5 Best PSAP Hearing Devices 2020

woman using psap with phone
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:

Top 3 PSAPs

MDHearing Aid Air

4.8

Clear Living ratings are determined by our editorial team. The scoring formula takes into account the product's price, battery life, functions, size, and other features.

A virtually invisible design with advanced digital technology, delivering high-quality sound, the MDHearing Aid Air claims to be America's best-selling hearing technology!

Battery icon
Battery life 21-26 days
Customer support
Customer support 24 hours
US dollar price icon
Price $399.99
  • US-based customer service
  • 45-day trial period
  • Personal volume control
Summary

While the MDHearing Aid Air is a PSAP, not a hearing aid, it claims to be able to fill every need that a person with hearing loss could have, at a much lower price point.

The PSAP is nearly invisible, and claims to deliver sound as clearly as if you had perfect hearing. It comes with a year's worth of batteries, a carrying case, and free shipping!

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Sound World Solutions Rechargeable CS50 Sound Amplifier

4.3

Clear Living ratings are determined by our editorial team. The scoring formula takes into account the product's price, battery life, functions, size, and other features.

A top of the line equivalent to a hearing aid. The CS50+ allows for multiple customisable sound profiles.

Battery icon
Battery life 12 hours
Phone connectivity icon
Connectivity iOS and Android compatible
US dollar price icon
Price $499.95 (for two)
  • Takes phone calls
  • Cuts out background noise
  • Has 3 customisable presets
Summary

Many PSAPs simply make things louder, but the CS50+ allows for customisation unprecedented in PSAPs. Background noise elimination and different sound profiles are features that are commonly found in hearing aids, not PSAPs, so seeing the CS50+ take these steps is a big deal in the PSAP world.

Due to these improvements, they are a bit pricier.

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Bose Hearphones: Conversation-Enhancing & Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones

4.0

Clear Living ratings are determined by our editorial team. The scoring formula takes into account the product's price, battery life, functions, size, and other features.

If you've wanted a PSAP to use when talking or doing a physical activity, but you also want a pair of good quality headphones to use when commuting or chilling out, this is the product for you.

Battery icon
Battery life 10 hours
Phone connectivity icon
Connectivity Android and iOS compatible
US dollar price icon
Price $500
  • Directional mics allow for focused sound
  • Background noise cancelling
  • Bass and treble control
Summary

Most PSAPs exist solely to serve their function as a PSAP. Take it out to a dinner party and use it to hear conversation, then put it back in the drawer when it's done. But if you want to fully get your money's worth out of a product, then it's not a bad idea to get these Bose headphones, that double as a PSAP.

They're somewhat expensive, but the price can be justified by the increased amount of use you'd get from them.

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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.

PSAPs vs hearing aids vs hearables

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.

Top 5 PSAPs

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MDHearing Aid Air

Sound World Solutions Rechargeable CS50 Sound Amplifier

Bose Hearphones: Conversation-Enhancing & Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones

Britzgo Digital Hearing Aid Amplifier Bha-220

RCA RPSA05 Symphonix Battery Operated Personal Sound Amplifier

4.8/5
4.3/5
4.0/5
3.9/5
3.9/5

A virtually invisible design with advanced digital technology, delivering high-quality sound, the MDHearing Aid Air is a great choice for a PSAP.

A top of the line equivalent to a hearing aid. The CS50+ allows for multiple customisable sound profiles.

If you've wanted a PSAP that also doubles as a great pair of headphones, this is the product for you.

A cheaper alternative for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of improved hearing without making a huge investment.

The most “standard” choice you could make. A reasonable price point, offering a barebones yet quality product that clearly improves incoming sound.

$399.99

$499.95 (for two)

$500

$57.50

$79.99

Hearing loss is serious. If you think that you may need a hearing test, use our free online tool to get matched with a hearing specialist in your area.

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

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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.

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

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

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.

23 Comments
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  • Debra Rice
    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).
    • Lindsey Banks
      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.
  • Elizabeth
    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.
    • Lindsey Banks
      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
  • B. R. Fleming
    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.
  • Ernest Cunningham
    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
  • Dr. Joseph gross
    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?