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For people with hearing loss, hearing aids can improve quality of life and reduce isolation. Even so, less than 1 in 3 people over the age of 70 and 1 in 6 between the ages of 20 and 69 who could benefit from hearing aids have them, reports the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Obstacles like high cost and lack of time to see a hearing professional can make it challenging for people to get the help and hearing device they need.

Because hearing amplifiers can be more convenient and inexpensive to purchase, many people with hearing loss opt for these instead.

If you’re researching devices for hearing loss, read on to learn about the differences between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Hearing aidsHearing amplifiers
FDA regulatedyesno
Correct hearing lossyesno
Amplify soundyesyes
Address tinnitus soundsyesno
Who they’re best forpeople with hearing loss ranging from mild to profoundpeople without hearing loss who need to hear sounds from far away, like bird watchers and hunters
Require a prescriptionmostnone

Although they can look similar, there are several important differences between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers.

Hearing amplifiers

Hearing amplifiers are also known as personal sound amplifying products.

They don’t require a prescription, meaning you won’t have to visit a hearing aid professional to get them. What’s more, although the price varies, they can be significantly cheaper than hearing aids.

However, they don’t work the same as hearing aids, and they aren’t designed to correct hearing loss. In some instances, they may even worsen hearing loss.

Hearing amplifiers work by amplifying every sound without differentiation. As such, they can’t crystalize nearby sounds or isolate specific sound frequencies you may have difficulty hearing.

Still, well-designed hearing amplifiers can help people without hearing loss hear faraway sounds more easily. That’s why hunters and bird watchers use them. They may also be a good first for some people with mild hearing loss.

Hearing aids

Unlike hearing amplifiers, most hearing aids require an audiological evaluation and prescription. The prescription is uniquely yours, just like prescription eyewear.

Hearing aids are categorized as class 1 medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hearing amplifiers, on the other hand, are not medical devices and are not regulated by the FDA.

It’s important not to confuse standard hearing aids or hearing amplifiers with over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids are a new hearing aid category that, when available, will also be regulated as class 1 medical devices by the FDA. Like hearing amplifiers, OTC hearing aids won’t require a prescription, but they will be designed to correct hearing loss.

Unlike hearing amplifiers, hearing aids identify the specific sounds you have trouble hearing — based on your prescription — and make them clearer and louder. That’s how they can help you follow a conversation in a noisy room.

Hearing aids also have a range of special features that most hearing amplifiers lack. These vary but can include:

  • tinnitus relief
  • Bluetooth capability
  • app connectivity for the wearer and for others, such as caregivers
  • digital noise reduction
  • artificial intelligence
  • wind noise reduction

Hearing aid pros

  • FDA-regulated class 1 medical device
  • produces natural sound
  • has settings for varying hearing environments, such as wind noise reduction
  • provides personalized hearing correction based on a prescription
  • includes input from a hearing professional, such as an audiologist
  • restores hearing ability during use, which can alleviate isolation and symptoms of depression
  • can be adjusted by the wearer or by a hearing aid professional
  • can connect to smart devices to stream music, television, and phone calls
  • can alleviate tinnitus

Hearing aid cons

  • can be prohibitively expensive
  • rarely covered by health insurance
  • some options that use non-rechargeable batteries can be challenging to handle manually
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Hearing amplifier pros

  • doesn’t require a prescription or a trip to a hearing aid professional
  • easily accessible
  • less expensive than hearing aids
  • makes faraway sounds audible
  • can be a good first step to hearing aids

Hearing amplifier cons

  • not regulated by the FDA
  • not meant to improve hearing loss
  • doesn’t crystalize nearby sounds
  • can’t distinguish between sound frequencies or pitch
  • makes all sounds louder
  • can damage ears and further reduce hearing
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If you’re on the fence and unsure if hearing aids or hearing amplifiers are right for you, the highlighted devices below may help you decide.

We’ve focused on easily accessible hearing aids that are lower in cost. Some don’t require audiologist visits. We also included one standout hearing amplifier you may wish to consider.

A note on price

General price ranges for hearing aids on our list are indicated below with dollar signs ($–$$$). Three dollar signs indicate a higher price range. Unless otherwise noted, prices are for a pair.

  • $ = under $1,500
  • $$ = $1,500–$2,500
  • $$$ = over $2,000
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Eargo Max

  • Price: $$$
  • Who it’s best for: people with mild to moderate hearing loss in the high frequency range
  • Battery life: 16 hours (rechargeable)
  • Warranty length: 1 year

The Eargo Max is Eargo’s least expensive hearing aid option. Like their other models, the Eargo Max is rechargeable and doesn’t require disposable batteries.

It’s designed for people with mild to moderate high frequency hearing loss.

Eargo sells hearing aids through a website, eliminating the need for an in-person audiologist visit and prescription. After taking an online hearing test, you’ll work directly with an Eargo hearing professional by phone or online to fine-tune the settings.

These hearing aids come with lifetime support, enabling you to access a hearing professional whenever you need. They also come with a 45-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year warranty.

They’re virtually invisible and comfortable to wear. Plus, you can request a nonworking pair for free before purchasing to see if you like how they look and feel.

Lively 2 Pro

  • Price: $–$$
  • Who it’s best for: people with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Battery life: 30 hours (rechargeable), 5-7 days (disposable)
  • Warranty length: 3 years

Lively hearing aids can be purchased as rechargeable or button battery hearing aids.

The rechargeable option costs around $500 more and includes a charger case. The battery-powered package includes a 1-year supply of batteries.

