I’ve been living with mild to moderate hearing loss for some time. A few years ago I had an inner ear infection that, initially, caused me to lose my hearing. When the infection cleared up my hearing returned, I didn’t realise at first but it was somewhat diminished…
Realising I had hearing issues
At first, I was so relieved to hear normally again that I didn’t realise I had any issues with my hearing but over time friends, family and colleagues kept telling me that I couldn’t hear them properly.
Another one of those things that are easy to link retrospectively was that I also started to hear lots of noises and audible artefacts. Turns out, in my case, they’re most likely my brain ‘making up’ noises for things I can’t hear properly.
Hearing tests and hearing aids
After multiple referrals (delays due to covid then moving house into a different area and having to start again) my GP referred me to audiology. Once I made my way up the waiting list I was tested pretty thoroughly and from a hearing test and was set up with some Phonak Nathos Nova hearing aids with open ear fittings (these allow noise into my ear canal so where my hearing works I can still hear without aid).
They’re pretty amazing bits of kit. From what I understand they’re the standard NHS aids at this time. Tiny and pretty unobtrusive. They connect to my phone just like a regular headset and can be set to various different modes depending on the environment I’m in.
The range where my hearing is missing is perfect for these types of hearing aids, the high frequencies I don’t hear get picked up and supplement what I can hear.
When listening to music with hearing aids I realised how much I was missing beforehand.
One of the most amazing changes was the immediate end to having tinnitus; well, as long as I’ve got the hearing aids in.
So that was all pretty positive, and amazing in noisy environments. All of a sudden I didn’t feel like I wanted to avoid noisy social environments, I didn’t feel left out in conversations like I had before.
The problems started kicking in when I wanted to listen to music, take calls, switch from phone to laptop to iPad etc.
While the diminutive Phonak aids are a great convenience when working as headsets, they’re pretty tinny, also the microphones pick up everything so callers hear the environment more than my voice. Finally pairing them up and switching devices, like with most Bluetooth devices, is a faff and I’ve always been very impressed with the way Apple hands off their wireless headsets from devices linked to the same Apple ID.
Initially, from enjoying listening to music while wearing hearing aids from speakers and in the car I wondered if there was a way of adjusting the audio to accommodate my hearing loss through headphones…
Turns out Apple has been pretty thorough and well-considered, I had a bit of a search and read up, mainly on the Apple support page.
Only certain headphones can apply headphone accommodations to boost the areas that I don’t hear so well. The list of supported devices isn’t particularly broad but it does work on the lowly wired Apple EarPods, which I had a spare pair to try out.
The full list of supported devices is as follows:
- AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd generation)
- AirPods (2nd and 3rd generation)
- AirPods Max
- Apple EarPods (with 3.5mm Headphone Plug or Lightning Connector)
- Powerbeats Pro
- Beats Solo Pro
- Beats Fit Pro
After reading the Apple info I immediately picked up on the section “Use your audiogram data from the Health app”. A bit more of a look online took me to find the Mimi Hearing Test app.
I put myself into a quiet part of the house and donned my wired Apple EarPods. From the Hearing Test app, I did the pure tone threshold test. The resulting audiogram was visibly very similar to the chart I saw in the audiology test at the hospital, showing a significant loss in the 2-8k frequency range. I went into Mimi’s settings and was able to share the data with Apple Health.
From the iOS Settings app I went into the Accessibility section, under Audio/Visual you’ll find Headphone Accommodations at the top under Audio. I was able to select the Audiogram from my hearing test in the “tune audio for:” section.
I took myself straight over to my favourite tracks on Spotify and was blown away. Suddenly the richness and depth I was missing in music was back!
What about AirPods as hearing aids?
Yes, over on that Apple support page I couldn’t help but notice the final two sections:
- Customise Transparency mode on your AirPods Pro
- Use Conversation Boost on your AirPods Pro
I was particularly drawn to the phrase Conversation Boost as that reminded me of one of the settings in the Phonak app and from reading these sections it was clear that they could boost my hearing in a similar way to the hearing aids.
So I splashed out, truth is I’d wanted some AirPods for some time. I often have calls at work with others wearing AirPods Pro and notice how clear they are and, as mentioned earlier, love the way they just switch to the device you’re using that’s linked to your Apple account.
After setting up the AirPods they automatically picked up the headphone accommodations from my EarPods that I’d set up before and went through the Custom Audio Setup and then ramped the amplification in Transparency Mode up to the top.
I could hear everything in my environment in a very rich way immediately.
From the control centre I can turn on Conversation Boost by tapping the Hearing button but I’ve not really experimented with that so much; it seems the same as the on the Phonak hearing aids setting for Speech in noise.
Direct comparisons (i.e. conclusion)
So I’ve now got two options for aiding my hearing.
First off I need to be clear on this; I can’t fault my hearing aids. They have been a complete revelation and actually changed my life from the moment I walked out wearing them.
Also I’m certain that the Mimi Hearing Test app is great the results can’t be as good from the guided test that I was given by the fantastic Audiology department in Selby so if I could load that audiogram into Apple Health (which apparently is possible) then I could do a better comparison.
Fit and comfort
They are two different beasts. Firstly the hearing aids, they fit over the ear and don’t really weigh anything. I do find the little in ear tube gets really itchy and I get headaches after a while and just pull them out in a dramatic way (then look around for sympathy). I don’t like wearing them and sunglasses so expect that glasses wearer might have some issues there. Most of the time I do just forget they are there though. On to the AirPods, they are in ear and very comfortable. As they are so light you don’t notice they are there at times but nothing like the complete way that I just don’t think about the hearing aids for that reason I find I take them out at times when I could just leave them in (but it’s never dramatic and sympathy seeking).
Sounds and sound quality
Okay, here again it’s totally different and I think that’s down to the fitting type. If my hearing aids weren’t open ear I might have a different experience but I’m used to hearing for myself and the aids just add what’s missing where the AirPods are blocking my ears and reproducing everything. The overall quality in the AirPods far exceeds that of the hearing aids where the diminutive hearing aids are simply tinny and scratchy but the AirPods provide a true rich sound experience. While I do forget I’ve got the hearing aids in (especially if I’ve turned them down a little) I always know I’ve got the AirPods in so that kinda takes away from the overall experience. Obviously, and I do need to say it just to tick it off, the hearing aids are the worst headset I’ve ever used but that is a convenient thing they just do…
This is pretty obvious. If you have hearing loss then waking up, sticking in the hearing aids and forgetting they are there and for 90% of the day you get get on with life but you can hear properly; that can’t be beaten. It’s really when you need to use a headset or telephone that they ‘get in the way’. Putting on the AirPods is not something you’d just do to start the day but to be able to put them in to aid your hearing at any time is wonderful. Switching from calls, to music or just having them in to boost the environment is something the hearing aids can’t touch.
Get testing now!!
I wish, instead of just waiting for the referral, someone had said download Mimi Hearing Test and get testing for now. Also, I could have gone down the private hearing test route but I was also in the referral route for a number of reasons and I can’t fault the NHS service I’ve received.
Even if you’re not sure but have some compatible headphones take a test and try the changes listening to music!