Consumer Reports warns about cheap sound amplifiers

Tests find hearing aid substitutes get mixed results

SAN ANTONIO – Are you having trouble following conversations in a noisy restaurant? Are you straining to hear a co-worker in the cafeteria? Experts at Consumer Reports looked at some affordable, over-the-counter alternatives to expensive prescription hearing aids called sound amplifiers.

Most cost a fraction of the price of prescription hearing aids, which can cost thousands of dollars. Some amplifiers even cost less than $50. But Consumer Reports says to be careful with these penny-saver models. 

"The really cheap ones aren’t that effective at helping people with hearing loss, and more importantly, they could actually potentially damage people’s hearing further by over-amplifying loud sounds, kind of like a siren, for instance," said Julia Calderone, Consumer Reports health editor.

Two other pricier amplifiers — the $350 Sound World Solutions CS50+ and the $214 Etymotic Bean — did a little bit better in the tests. When tested in a lab by a professional hearing aid researcher, both showed promise for people with mild to moderate hearing loss while also protecting against over-amplification.

Plus, panelists who tried the pricier amplifiers said they were comfortable and easy to use. But in real-life situations, reactions were mixed.

"They seemed to help with things like TV watching, but they weren't so great at deciphering conversations in a noisy environment," Calderone said.

Consumer Reports said some amplifiers may be worth a try as a less expensive alternative to prescription hearing aids, but advises that the best thing to do is to see a hearing specialist to see if the devices are right for your needs.

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.