Should You Invest in Made-for-iPhone Hearing Aids?

 

For years, I’ve suspected my hearing was not what it should be. I decided to use this column as an excuse to get my ears checked and learn about Made-for-iPhone (MFi) Bluetooth hearing aids. I did some googling and discovered Dr. Jason Aird, an audiologist and technophile working in Southeast Iowa. On our first meeting, he found mild and moderate hearing loss in my left and right ears and gave me an overview of the benefits of using MFi hearing aids. 

What Makes MFi Hearing Aids Different?

MFi hearing aids function like wireless earbuds. While any hearing aid equipped with Bluetooth can connect to the iPhone or an Android phone and may have its own app, only MFi hearing aids can stream phone calls, music, and podcasts from your iPhone. (Users with non-MFi Bluetooth hearing aids can hear phone calls through one ear but can’t stream other audio.) With an MFi hearing system, a user can control volume, battery status, presets, and Live Listen directly from the iPhone or by using the manufacturer’s app. Presets are pre-programmed audio settings for different environments, such as partying, music listening, hearing sounds from behind, and driving. Live Listen is a special MFi feature that streams audio from your iPhone microphone to your hearing aids, allowing someone across the room to speak into the iPhone and talk to the hearing aid wearer.

Hands-On with the Widex Evoke Hearing Aid

Dr. Aird let me test the Widex Evoke and the Siemens Signia Wi-Fi hearing systems. Both sets cost between $3,000–$5,000 and are unobtrusive; other people can’t see I’m wearing them. Dr. Aird customized them for me using software on his PC. I ended up settling on the Evoke because of aesthetics, custom presets, and Apple Watch support.

Soon after leaving Dr. Aird’s office wearing the Evoke hearing system, I went to a restaurant. The loudness of people at adjacent tables startled me. From the iPhone, I lowered the volume, which helped, and I started listening to a podcast. A control in the app let me minimize the surrounding restaurant sounds. Later, while driving and still listening, I changed the setting so I could hear more outside noise.

The first phone call I received was garbled. I rebooted the iPhone and used the Evoke app to play with the sound mixer. Since then, phone calls have been acceptable. In general, the hearing aid audio and music quality is OK but does not rival the sound quality of my AirPods.

Dr. Aird told me that software glitches are somewhat frequent, but that over time MFi has gotten more stable. He said iOS updates can cause problems with a particular manufacturer’s hearing aids, though Apple fixes problems quickly with subsequent upgrades.

In my office, I have a noisy window air conditioner; the Evoke app let me customize a preset. As with an eye examination, the app took me through A/B tests asking if I could hear better with one setting versus another. Once completed, I saved the result for office use.

The MFi hearing aids work with any paired iOS device. As a test, I stopped an audiobook on my iPhone and started a movie on my iPad. Automatically, my hearing aids picked up the movie.

Are They Worth It?

Overall, I am happy with the quality and the unobtrusiveness of my choice. I wear them as needed, mostly in social situations. But before you invest in a pair, you and your audiologist need to discuss what’s best for you.

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      Hal Goldstein (hal @ iphonelife.com) is the founder, partner, and Senior Editor of  iPhone Life. Hal founded Thaddeus Computing in May 1985, and remains CEO (www.thaddeus.com). Since its inception, Thaddeus Computing has written about, bought, and sold pre-owned mobile computers. Hal lives in Fairfield, Iowa, with his wife and co-founder, Rita.