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18 Best PSAP Hearing Devices 2020

hand holding up a small psap against the sky

Hearing aids are expensive – there’s no two ways about it. When you’re looking at a device that can run you several thousands of dollars, you couldn’t be blamed for seeking a cheaper alternative.

Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are low-cost hearing devices that can range from just $10 to $500, and can be bought right off the shelf – without so much as a hearing test! They are general sound amplifiers, untailored to an individual's specific hearing loss.

Choosing a PSAP over a hearing aid is understandable. The PSAPs on the market today look identical to hearing aids, are marketed to those with hearing loss just as hearing aids are, and are often much less expensive. In the mean time, if you're just interested in our top picks, here they are:

Our Number 1 PSAP Pick

LifeEar Empower BOOST Sound Amplifier

lifeear cleartec boost in a range of colors

The LifeEar BOOST personal sound amplifier has 12 band digital signal processing that does more than just “turn the volume up.” Utilizing digital noise reduction, output limiting, feedback cancellation, and wide-dynamic-range-compression, the LifeEar device can help you focus on what you want to hear, without the distrubing background noise. Plus the device is easy to use and comes assembled in the box with clear user guide instructions.


Our Runner-Up

Otofonix Elite Hearing Amplifier

otofonix elite in gold and silver

The Otofonix hearing amplifier is a tiny, nearly invisible PSAP with 12-band digital sound processing, including adaptive noise reduction, feedback cancellation, and 4 user programs.

It comes pre-programmed with 10 volume levels to choose from and 7-10 days of battery life from this small device.

What is a PSAP?

First and foremost, we will definitively declare that a PSAP is not a hearing aid.

Of course, there are some similarities, but there are also some big differences. The main differences between a hearing aid and a PSAP are the regulations (or lack thereof) and the intended use, as outlined by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Hearing aids are intended to compensate for impaired hearing, while PSAPs are not.

According to the FDA, “PSAPs are intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are intended to accentuate sounds in specific listening environments, rather than for everyday use in multiple listening situations.”

The FDA also dictates that PSAPs should not be considered replacements for hearing aids, nor should they be considered an over the counter (OTC) hearing aid.

If you can’t think of a time where a non-hearing-impaired individual would need a PSAP, here are some examples:

  • Bird watching/hunting
  • Listening to lectures or speakers from a distance
  • Listening to soft, distant conversations

Remember: if you think you have hearing loss, a PSAP is not recommended.

Note: many audiologists and hearing healthcare providers agree that a PSAP may be suitable for people with mild conductive hearing loss, but this should be differentiated from a sensorineural hearing loss.

Since the publication of FDA draft guidelines on hearing aids and PSAPs in 2013, other hearing technology, like hearables, have emerged – which only complicates matters.

In addition, a lot of focus in the US hearing healthcare industry within the past few years has been on the affordability and accessibility of hearing aids, which many believe is a big problem. The high cost of hearing aids is believed to be the major reason why so many people with hearing loss do not seek help, or rely on PSAPs for management of their hearing loss.

Before discussing PSAPs in detail, it’s important to understand the differences between different kinds of hearing technology.

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP): Like we said earlier, PSAPs can be purchased directly by the consumer, with no need for a consultation from a hearing healthcare professional. While there are FDA regulations for labeling products as personal sound amplification products, there are no regulations for manufacturing standards of PSAPs.

Hearing Aids: Hearing aids are Class I medical devices that are heavily regulated by the FDA. They are intended for prescription by a hearing healthcare professional, following evaluation and consultation of the person's hearing level.

Hearables: Hearables are a newer type of wireless earpiece that are being used to enhance sound, as well as offering additional features such as health monitoring and audio Bluetooth streaming. There are currently no FDA regulations for hearables when it comes to sound amplification.

Over the Counter Hearing Aids, Non-Prescription Hearing Aids, Ready-to-wear Hearing Aids: Several different names exist for hearing aids being sold directly to consumers without medical evaluation or prescription. There are no current FDA regulations, but there is pending legislation for the creation of this category with regulatory standards. Read more about OTC hearing aids here.

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What makes a good PSAP?

Due to the lax regulation of PSAPs, there isn’t much data on their performance in real-world situations.

But the studies that have been done show that PSAPs aren’t perfect. A few studies have looked at the performance of several PSAPs using real-ear measurements, and found that they under-amplified the high frequencies and over-amplified the low frequencies.

Since most people have greater difficulty hearing high frequencies, this would prove a PSAP to be useless in most cases of hearing loss. To make matters worse, a lot of background noise occurs in the low frequencies, making the PSAP wearer perceive background sounds as “noisy,” with no improvement in speech clarity.

A recent study compared the speech understanding of participants with mild to moderate hearing loss while wearing a popular hearing aid (Oticon Nera), and while wearing five different PSAPs.

