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Earbuds Can Perform As Hearing Aid!

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Researchers explore a new possible solution to hearing aid as they study the sound amplification feature of Airpods.

Credit : Public Domain

Poor hearing can have a significant impact on an individual’s social and emotional well-being, as well as their ability to fully participate in daily activities. It is important to address hearing loss early on and seek treatment, such as hearing aids or other assistive devices, to prevent further deterioration and improve the overall quality of life.

Recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of earbuds in this situation. According to these studies, commercial earbuds can be adapted as hearing aids in amplifying sound for individuals with hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid has appeared to be a social stigma. Apple introduced a feature called “Live Listen” in 2016 that allowed people to use earbuds for sound amplification.

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Researchers, in a recent study, tried to investigate whether these earbuds can also serve as an alternate option to hearing aids. The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Yen-fu Cheng, an otolaryngologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. The team compared Airpods 2 and AirPods Pro—the model with a noise canceling feature—with a type of premium hearing aids and a basic pair of hearing aids. Notably, AirPods Pro met four out of five technology standards for hearing aids. It was also observed that both Airpods models were far cheaper than the basic as well as the premium hearing aid.

Researchers tested the devices with 21 participants by reading a small sentence, such as “the electricity bills went up recently,” to participants, who were asked to repeat their words verbatim wearing the devices. Results showed that AirPods Pro performed similarly well compared with basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and is slightly inferior to premium hearing aids. AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance among the four, helped participants hear more clearly compared with wearing no hearing aids. In a noisy environment, AirPods Pro showed comparable performance to premium hearing aids when the noises came from the lateral direction of the participant. But when the noises came from the front of the participants, both AirPods models failed to help participants hear better.

Ying-Hui Lai, the study’s co-author and a bio-engineer at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei shares the reason for such difference in performance, “It may relate to the trajectories soundwaves travel with, as well as the advanced signal processing algorithm by premium hearing aids.” This finding will hopefully inspire engineers to design hearing aids and personal sound amplification products that are more sensitive in certain directions.

Reference : “Smartphone-bundled earphones as personal sound amplification products in adults with sensorineural hearing loss” by Heng-Yu Haley Lin, Hoi-Shan Lai, Chii-Yuan Huang, Chih-Hao Chen, Shang-Liang Wu, Yuan-Chia Chu, Yu-Fu Chen, Ying-Hui Lai and Yen-Fu Cheng, 15 November 2022, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105436


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