AirPods Pro Getting Closer to Becoming Hearing Aids

While the AirPods Pro are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration as devices for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, a new study suggests they work just as well as some pricier prescription-only models (via ArsTechnica).

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According to a research published in the iScience journal, the AirPods Pro earbuds seem to work better than some cheaper, over-the-counter hearing aids now available at common retailers.

Researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan’s National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and other entities conducted the first comparison of smartphone-oriented earphones with medically prescribed hearing aids.

The researchers tested AirPods with their Live Listen feature activated against five standards for a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) under ANSI CTA 2051-2017:

  • Frequency response smoothness
  • Frequency response bandwidth (range)
  • Maximum output sound pressure level (OSPL) at 90 decibels input
  • Total harmonic distortion (THD)
  • Equivalent input (or internal) noise level (EIN)

AirPods 2 only met two of the standards, bandwidth and THD, while AirPods Pro met all of them except EIN, registering 37 decibel sound pressure levels (dB SPL), when the standard calls for 32 or less.

The AirPods were tested against a $1,500 Bernafon MD1 and a $10,000 OTICON Opn 1. In quiet settings, AirPods Pro helped people hear as well as the Bernafon and nearly as well as the OTICON. The AirPods 2 performed the worst but still helped people hear a human voice better than without using any device.

In a noisier environment, AirPods Pro’s active noise cancellation brought their performance within range of the OTICON device, but only if the noises came from the sides (as you might expect for earbuds).

Apple has long welcomed hearing aids to pair with iPhones, giving them a range of features and controls in its Made for iPhone (MFi) program.

As we head towards Black Friday at the end of the month, has “renewed” AirPods Pro for $239.