Here at the Strategist, we like to think of ourselves as crazy (in the good way) about the stuff we buy, but as much as we’d like to, we can’t try everything. Which is why we have People’s Choice, in which we find the best-reviewed products and single out the most convincing.
We’ve embarked on countless searches for audiophile-worthy equipment, including Bluetooth headphones with hi-fi sound, turntables beloved by professional DJs, and portable speakers for a wide range of purposes. Here, we’re looking into sound amplifiers (also known as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs) that are available on Amazon. (Note that reviews have been edited for length and clarity.)
In December 2016, the FDA announced that it would begin the process of designating less-pricey PSAPs as “over-the-counter hearing aids.” Many reviewers on Amazon note that these amplifiers work well enough (and use similar sound-processing technology) to serve as viable alternatives to audiologist-issued hearing aids. Still, we’d advise consulting a medical professional if you opt for these aids.
Best overall sound amplifier
“I have used several different hearing aids, and this is every bit as good as the most expensive. I have severe hearing loss in my right ear and moderate loss in my left. I can now walk through four programs designed for just about any environment I might encounter. Some of the hearing aids I had in the past didn’t allow a full volume control; in other words, it would only turn down as low as I kept asking my wife to talk to me because I didn’t think it was working (no buzz, no hum, no echo, nothing), after a few days of this she said, ‘I know it’s working because you don’t say what, huh, or could you repeat that nearly as often as you used to.’ It is so comfortable, twice I have forgotten and left it on in the shower, and once I slept with it all night. I have never had this happen before.”
Best affordable sound amplifier
“I kid you not! I paid $6,000 for two sets of hearing aids — one that I could wear while swimming in the pool and the other for all other times. They worked fine, but my hearing in my right ear went fast, and soon I could not use either hearing aid at all. Recently, I began attending a very small but very special church, and I was having so much trouble hearing the service that I decided to try a hearing amplifier. I knew I had made the right choice as soon as I opened the super-nice case. The voices coming in my ear were clearer and suddenly I was connected with the world again. My hair is just long enough to cover the hearing aid, but I would not mind if everyone saw it — I love it that much.”
Most comfortable sound amplifier
“I had to start using these bionic ears when I could not hear and understand all of the other attorneys and the judge in court. Not only did they work perfectly, with the emphasis on speech hearing and understanding, they also are quite good in restaurants with a lot of background noise, and even at home watching TV. The volume can be kept way, way lower, and I understand way more of the dialogue. They do what they are supposed to do, and do it better than I’d hoped. I find them comfortable and so easy to ignore that I have to make certain to remind myself to put them away before showering. While not cheap, it is a small price to pay for being able to understand conversation again. I am a happy camper.”
Best waterproof sound amplifier
“I am using Walker’s Game Ear as a replacement for a regular hearing aid. I am amazed this hearing aid works as well as the expensive one. It is tuned to catch high frequency and that is what I lost and what one loses first in hearing. You can also adjust that, too, but I left it alone since I know it is high frequency that I am missing. I’m sure I have saved at least $2,500 on a new hearing aid for my right ear. So many of us can’t afford the high-priced hearing aids, and this is more than an alternative, this takes their place. Just remember if you haven’t worn hearing aids before, the more you wear them, the better they get. High-priced hearing aids are not going to help you any better than these … that is my case anyway.”
Best rechargeable sound amplifier
“The expensive hearing aids are totally out of range of my budget. I’ve tried some of the cheaper ones and some perform to a certain degree. So when I decided to try the Banglijian BLJ-109, I didn’t expect much, but I figured I wasn’t losing much money if it was another dud. However, as soon as I put it into my right ear and flicked the switch, I knew this was something different. Most men lose hearing in the upper frequencies. For instance, I had trouble distinguishing cat from hat, line from dine or pine, etc. With the BLJ-109, I noticed that I could make out the first consonants of a word, which escaped me before and exasperated me and my girlfriend. A friend of mine who has one of the grossly expensive hearing aids — he’s a veteran and gets it paid for — tried the BLJ-109 and told me that it performs as well as, if not better, than his.”
Best over-the-ear sound amplifier
“My mother has had three sets of very expensive hearing aids. She doesn’t like them because she says they eventually hurt her ears, even though they are custom-made. She has also lost two pairs and the dog ate one. The trouble is, she can’t carry on a conversation because she cannot hear anyone. This made her depressed. I took her to her doctor’s office and had the audiology department do a hearing test to determine if her hearing was in fact worse. As they were preparing to speak with her, a nurse pulled out this wonderful piece of technology and adjusted the headset on my mother. She then proceeded to have a conversation with her, which is something none of us of has been able to do for a while.”
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