In addition to listening to music, some Apple headphones can help a large number of people with hearing loss find affordable hearing aids.
A group of scientists tried to discover whether the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, which are widely available and cost $ 129 and $ 249, respectively, can work as a hearing aid for hearing impairments.
AirPods Pro has built-in noise cancellation, and scientists note that AirPods Pro meets 4 out of 5 technical standards for hearing aids. Users just have to press and hold the force sensor to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode (the latter lets outside sound in).
In 2016, Apple introduced a feature called Live Listen that allows people to use wireless earbuds to amplify sound.
This feature makes the AirPods work similarly to hearing aids, designed for people with hearing problems.
How do you use the Live Listen feature?
To use the Live Listen feature, you need to connect your AirPods to your iPhone; Then go to Settings and Control Center, scroll down, and tap the plus button which appears as a small ear icon.
The researchers tested the four devices on 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss.
They read a short sentence, such as “The electricity bills have recently gone up,” to the participants, who were asked to repeat their words while wearing the devices.
The AirPods Pro performed similarly well as medical hearing aids in a quiet environment, only slightly less than premium hearing aids.
They found that AirPods 2 – while having the lowest performance of the four – helped participants hear more clearly compared to not wearing a hearing aid.
In a noisier environment, AirPods Pro showed similar performance to premium hearing aids when the noise came from the participant’s side.
However, when the noise came from in front of the participants, both types of AirPods failed to help the participants hear better.
“The reason for the difference between the two scenarios may be the paths that sound waves travel, as well as the signal processing algorithm from the front by the distinct hearing aids, ” Ying Hu Lai, co-author of the study and bioengineer at National Yangmeng Xiao Teng University in Taipei, said in a statement. We hope this finding will inspire engineers at Apple to design hearing aids and personal sound amplification products that are more sensitive to specific directions.”
He also adds that the performance of “AirPods Pro” sounds better than “AirPods 2”, most likely due to the noise cancellation feature.
The wireless earphone market is growing rapidly globally, and some companies are interested in exploring the possibility of designing earphones with sound amplification features.