Hearables are the fastest growing segment of the wearables market, according to the latest IDC quarterly wearables marketing report. We’ve written about and looked at hearables before, including Nuheara’s IQBuds Boost and Wear and Hear’s BeHear Now. Olive Union‘s Olive SmartEar, a CES 2020 Innovation Award Winner, takes a different approach than other products we’ve seen. The Olive Smart Ear includes a single earbud, not a pair.

Olive Union does not sell the Smart Ear for use as a medical device. The Smart Ear is a personalized hearing device marketed to help users hear TV and conversations better. The Smart Ear is limited to 50 decibels maximum amplification, The box includes the earbud, a small cube-shaped charging and portable power storage base, silicone and foam ear tips, a fit adjustment band, a USB cable, and an AC wall adapter. The SmartEar operates for up to 7 hours per charge and the portable storage base has enough power for two more charges, an additional 14 hours. Olive sent us a Smart Ear to check out for this article. This is not a review, but we were interested in how a single earbud worked in place of the more common two earbud hearing assistance products.

The Olive smartphone app — available for iOS and Android — includes a calibration test that takes about five minutes to complete. You take the test with each ear, after which the Olive software balances the tests so you can use the earbud in either ear. You can also adjust the earbud’s frequency sensitivity with an equalizer and control the volume with the app.

The Smart Ear’s outer surface is touch-sensitive. You can tap or hold a touch to turn the power on or off, raise or lower the volume, activate Bluetooth pairing, and take phone calls. The device has three microphones, 16 sound channels, and a 96-dB dynamic range. According to Olive, there is less than 1.2% total harmonic distortion (THD) in each channel.

You can select from the Smart Ear’s three listening modes in the Olive app. You can choose Default (the calibrated setting), Conversation (which filters background noise), or TV Listening. I did not test extensively, but I had the most success with the default mode. There’s also a Feedback Cancellation button that filters out sharp high-frequency noise. You must use the smartphone app to activate Feedback Cancellation or switch between listening modes.

The Smart Ear calibration test was fast and easy to use. I had to run it more than once due to my tinnitus; there’s no such thing as a “quiet place for testing” in my life. The normal operation interface is easy to learn and use, both via touch on the device (with verbal responses) and with the mobile app.

Based on my casual experience, the Olive Smart Ear is a good entry-level device for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. My strategy was to use the device primarily in my ear that has the greater impairment. The Smart Ear is available on the Olive Union website in Black or White for $299, with frequent discounts available. Shipping is free and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.