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A new study shows AirPods Pro are about on par with prescription hearing aids, although they may not replace medical devices in all situations.
Apple has some features designed to help people with mild hearing loss. One, called Live Listen, allows people to amplify sounds in their environment using AirPods.
Conversation Boost then uses the AirPods' beamforming microphones to achieve similar audio amplification, but specifically for conversations.
A study published Tuesday in the journal iScience found that these features help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss hear speech almost as well as two prescription hearing aids from other companies.
AirPods Pro did not meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for hearing aids. But they improved the sound in the same way as some less advanced hearing aids.
“They won't replace hearing aids, but it's a good way for people to know what the world would be like if they could get some help, upgrade their hearing,” said Yen-Fu Cheng, ear specialist , nose and throat at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, who co-authored the study.
Dr. Cheng and colleagues also found that the AirPods 2 were unable to acceptably reduce hearing loss.
In the study, 21 adults with mild to moderate hearing loss underwent a hearing test while wearing Apple AirPods with Live Listen enabled. They also passed the test by wearing a basic pair of hearing aids and a premium set.
They reported the best experience with $10,000 premium hearing aids. However, AirPods Pro showed almost the same results, and AirPods 2 – noticeably worse.
The AirPods Pro met the standards in four out of five categories, and the AirPods 2 met the criteria in two categories in the sound and clarity test. AirPods Pro have overcome the ideal internal noise threshold to help users distinguish between quieter sounds and speech.
According to Michele DiStefano, director of the Shelley and Stephen Einhorn Center for Audiology at the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York City, the limitations of AirPods as hearing aids include battery life.
Users can expect up to five hours of music playback on a single charge and up to three hours of talk time on a single charge. The second generation AirPods Pro can provide up to six hours of music playback on a single charge and up to 4.5 hours of talk time.