As the FDA outlined in its recent guidance to improving hearing aid accessibility, more than 30 million people in the U.S. have significant hearing impairments. Only one-in-five, however, is served by the current hearing aid market, which the FDA attributes to a combination of high prices and the agency’s own regulations that currently require either a medical evaluation or signed waiver to buy a hearing aid. The FDA’s new steps to solve the problem are to immediately (as of December 7, 2016) curtail enforcement of the current regulations for people 18 and older and to study a new classification for over-the-counter hearing aids. For the past year, several companies have been working on “hearing assistance” devices, shying away from calling them “hearing aids,” though perhaps that avoidance will now wane. Previously we wrote about Doppler Labs’ Here One, “all-in-one assisted hearing device,” scheduled to launch in February 2017. A new and highly recognized acoustics manufacturer also has announced its presence in the hearable market.
Bose Corporation, long known for acoustic speakers and noise-cancellation headphones, recently created a website for Bose Hearphones. Hearphones are wired earbuds attached to a U-shaped device worn across the back of your neck). The design is nearly identical to the Bose Quietcontrol 30 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones. The Hearphones have additional features as compare with the QuietControl 30s. Bose combines two technologies it developed for noise-cancelling headsets typically sold to quiet noise during air travel. Multiple microphones in the Hearphones detect ambient and directional sound and, depending on settings, the hearable cancels or hushes the sound levels from unwanted sources. Ambient sound level is adjustable by a “world volume” control button that’s separate from an overall volume button. Both buttons are on a small inline pod on the wire that attaches the right earbud to the collar.
You can also use controls on the pod to choose from three directional settings, depending on what you want to hear. The tightest directional setting, called Focused, is used when you want a one-to-one conversation with other sounds blocked. You can also select the “Front” setting when talking with groups and “Everywhere” for omnidirectional listening. The Hearphones collar holds a lithium-ion rechargeable battery rated for up to 10 hours uses, a power switch, and battery level and Bluetooth signal indicators. You’ll also find a multifunction button on the control pod for specific uses when listening to phone calls and streaming media. Bluetooth and Near Field Connection (NFC) wireless support can connect the Hearphones to the Bose Hear app running on a supported smartphone or other mobile device. With the app you can customize and save overall volume, world volume, and directional settings for specific environments.
Bose hasn’t released Hearphones’ price or launch date. On the device website, the company invites people to a personal experience at the company’s headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts. You can certainly expect Hearphones to be on display at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January. Bose’s unabashedly field-leading noise cancellation headphones currently cost between $250 and $350. For many people that’s a luxury purchase just to make air travel more comfortable. In the hearing aid market, however, where a pair of hearing aids start at about $2,000 and can easily top $6,000 to $8,000, an effective hearing impairment solution that costs a few hundreds of dollars looks like a bargain. The similar-looking Quietcontrol 30s list for $300. I’ll bet we’ll see a $350 to $400 price tag for the Hearphones when they launch, which will still be competitive.