The speech understanding improvement without any amplification to the hearing aid was 11.9 points – a positive improvement – while the impr;ovement offered by four of the PSAPs ranged from 4.9 to 11.0 points

However, one of the PSAPs tested (which retails for $29.99) actually caused the speech discrimination scores to get worse by -11.2 points while wearing the devices, versus wearing no amplification at all.

A second PSAP study verified that low-range (under $100) PSAP devices performed poorer in terms of real-ear measurements than high-end ($100+) PSAP hearing devices did.

Like almost anything, you get what you pay for. Although a PSAP may be a low-cost hearing device, it is important to remember that what you save on cost, you almost always lose in performance.

Onto our top choices. In our eyes, a good PSAP has:

  • a good frequency response that includes small differences in the output of low frequencies versus high frequencies
  • updated digital sound processing, including noise reduction and/or directionality
  • a good design and overall fit for the user
  • ease of use with a clear instruction manual
  • a positive user rating and reviews

Top 18 Best Personal Sound Amplifiers

We created the table below so you could have a place to quickly compare each of our picks. A brief explanation of the abbreviated terms used in the table –  BTE stands for “Behind the Ear”, ITE  for “In the Ear” and RIC for “Receiver in Canal”.

Below the table you'll find another section that goes into more details about each PSAP, if you're still unsure which one to go with.

RankPictureNameStyleWhere to Buy
1LifeEar Empower BOOST Sound AmplifierBTELifeEar Empower Price
2Otofonix Elite Hearing AmplifierBTEOtofonix Elite Price
3Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra EarphonesWilliams Ultra Price
4Nuheara IQbuds BoostEarbudsNuheara IQbuds Price
5RCA SymphonixBTERCA Symphonix Price
6Bose HearphonesHeadphonesBose Hearphones Price
7Soundworld solutions C550+BTESoundworld C550+ Price
8Williams Sound Pocketalker Personal Amplifier PKT 2.0EarphonesWilliams PKT 2.0 Price
9Etymotic Bean Quiet Sound AmplifierITEEtymotic Bean Price
10ZVOX VoiceBudBTEZVOX VoiceBud Price
11Merry Personal Amplifier ME-200PEarbudsMerry ME-200P Price
12Merry Personal Amplifier ME-700EarbudsMerry ME-700 Price
13Able Planet PS1600BTBTEAble Planet Price
14Perfect Choice HD UltraRICPerfect Choice Price
15Starkey AmpITEStarkey Amp Price
16PLAIDBTEPLAID Price
17Prosounds H2PITEProsounds H2P Price
18Phantom Sound AmplifierBTEPhantom Price

A closer look at each PSAP

Now that you’ve seen our broader ratings, we’ve gone through each of our top picks and listed the major features of each.

Number 1 – LifeEar BOOST Sound Amplifier

lifeear cleartec boost in various colors

Read more reviews

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: unknown
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphones:No

Number 2 – Otofonix Elite Hearing Amplifier

otofonix elite in gold and silver colors

Read more reviews

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 312 zinc air
  • Battery life: 7-10 days
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 3 – Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra

williams sound pocketalker

Read more reviews

  • Type: Headphones
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Two AAA Alkaline batteries
  • Battery life: 200 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 4 – Nuheara IQbuds Boost

nuheara iqbuds boost

Read our full review

  • Type: Wireless earbuds
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes with smartphone app
  • Battery type: Rechargeable
  • Battery life: Up to 32 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Number 5 – RCA Symphonix

rca symphonix in a case

Read more reviews

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 312 zinc air or rechargeable
  • Battery life: 7 days zinc-air, 15 hours rechargeable
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 6 – Bose Hearphones

bose hearphones sound amplifier

Read more reviews

  • Type: Headphones
  • Volume control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes with smartphone app
  • Battery type: Size 312 battery
  • Battery life: 3-4 days
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Number 7 – Soundworld solutions C550+

Soundworld solutions C550+

Read more reviews

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Battery type: Lithium-ion rechargeable
  • Battery life: 15 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphones: Yes

Number 8 – Williams Sound Pocketalker Personal Amplifier PKT 2.0

williams sound pockettalker number 2

Read more reviews

  • Type: Earphone or Headphone
  • Volume Control: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Two AAA Alkaline batteries or NiMH rechargeable
  • Battery life: 105 hours with Alkaline, 80 hours with NiMH
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 9 – Etymotic Bean Quiet Sound Amplifier

etymotic qsa psap in various colors
  • Type: ITE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: 10-12 days
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 10 – ZVOX VoiceBud

