PSAPs, or personal sound amplification devices, are hearing devices you can buy in a store or online without seeing a hearing professional first.
They are not regulated by the FDA as hearing devices, although once the final rules are published on hearing devices (expected this year), some of them might become part of that approved category.
PSAPs are not recommended for hearing loss, as they are really just a sound amplifier for people with normal hearing.
As of this writing, PSAPs are only approved as wearable electronic products for occasional recreational use.
Their best use would be for someone like a bird watcher or hunter — to hear very quiet sounds in nature — or for someone who goes to a lot of speaking events and is not sitting close enough to hear well.
“PSAPs are intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. … They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment or to address listening situations that are typically associated with and indicative of hearing loss.” — FDA
Even though PSAPs are not designed to be hearing aids, a lot of people buy them for this purpose because they are cheap and they are “better than nothing.” They even look like hearing aids.
High-tech PSAPs cost about $250 – $350 each. Very basic models cost $30 to $100.
Usually, the lower the cost, the lower the quality of sound.
Avoid those costing under $50; they tend to act as “expensive earplugs” and can even be dangerous if they have output levels of >120 dB.
“Even more of a concern is that our hearing expert says these [$20 – $30] devices have the potential to cause additional hearing damage by overamplifying sharp noises, such as the wail of a fire engine.” —Consumer Reports
Why Not Use a PSAP as a Hearing Aid?
The main reason for not using a PSAP as a hearing aid is that PSAPs are not recommended for any degree of hearing loss, although some hearing professionals say they can help people with a mild conductive hearing loss.
Using a PSAP can help improve sound levels, but there’s a lot a PSAP won’t do, especially in terms of amplifying and decreasing high and low frequencies properly.
Therefore, they shouldn’t be considered as a hearing aid – most types of hearing loss include difficulty hearing high-pitched noises and distinguishing between low-pitched noises correctly.
Some PSAPs even make speech clarity worse.
A PSAP won’t:
- Fix distortion.
- Filter out background noise.
- Be almost invisible.
- Address your hearing loss.
- Amplify high and low frequencies properly.
But the newer models:
- Let you optimize the sound for each environment such as in bars, at home, at work.
- Might include a directional mic, specifically for these environments.
- Use long-lasting batteries – for 10 to 26 days.
- Include a T-coil – that works if hearing loops are installed in event rooms to improve acoustics.
- Limit background noise.
- Might have bass and treble control.
- Protect against damaging overamplification of loud sounds.
- Fit quite well.
- Come with clear instructions.
- Have positive reviews.
- Can be worn as headphones.
Some manufacturers will even go the extra mile and include 24-hour support and a free trial period.
Why Use a PSAP?
Some people with a mild hearing loss don’t need a hearing aid. These are the people who can benefit from a PSAP.
They can hear fine most of the time, but they have a small degree of hearing loss that makes it difficult for them to hear in group situations and in places with a lot of background noise.
A hearing amplifier fixes that.
In summary, if you have a hearing loss, we recommend not buying a PSAP to treat it.
If you are unsure about your hearing, come visit us for a hearing evaluation.
If we see no sign of hearing loss but you’d like to hear better in crowds or in large rooms, we’ll certainly recommend one.
We are committed to helping you communicate better with the world around you, and we look forward to offering the best hearing health solution for you.