10 iPhone hearing aid apps that preceded BioAid

By: Jonah Comstock | Apr 2, 2013        

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bioaidA British team at the University of Essex recently announced the launch of a free, open source app called BioAid to explore the project of turning the iPhone into a hearing aid.

The core concept is very simple, and has, in fact, been thought of and implemented by various companies at least since 2009: Smartphones have built in microphones and they can play audio through headphones. By creating an app that simply takes the audio feed from the microphone, amplifies it, and plays it in the headphones, you can create a rudimentary hearing aid.

From there you can add additional features that bring the app closer to what a real hearing aid does — algorithms that filter out certain noises or selectively amplify certain frequencies, for instance, or recording features that let you play back something you might have missed. Of course, how well a hearing aid app works depends not just on the app itself, but also on hardware: When the New York Times wrote about apps as a hearing aid substitute last May , they profiled a man who used a $5 iPhone app — but with a $100 external microphone and a $150 pair of headphones.

BioAid is novel in that its developers are offering it for free in order to solicit feedback from users to continue to develop the algorithm that mimics the normal noise filtering of the human brain. Also, the app both amplifies quiet sounds and de-amplifies loud ones. The team hopes to change the way hearing care is delivered. The app also allows the user to save different amplification profiles, something other apps on the market don’t offer — for instance, one for watching television at home and another for meeting friends at a crowded bar.

“The mobile phone is a great platform for rapidly transferring hearing aid technology from the laboratory to the hands of the public,” Nick Clark, one of the UK-based developers, said in a statement. “Standard hearing aids, which can cost thousands of pounds, are only dispensed by a professional after a hearing test. BioAid offers a simple alternative accessible to anyone with an iPhone or iPod. The hearing test is replaced by an exploratory process, allowing users to find which setting works best for them. In the short term, people unsure about visiting a hearing care professional might be swayed to do so by BioAid, which can only be a good thing.”

Here’s a list of iPhone apps available through the US app store that use the built-in microphone and headphone jack to help people with hearing loss. Some are regularly updated, others appear to be “zombie apps.” Some are free, while others cost up to $35. Some claim to be hearing aids, others shun that label. At least one is made by a hearing aid company.

soundAMP from Ginger Labs

sound amp

Although hearing aid apps seem to be an open field, a few apps look like they’ve made their mark. Ginger Labs, whose soundAMP app got a nod in the New York Times article mentioned above, also claims to be the hearing aid app that Apple includes on demo products in its Apple Stores. The $5 app has a complex mixing control, recording capability, with a bookmarking feature, and multitasking. On the other hand, the app hasn’t been updated since 2010, so it’s unclear whether it works on the iPhone 5.

Hearing Aid from TiAu Engineering UG

hearing aid1

This iPhone and iPad app, from a German company, has noise canceling capabilities and a basic “low-medium-high” frequency sound equalizer. It can work with both plugged in headphones or Bluetooth devices. The company offers a free version and a $1.99 version, but it’s unclear what the difference is between the two.

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  • David Ragel Díaz-Jara

    The best is EQ HearAid

  • Andy Berlin

    Readers might also be interested in the new “TV Louder” app for iPhone and iPad, which was just released a few minutes ago. Not a hearing aid but really useful. It uses the iPhone microphone to listen to the TV, learns what the TV sounds like, filters out noise, and then plays the TV sound back louder through the headphones. Let’s you keep the TV volume lower.

  • Al bergman

    Do you know of one that will work with iphone that is bluetooth compatible ?

  • George McHugh

    Once a product says that it is a hearing aid, in the US at least that means that it is a medical device that must be dispensed by a licensed professional. With most device’s built in dB limits, it seems these apps are unlikely to cause physical damage by being too loud. The real danger with hearing loss, and not working with a professional, is two fold: 1) Hearing is “use it or lose it”. Much hearing loss is in our sound processing abilities. Some of the apps claim to test your needs, and if they worked well there might be no harm done. But if you really need hearing aids and don;t get them, you will be exacerbating your loss at an ever steeper decline and 2) If one has over confidence in the “aids” performance there could be safety problems in specific situations. It is exceptionally unfair that hearing aids are the only modern technology that has gotten smaller ( now truly miniature) AND more expensive. Everything about the technology is basic, and although much effort is put into sound management algorithms, they are not rocket science. OK, they do involve acoustical physics, but still!

  • George McHugh

    most apps that use headphones can use the blue tooth headphones, because they are just another headphone. It is not 100%, but probably 80-90% will.