The Complete Guide to Hearable Technology in 2020

Woman using a hearable product

More and more people are talking about the coming wave of hearing technology, and the inevitable change from wearables to hearables. But the truth is, it's already here.

History of Hearable Technology

The term hearables is still being shaped because while some do exist in the market place, we are far from saturation. Thus, to some people hearables may just be wireless earbuds with advanced features, but to others it may be more akin to a hearing aid.

A hearable is a wireless in-ear computational earpiece. Essentially you have a micro computer that fits in your ear canal and utilizes wireless technology to supplement and enhance your listening experience. Many hearables will also feature additional features such as heart rate monitoring (see below for a full list).

Fast forward to today and there are two important movements currently happening that are both converging on one another.

First, hearing aid companies are beginning to recognize that users want a device that does more than correct and amplify sound. They want to be able to sync seamlessly with wireless devices such as their smartphone, for telephone calls, music, games, and more.

Second, commercial electronics companies (more specifically headphone manufacturers) are realizing the potential of “bionics,” or creating in-ear buds that measure biometrics, output great quality sounding music, and (this is the newest part) have the potential to amplify sound.

I believe both groups will eventually converge, but it's really a matter of who will get there first. In my opinion, The Big 6 have the biggest advantage because they have been dealing with this technology for decades, and already have the required approval from the FDA to label their devices as actual hearing aids (something most consumer electronics companies can't do by law).

Features and Benefits of Hearable Technology

Many companies are still trying to figure out the niche role their hearable product will play in the marketplace.

Some more traditional headphone companies are caught up in the same race most wearables are: biometrics. While hearing aid companies seem to be ensuring their already functioning technology syncs perfectly with your smartphone for even more user control.

Either way, there are a ton of benefits, but we'll do our best to list and explain most of them below.

  • More accurate vital signs. Imagine being able to instantly measure things like: heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, ECG, electro-encephalogram signals, and more.
  • Activity tracking. This could range from a pedometer to improved caloric output based on movements, and more.
  • Biometric personal identification. NEC recently announced a technology that utilizes sound waves to acoustically recognize and identify a person (i.e. the owner of the hearing device) based on the size and shape of their ear.
  • Invisibility. While the stigma of wearing hearing aids is decreasing (which is a really good thing) manufacturers are still striving to create technology that is as unobtrusive as possible.
  • Improved sound quality. A large part of sound quality has very little to do with the sound output from your device, and more to do with sound filtering. Combined headphone and hearing aid technologies may allow for this.
  • Augmented hearing. Companies like Doppler Labs are working on technology that will not only aid hearing, but also improve it above normal levels, though admittedly this kind of tech could still be years away.
  • Smart everything capabilities. Seamlessly sync your hearables to your iPhone, or your smart home devices.
  • Face-to-face communication. Lots of times people with hearing loss are discouraged from interaction. But as hearables start to erase the stigma of wearing an in-ear device this will hopefully go away completely.
  • Translation. Can a hearable perform live translation of a foreign language to your native language? The Pilot is going to try.
  • Layered listening. Think of this as augmented reality for the ears. This technology would allow users to filter out or enhance specific sounds. We heard rumors at CES 2017 that Bragi would be adding features like this to The Dash.

As we've mentioned a couple times above, one of our favorite benefits is actually related to perception of ear enhancing devices currently on the market. The advent of hearables is likely to help reduce the stigma of hearing aids and thus help people prevent and improve hearing loss much earlier in life.

Hearables Currently on the Market

Below you will find 3 separate lists of pre-existing devices that are adding new technology to transform them into true hearables:

  • Hearing Aids
  • Personal Sound Amplifers (PSAPs)
  • Headphones or Earbuds

We update each list on a bi-monthly basis. Some on the list aren't currently available, or may still be in a funding or design stage which you'll see noted in the availability column.

(Note: If for any reason we have left off a pair be sure to contact us or let us know in the comments!)

Best Hearing Aids with Built-in Hearable Tech

The devices below are classified as hearing aids by the FDA, with the primary purpose of improving hearing loss. In addition, these hearing aids are also wireless and maintain the ability to sync with smartphones to allow the user more precise control.

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Name
Android App
iPhone App
Purchase

Starkey Halo

Resound LiNX3D

Beltone First

Oticon Opn

Widex BEYOND

Phonak Audéo™ B

You can read more about made for smartphone hearing aids here.

Personal Sound Amplifiers with Hearable Tech

By definition personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) increase environmental sounds for non-hearing impaired individuals. Some primary uses are hunting (i.e. listening to quiet sounds of prey), or increasing decibel levels of other quiet or distant sounds (i.e. lectures).

While the FDA currently classifies these devices for non-hearing impaired individuals, many people with hearing impairments do experiment with these devices (typically because they are significantly cheaper). Also, as of October 2015 the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has been looking into ways to allow PSAPs to be marketed to those with hearing loss and to create a new category of “basic” hearing aids meant for sale over-the-counter (OTC).

With that said, it is recommended to consult an Audiologist prior to purchasing a PSAP.

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Name
Available
Purpose
Android App
iPhone App
Purchase

Sound World Solutions CS50 Wireless Bluetooth Sound Amplifier

Yes

Personal Sound Amplifier

Just to reinforce what we've said above, while these devices are pretty neat, they are not meant to be solutions to hearing loss (that's what hearing aids are for).

