Health Tech Insider often covers new developments in hearable technology, starting well before the 2017 OTC Hearing Aid Act legislation. The law directed the FDA to create a category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. The act’s intent is to loosen non-prescription access to new hearing assistance devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The FDA OTC rule that allows pharmacies and other retail stores to sell hearing aids without a prescription took effect October 15, 2022. You still need to see an audiologist for a hearing aids prescription if you have severe to profound hearing loss.

Singular Software’s Singular Hearing subsidiary recently announced an upgrade to its HeardThat app that improves the performance of all forms of hearing devices, the company says. HeardThat uses machine learning (ML) artificial intelligence (AI) to filter speech from background noise so that wearers can follow and participate in conversations. The app works with earbuds, headphones, or any other hearing device, as long as you can connect them to your smartphone. If your hearing device lacks Bluetooth streaming, other options include connecting via Telecoil (T-Coil) or an audio cable if your device supports those connections.

The HeardThat upgrade uses the smartphone app with two features that work together with hearing devices without additional hardware: adjustable noise removal and Directional Mode. Once your hearing aid is connected to the app on your smartphone, point your smartphone’s microphone toward the person you are speaking with. HeardThat’s algorithm differentiates between the speech and other sounds, and then erases the background noise.

I asked HeardThat why someone with full-on hearing aids would need the app. A company representative answered that the HeardThat app replaces only one of any hearing aid’s three tasks: gathering sound with microphones. The app strips the sound of background noise before sending it to the hearing device. Hearing aids and hearables then carry on with the remaining two tasks: matching the sound to your hearing needs and sending the dual-processed sound to your ears. If you use the HeardThat app with a hearing device with microphones, the best results require turning the hearing device microphone sound down or fully off.

The HeardThat app approach to helping users improve speech comprehension is interesting. It’s easier to see the benefit for people who use earbuds, headphones, or very simple hearables, less so with full-powered hearing aids. Your audio is secure, the company claims, because the HeardThat app does the processing in real time on the smartphone, not in the cloud.