Tested by medical experts, AirPods Pro earphones have proven to be at least as effective as a high-performance hearing aid, providing a stylish and even cheaper alternative to medical hearing aids.
Apple has equipped the AirPods Pro with a feature called Live Listen. Far from being just an aid you turn to when you want to converse with people around you without removing the earphones from your ears, Live Listen turns Apple’s earphones into a true hearing aid you can turn to for better hearing than with your own ears. For example, the headphones are particularly effective at isolating the speaker’s voice from ambient noise, so much so that the feature could help even people without hearing problems to a lesser extent. But the help really comes into its own for people who would otherwise turn to dedicated hearing aids to compensate for hearing problems.
According to the study published by researchers at Taiwan’s Taipei Veterans General Hospital, following an experiment with 21 patients, the Apple-developed accessory can be a good replacement for even high-performance hearing aids that are more expensive and not as stylish as a set of AirPods Pro headphones. The claim holds true for users with mild to moderate hearing loss, as Apple’s headphones are not powerful enough to help people who have almost total hearing loss.
In the experiment, AirPods Pro headphones were connected to an iPhone phone and switched to Live Listen mode, with the phone’s microphone picking up sounds in the room, the headphones only playing back amplified sound “cleaned” of unwanted ambient noise.
Participants included in the experiment were asked to repeat short sentences as they heard them under different conditions of distance and ambient noise. The conclusion of the experiment was that the AirPods 2 accessory is not as effective as a high-performance hearing aid, regardless of whether the conversations are conducted in environments with a lot of ambient noise or in enclosed spaces. In contrast, for the AirPods Pro accessory the results were comparable to those obtained with premium hearing aids, with one exception. The AirPods Pro helped the experimenters hear better when sounds came from the side, but not when sounds came directly from the front. This shortcoming could be an unintended consequence of the Active Background Noise Cancellation feature, which is optimised to block out distracting ambient noises.
Overall, though not perfect, the AirPods Pro earphones can take over the functionality of a hearing aid quite successfully. And that can only be a good thing, for wireless headphone manufacturers, in a context where using headphones at high volume is associated with very early onset of hearing problems.