If you think that you may need a hearing test, we can help you find a hearing specialist in your local area.

Best Headphones with Hearable Tech

(Note: As we have not been able to test everyone of these devices (yet), they are not listed or ranked in any specific order, however we have reviewed and ranked some of the wireless earbuds here.)

Many popular headphone companies are utilizing current wireless technology to enhance your listening experience, while also adding additional benefits like biometrics. Check out the features column below to see exactly what each device does.

While a lot of these headphones look pretty incredible, we're most excited to see what the rumors from Apple and Samsung end up turning into.

Sport Specific Hearables

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Name
Purpose
Heart Rate Monitoring
Step Tracking
Calories Burned
Activity Tracking
Body Temp Tracking
Neuropriming
Other features
Purchase

Jabra Sport Pulse

SMS Audio Biosport

Joule

Freewavz

Cosinuss One

Sony Smart B Trainer

Halo Sport 2

Samsung Gear Icon X

Bose SoundSport Pulse

Jabra Elite Sport

In-ear activity tracker

In-ear activity tracker

Earring Back Tracker

In-ear Activity Tracker

In-ear Activity Tracker

Bluetooth Sports Hearable

Neuropriming Headphones

Truly Wireless Earbuds

In-ear Activity Tracker

Truly Wireless Earbuds

Controls music and calls

Control music and calls

Attaches to the back of existing earrings

App coming soon

Free size exchange if it doesn't fit

Controls music and calls

30-day free trial

Controls music and holds up to 4 GB

Controls music and calls

Controls music and calls

Now that you've got a clearer picture of what the hearable world is all about, you can make the right decision for yourself. Whether you're a sporty fitness buff or just want to be able to hear the TV a bit better, we'll guide you through your hearing journey.

Samsung Gear IconX Completely Wireless Earbuds

Duncan is an Australian-born American-raised creative writer with a passion for healthy ears. He continues to build upon his audiology qualifications with research and various courses. Duncan has been working alongside Florida-based audiologist Lindsey Banks, Au.D., to make sure that Clear Living has the most up-to-date content.

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.

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  • karylin
    whoah this blog is great i really like reading your posts. Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of individuals are looking round for this information, you can aid them greatly.
  • Chuck Kollars
    It seems to me an excellent way to provide full quality hearable technology is to combine generic Bluetooth 5.0 profile earbuds ($25-$50 in summer 2019) with a very sophisticated app that does all the signal processing on a smartphone (with the software app having a significant cost of course) . It would be vastly cheaper than anything that requires any usage-specific device; unlike earlier bluetooth profiles those earbuds have no discernible delay and only minimal tendency to drop out (i.e. they are similar to "made-for-iPhone" devices); and a smartphone provides plenty of the right kind of processing power ...but manufacturers are pursuing other design strategies instead - why? what factor am I overlooking?
    • Clear Living
      I understand what you are saying but there are a lot of factors that will affect the sound processing and amplification of live speech in noise using bluetooth earbuds. Where the microphones are positioned on the ear and the bluetooth streaming that would have to occur back and forth between the earbuds and the smartphone without signal distortion, just to name a few.
  • Bob
    Purchased Bose Hearphones during recent trip to US from Australia. Finding background noise has made it more difficult to hear conversations, so started considering hearing aids. At US$500.00, I felt I could afford to buy 5-10 sets of HearPhones before spending as much on good hearing aids I might not find compatible. Bluetooth connectivity with iOS devices, other bluetooth enabled devices, and direct TV bluetooth is easily comparable to Airpods. If connected to LG TV via built in bluetooth, they work well, but you cannot use built in bluetooth and TV speakers or headphone/digital output at the same time. Connecting through bluetooth adaptor via headphone connector introduces a delay that can be annoying if TV speaker sound can be heard. Still working out how to adjust HearPhones for conversations. Slowly coming up with self defined modes for different situations. Noise cancellation is amazing, but tuning them to specific voices still requires realtime adjustment. Somehow, my wifes' voice is the hardest to "tune in". Bose offered 30 day return policy if purchased from them, and Best Buy offered 14 day return policy. I assume they replace the soft tips when returned item is re-sold.
    • Roland E DuBree
      Bose Hear phone worked pretty good for me except not enough volume when wearing around the house to hear real well. However now no longer made by Bose. And Bose has no suitable replacement.
  • Catherine Olds
    My 90 year old mother is frustrated with her hearing loss and more frustrated with trying to fit a hearing aid into her tiny ears. I have searched for a headphone type of device to no avail. She's no longer vain, simply wants to hear conversations. Any suggestions? Thanks!
    • Clear Living
      Most likely a hearable is not going to be a good solution for her. The best chance of a comfortable fit for tiny ears is a receiver in the ear hearing aid custom fit for her ear by an audiologist.
  • Thomas Lang
    Dear clearliving-Team, Great article, unfortunatley the ONLY hearing aid that provides DIRECT connectivity to Android AND iOS phones (actually, to ANY Bluetooth device - not only phones) is missing on your list: Phonak Audeo B-Direct. Thanks for considering! Thomas