ZVOX VoiceBud VB20 Hearing Amplifier

Read our full review

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes with smartphone app
  • Battery type: Rechargeable
  • Battery life: Up to 10 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Number 11 – Merry Personal Amplifier ME-200P

merry personal amplifier me 200p

Read more reviews

  • Type: Earphone
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Rechargeable Li-ion
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 12 – Merry Personal Amplifier ME-700

merry-personal-amplifier-me-700-tv

Read more reviews

  • Type: Earphone with Wireless Microphone
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No but includes wireless microphone
  • Battery type: Rechargeable Li-ion
  • Battery life: 3 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphones: No

Number 13 – Able Planet PS1600BT

able-planet-bte-amplifier

Read more reviews

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: unknown
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphone: No

Number 14 – Perfect Choice HD Ultra

perfect-choice-hd-ultra-psap
  • Type: RIC
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 312 zinc air
  • Battery life: 7-10 days
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Number 15 – Starkey Amp

starkey-amp

Can only be purchased through a provider

  • Type: IIC
  • Volume Control: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: unknown
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphone: No

Number 16 – PLAID

plaid-personal-listening-aid

Can only be purchased through a provider

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 312 zinc air
  • Battery life: 5 to 7 days
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: No
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Number 17 – Prosounds H2P

prosounds-h2p

Currently only available on IndieGoGo

  • Type: ITE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: 140 hours
  • Feedback cancellation: No
  • Noise reduction: Yes, marketed for hearing protection as well
  • Directional microphone: No

Number 18 – Phantom Sound Amplifier

phantom-sound-amplifier

Can only be purchased through a provider

  • Type: BTE
  • Volume Control: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Battery type: Size 10 zinc air
  • Battery life: unknown
  • Feedback cancellation: Yes
  • Noise reduction: Yes
  • Directional microphone: Yes

Why should you trust us?

Unlike many of the other hearing aid resources you’ll find online, we are an independent company. We are not compensated by any product manufacturer for our reviews, and when a product is provided to us at no charge, we clearly state that in our review. We aim to provide an unbiased and up-to-date opinion of the hearing resources available to those with hearing loss.

Our staff includes an Audiologist who has several years experience in hearing diagnostics, as well as recommending and fitting a wide variety of hearing aid brands on all levels of hearing loss.

Hearing health and safety is our highest priority when it comes to the recommendations we make on Clear Living. Therefore, for this PSAP review article, we have removed all the personal sound amplifiers that we know have potentially dangerous output levels (>120 dB).

Based on our research, we also found that very low-end PSAP devices (<$50) showed very little hearing benefit and can actually have the opposite effect…actually blocking sounds and acting more like an expensive earplug. Therefore, we have also eliminated the very low-cost PSAP devices from this review (<$50).

You can read more about our expertise and motivations here.

Some things to consider when buying a PSAP

We have been hesitant to write about PSAPs because we understand the value of the hearing healthcare professional, and believe that anyone who suspects they have hearing loss should see a hearing specialist for proper evaluation and treatment.

We recommend that you have a hearing evaluation before considering one of the PSAP devices listed above.

Final thoughts

When it comes to purchasing a PSAP, no one device is going to be right for every person. It is going to depend on what your individual needs and wants are from the device – for example, some devices have Bluetooth capabilities, but most don't. Some are worn on or in the ear and are very discreet, while others are worn as headphones.

You will want to consider what you want from your PSAP. Use our information in the charts and lists above to narrow down which PSAP would be best for you.

You can use our free online tool to get matched with trusted hearing specialists in your area.

Lindsey Banks

Lindsey Banks

Audiologist

Lindsey Banks is a graduate of the Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program at the University of Florida. She uses her diverse experience in hearing healthcare and her passion for helping people to provide credible information to those with hearing loss who visit Clear Living.

Comments

  1. Debra Rice says:

    Thank you for your article.! My sister with dementia lives in a Memory Center and she just lost her second set of expensive hearing aids. The staff has not been able to keep track of them. We need something large enough to be found but something that will allow her to hear people. And something the staff will be able to keep charged, etc.
    My sisters hearing is pretty bad. She can’t hear my voice without her hearing aids. Do you have any recommendations for Someone with dementia (can’t keep track of aids) living in a Memory Center (staff limited).

    1. Lindsey Banks says:

      I would recommend one of the Williams Sound Pocketalkers on this list. They are both very easy to use, charge, keep track of, and hear with in that type of environment.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Trying to help a homebound 93 year old friend of the family who needs hearing assistance for small, mostly one-on-one conversations. He had a hearing test 2-3 years ago with pretty typical results. He and his wife, and I, are overwhelmed with the choices. Please, while I realize that he may get the MOST benefit from true hearing aides, he needs something that will, at least, improve his ability to understand speech when his wife speaks with him. Cost under $1000 would be acceptable. Any suggestions would be so appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Lindsey Banks says:

      You could consider the pocket talker device listed above for help in one-on-one conversations with his wife. The best option would be to have him have a consultation with a local hearing professional to discuss your options for him. You can find one here: https://quotes.clearliving.com/org-hearing-tests?comment

  3. B. R. Fleming says:

    Why did you not include Zyon hearing amplifiers? I know the market contains plenty of devices and companies, but I just wondered if you had a particular reason for not including Zyon, particularly the Zyon Rechargeable Hearing Amplifier RIC.

