Consumer Reports tests usability of 10 over-the-counter hearing aids

Some offer little more than volume control

Nearly one out of every six adults has trouble hearing, but many people who could benefit from a hearing aid don’t have one.

“Buying a hearing aid is easier and more affordable than ever,” Consumer Reports’ Catherine Roberts said. “If you have mild to moderate hearing loss, you don’t necessarily need to see a doctor or an audiologist to get one. You can go to a store or online to buy a pair.”

So, how do you choose? Regarding over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, it’s important to know that there are two kinds: preset and self-fitting.

“Preset OTCs are more affordable and straightforward to set up and use,” Roberts said. “You just stick them in your ears and go. But some offer little more than volume control.”

To test OTC hearing aids, Consumer Reports worked with an audiologist to evaluate 10 devices. Testers checked the maximum volume and frequency range, harmonic distortion, noise reduction, battery drain, and directional amplification.

The Audien Hearing Atom, for $99, was the most affordable preset hearing aid CR evaluated. But its only customization option is volume control, and you have to use a tiny screwdriver to adjust it. CR also found that it creates a considerable amount of noisy distortion in louder environments.

For about $450 more, CR found the Lucid Engage much more versatile than the other tested presets, offering four distinct audio configurations.

Self-fitting hearing aids are more expensive. But they’re a good choice if you want your hearing aid to be more tailored to your hearing loss or options like the ability to stream music or hear phone calls better.

Lexie Lumen offers one of the most affordable, self-fitting hearing aids. Before using them, you’ll need to set them up by taking a short hearing test. CR found minimal distortion in quiet or louder environments. And a pricier but still good option might be the Sony CRE-E10 at $1,300.

To test yourself, search online for the Hearing Handicap Inventory for Adults Screening Questionnaire. An over-the-counter hearing aid could be a good fit if you score in the mild-to-moderate range.

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.