirPods as hearing aids relate firstly to the visual aspect, as the modern, popular design may encourage the removal of stigmas against hearing aids. Young hearing aid users in particular may be more willing to wear AirPods instead of traditional hearing aids. On the other hand, the noise cancellation is a positive feature that can contribute to hearing protection against loud ambient noise.

Despite the hearing-enhancing measures, Apple is not promoting its AirPods as hearing aid replacements because the headphones are not medical products. They are not designed for long-term use, nor can more precise settings be made for hearing assistance. A relatively short battery life of about 4.5 hours is not sufficient for all-day hearing aid needs. A standard shape without individual fitting to the ear leads to comfort restrictions and further limits the usage time. Acoustically, it is also problematic that a hearing profile is assumed for both ears and few unilateral changes in hearing settings can be concretized. According to a study by Auditory Insights , high frequencies are not thereby boosted to the same extent as with conventional hearing aids, while low frequencies are amplified too intensively.

Conclusion: AirPods do NOT replace medical hearing aids

As a conclusion, it can be clearly said that AirPods are not hearing aids and cannot fully replace medical products. Since most hearing problems occur in the high-frequency range, the lack of amplification in this range is particularly problematic. In addition, more severe hearing loss cannot be treated with the headphones produced primarily for listening to music. Nevertheless, AirPods can make everyday life easier for mild hearing loss, but the limited wearing comfort and battery life argue against using them as an everyday hearing aid. On the other hand, the background noise function, which can be used specifically to compensate for tinnitus, is particularly positive.

Apple's measures for hearing support

Even though AirPods aren't an equivalent replacement for hearing aids, Apple can stand out when it comes to hearing support! With made for iPhone, direct streaming of content on Apple devices is possible through select hearing aids. The user-friendliness for hearing-impaired people is additionally reflected in the numerous operating aids to support hard-of-hearing and deaf people. For example, sensory cues or even the availability of Siri via texting as well as sign language recognition in FaceTime help people use the devices. Further measures offered by the manufacturer for assistance can be found here.