  4. Ernest Cunningham says:

    Thank you for your very informative review. I’m a 85 year old male who wants to hear conversations better, both in person and on the telephone speakerphone. I’ve just had a hearing test that indicates moderate to slightly severe age related hearing loss in both ears. I’d prefer an ITE type bud that is simple to install and operate. (I’m not a techie and I’m inpatient with constant maintenance and adjustments) Quality is my prime concern. Price is a secondary concern. Could you recommend two or three devices that I should seriously consider. Thank you in advance for your help

    1. Lindsey Banks says:

      If you have a moderate to slightly severe hearing loss you need a digital hearing aid, not a PSAP. You may want to check out this article which describes hearing aid options for your hearing loss.

  5. Dr. Joseph gross says:

    I have profoundone hearing loss.
    I am currently using the reizen mighty loud ear which provides 120 dB amplification which is the MINIMUM I require, all other assisted hearing devices are not loud enough. I am not at all concerned therefore about so called potential damage from loud sounds…doesn’t bother me in the least.
    So which of the 18 recommended devices…and especially the others you did not recommend because they were “too loud”, can provide me with the amplification I require?

  6. Jean says:

    First, I really appreciate your review in a world where audiologists are hesitant to comment for obvious reasons. My father has moderate dementia and has lost 3 pairs of $5-6K hearing aids, They just can’t afford to keep replacing these. His last audiogram was very similar between ears and showed he could hear at 20-30 dB at 250-500HZ, 50 DB at 1K-2K Hz, 60 dB at 3K, 80 dB at 4K; he has been evaluated by ENT without any other underlying condition. He probably would like something that looks like a traditional hearing aid. It doesn’t need blue tooth, but could be a rechargeable brand. He really is only at home watching TV or participating in small family gatherings. Any recommendations?

    1. Clear Living says:

      You may consider #1 and #2 on our list although they are not rechargeable. The Bose hearphones are rechargeable but they don’t look like traditional hearing aids.

  7. Rob says:

    Well done article, provides accurate information about state of the art of today’s hearing aid technology

    1. Danette says:

      Remember Rob, they aren’t hearing aids they are personal sound amplification devices and will not correct your hearing loss if you have one.

  8. Pat R. says:

    Please explain the acronym RIC. Thank you.

    1. Clear Living says:

      Pat,

      RIC stands for Receiver-in-canal. It is a style of hearing aids which have a behind-the-ear component, and an in-the-ear component.

  9. Michel Kun says:

    Please quote # 12 Merry Personal Amplifier Mod. ME-700

  10. Kitty C says:

    Why do you not define your acronyms? What do BTE, ITE, etc. stand for???

    1. Clear Living says:

      Sorry about that…BTE is behind-the-ear, ITE is in-the-ear

      1. Don Alexander says:

        When you say in the ear or out, my hearing aid is behiund my ear and goes into the ear. ???

  11. Karen H. says:

    What criteria did you use to rank these products?

  12. Sj says:

    Thoughts on the eargo device out of my. View ca

  13. Frank Grayiel says:

    I was tested at Duke medical center and was told I have moderate hearing loss in both ears. I have the print out but am unable to convert the chart to usable information. I think that a psad would help me and be more in my price range. What do I look for on the chart to see if this is a possibility?

    1. Helpful Specialist says:

      Frank,

      I am a licensed hearing aid specialist. A few things to consider before purchasing any non programmable device are as follows..how much loss do you have in the high frequencies, how often are you in background noise, and what is your Word Recognition score percentage. If your high frequency (anything from 1.5k-8k Hz) thresholds are above (less than) 55dB, a PSAP would probably work for you…If you are not in that much background noise (going out to restaurants every once in awhile, attending a meeting a couple times a month, a relatively non-noisy work environment) then a PSAP may work for you…If you Word Recognition percentage is above 85%, then a PSAP may work for you. There are clear advantages to investing in a digital, programmable hearing aid (the programmable part is the biggest) but if you have some loss in the highs, live a relatively quiet life and have good speech understanding, you may be able to get by with a PSAP. And if you are just dipping your toes into the world of hearing amplification I would say give an amplifier a shot, just make sure you check the return policy because you may quickly realize that while it helps every now and then, a real hearing aid may be what’s best for you in your everyday life for the long haul.

    2. Clear Living says:

      Unfortunately there’s not much the chart will tell you for a PSAP because PSAPs are one-size fits all, they cannot be adjusted for your hearing loss anyways. If you have a more flat hearing loss you may benefit more from a PSAP.

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