Both packages include 3 years of online care from a Lively audiologist, app access, a 100-day money-back guarantee, and a 3-year warranty.

These hearing aids are meant for people with mild or moderate hearing loss, come equipped with noise cancellation technology, and you can use them to stream music and phone calls from your smartphone.

To purchase, upload your existing prescription or take an online hearing test.

Kirkland Signature 10.0 with Tcoil

  • Price: $
  • Who it’s best for: people with mild to profound hearing loss
  • Battery life: 16 hours (rechargeable)
  • Warranty length: 3 years

Kirkland Signature hearing aids are only available through Costco, so you need a Costco membership to buy them. Costco membership ranges from $60 to $120 annually.

An in-person hearing test is required prior to purchase and is available at a Costco Hearing Aid Center.

They’re designed to produce a rich, stereo-quality sound that mimics high quality headphones. Plus, smart technology automatically adjusts your hearing aids to your listening environment.

They’re Bluetooth compatible. This enables you to stream media directly to your headphones from any smart device, answer your phone, or play music by double-tapping your hearing aids. You can also use a remote app to adjust volume and other settings.

Nano Sigma

  • Price: $$$
  • Who it’s best for: people with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Battery life: 6–14 days (disposable)
  • Warranty length: 1 year

These Nano behind-the-ear hearing aids can be bought without a prescription, though there’s an online hearing test you can take before you purchase. They come with a 45-day risk-free money-back guarantee.

They use disposable A13 batteries, so factor in that cost when deciding if this is the option for you.

These include special features like feedback cancellation and background noise reduction. They also connect to a wireless app, allowing you to manually adjust the volume and other settings.

Hearing aids can be expensive and aren’t meant to last a lifetime. In general, you can expect them to last about 3 to 7 years.

Check for a manufacturer that offers a free trial period

We recommend avoiding hearing aids that don’t come with a risk-free trial and warranty. You may be able to get a free trial through the manufacturer if buying from them directly, from an audiologist, or from a retailer.

Before choosing hearing aids from any manufacturer, check to see if they provide a warranty and what it covers. Some warranties include loss and damage, while others include free repair or replacement services.

Be sure to read the fine print so you know what you’re getting.

Check for discounts

It’s also a good idea to check if any discounts are available. Federal employees, teachers, first responders, veterans, and military personnel are often given discounts upon purchase.

Ask what products, features, and services a bundle includes

In some instances, a bundle may make sense for you. Even though bundles can include extras that aren’t as important to you, they sometimes offer hearing aid upgrades every 18 months to 2 years. Bundles may also fold in the cost of batteries, extended warranties, and insurance.

Go over payment options

Many hearing aids come with monthly payment options. These can make your hearing aids more affordable in the short term but cost more in the long term.

Even so, it’s better to opt for a monthly payment plan you can budget for rather than forgo hearing aids.

Follow-up care

Treat your hearing aids with care to keep them lasting as long as possible and ensure optimal performance. Clean them regularly. Be sure to store them correctly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and avoid damp or dusty environments.

There are some important considerations to take into account when it comes to hearing aids and amplifiers. You can always talk with a doctor if you’re unsure which is safer for you.

Hearing aids

If you get an audiological exam and fitting from a licensed hearing aid professional, your hearing aids will be safe for you to use. Even so, hearing aids don’t “cure” hearing loss. Rather, they correct it like glasses correct nearsightedness or farsightedness.

Keep in mind you’ll have an adjustment period while you’re getting used to wearing your new hearing aids. The sound of your own voice may take some getting used to.

If you have hand dexterity issues or a condition like arthritis, hearing aids that use disposable batteries may be challenging for you to manipulate, so you may want to opt for a rechargeable pair.

If you have small children in your home, keep hearing aids and disposable batteries out of reach. Both pose a choking hazard if swallowed.

Swallowing a disc battery can also be particularly dangerous for children, as there’s also a risk of developing liquefactive necrosis, which can be life threatening.

Hearing amplifiers

Hearing amplifiers are designed for people without hearing loss. If you use these devices to correct hearing loss, you may damage your ears with the loud, intense sound they can emit at their highest level. This may also worsen reactive tinnitus, or tinnitus that is made worse after exposure to loud noise.

Do hearing amplifiers really work?

Hearing amplifiers work for the purpose they’re intended for: to make all sounds louder. They don’t, however, work for hearing loss. When hearing amplifiers are misused to correct hearing loss, they do not work.

Do hearing aids do more than amplify?

Yes. Hearing aids can be programmed to correct your exact type and level of hearing loss, including the frequency of specific sounds you’re having trouble with. Many also have special features such as wind reduction, microphone accessibility that targets sound direction, and tinnitus relief.

What are hearing amplifiers used for?

Hearing amplifiers are meant to be used by people without hearing loss who want to easily hear faraway sounds. Bird watchers and hunters often use them.

Hearing amplifiers don’t provide the same level of hearing correction that hearing aids do. Generally, hearing amplifiers amplify all frequencies, while hearing aids are specially made for you to optimize the sounds you have trouble hearing.

Even though hearing aids can be expensive, they’re typically better suited to the needs of people with hearing loss than hearing amplifiers.

Before you decide on the best hearing solution for you, see an audiologist or other hearing professional. They can give you a hearing test and provide input as to the type of hearing loss you have.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who specializes in health and wellness content. She has spent much of the last two decades educating people about infertility and family building options. Whelan is a science nerd, and her heroes span the gamut from Temple Grandin to her wonderful mom. She shares her life in Brooklyn, NY with her all-grown-up, fascinating children and their wacky shelter dogs. Follow her on Twitter.