Consumer study confirms PSAP concerns. What in the world is a PSAP? We explain, plus why you should think twice before ordering one online.

Spending 30 years as an audiologist has provided me with an amazing perspective on the growth and changes in the hearing aid industry. I’ve seen many fantastic advancements in technology that weren’t possible decades ago. Advancements that have given people the ability to hear and enjoy life like they hadn’t before. Even more exciting, there are today’s innovators (like Eargo) who are developing unique products and new business models that make hearing aids more comfortable, accessible, and affordable.   

But it’s not all good news: given the present technology and design advancements, there’s a category of “hearing devices” attracting attention that’s actually turning back the clock and adding a great deal of confusion for the consumer: PSAPs. A major recent consumer study raised the alarm on the so-called benefits of these devices, and its findings are very telling.

What is a PSAP Anyway?

Before we get into the study, let’s clearly define the difference between a PSAP and a hearing aid. 

PSAP stands for personal sound amplification product and is defined by the FDA as, “a wearable electronic product that is not intended to compensate for impaired hearing but rather is intended for non-hearing impaired consumers to amplify sounds in the environment for a number of reasons, such as for recreational activities.[1]” Consumers and hearing professionals typically refer to PSAPs as “amplifiers.” And these PSAPs are tricky––many of these products are available online or in print publications and market themselves as inexpensive hearing aids, but are greatly lacking in performance and consumer benefit.

Bad and Ugly

To be called a “hearing aid,” a manufacturer must meet the following definition and abide by numerous FDA rules. To be called a hearing aid, the following definition must be met: “Any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” Essentially, if you have designed a Class 1 medical device, such as Eargo, and your intent is to help people with hearing loss, then you can market yourself as a hearing aid.

A Primer on the Consumer Study: MarkeTrak 10

For the past 30 years, MarkeTrak has been a leader in hearing research by talking directly to hearing aid users and non-hearing aid users. Thousands of consumer responses were analyzed for MarkeTrak 10. MarkeTrak has long been regarded as the “gold standard” in understanding consumer behavior and perception in terms of influencing hearing aid research, professional behavior and product development. 

Comparing PSAPs and Hearing Aids

As part of the most recent MarketTrak 10 survey, thousands of consumers using PSAPs and hearing aids were asked to report on 15 key areas of satisfaction. Consumers were asked to judge the categories on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest score. In all categories but one, hearing aids out-performed PSAPs by double digits. To say this is a huge difference is an understatement. Yes, hearing aids are generally more expensive than PSAPs, but there’s a good reason why. Let’s look at the comparisons and let the numbers speak for themselves.

Appearance and Comfort

Category Hearing Aid PSAP
Ease of use 86% 61%
Product Quality 85% 59%
Appearance 84% 55%
Physical Comfort 80% 54%

Hearing Improvement/Sound Fidelity

Category Hearing Aid PSAP
Sound Quality 82% 59%
Clarity of tone and sound 81% 56%
How “natural” things sound 78% 55%
Richness of sound 76% 52%

Use and Maintenance

Category Hearing Aid PSAP
Reliability 85% 60%
Durability 82% 60%
Effort for maintenance 81% 63%

 

And sure, PSAPs are cheaper than hearing aids, but when the question of “value” was posed to the respondents, hearing aids were given a high value score of 74% while PSAPs were only given 57%.

Always be wary of suspiciously good prices.
Always be wary of suspiciously good prices.

When asked about satisfaction with their product, a mere 35% of PSAP owners said they were satisfied with their device. That stat alone should telegraph buyer beware. The study also uncovered that the average lifespan of a PSAP is 20% less than a hearing aid. Lastly, while PSAPs are cheaper than hearing aids, hearing aids were given a high value score of 74%, while PSAPs were only valued by 57%. In short, PSAPs don’t measure up to hearing aids on any measure.  

Even worse, PSAPs amplify everything, so everything sounds louder. Sounds good, right?  In theory, yes—but in reality, you could be doing your hearing more harm than good. Hearing aids are designed to amplify only the hearing frequencies that are missing. Amplifying the parts that are still functioning well could result in destructive noise volumes and cause hearing loss in these ranges as well. 

So, what are the real advantages to a PSAP? Other than price, none. I liken using PSAPs to trying to win the Indy 500 with a scooter. Sure, you’re in the race, but odds are you’re not going to win—and you’ll probably get hurt.

When buying hearing aids, I’m a firm believer that it’s critical to get a hearing aid that meets the following criteria. 

  1. Comfort: Choose a device you’ll be comfortable wearing inside and out. If you don’t like the look and feel, then you won’t use it.
  2. Sound Quality: Get a hearing aid that has a natural fidelity, doesn’t plug up your ears, and also brings back the clarity of speech.
  3. Ease of Use: You want a hearing aid that’s easy to use, easy to insert and remove, and easy to maintain.  

Following these three guidelines will ensure you have a successful experience with hearing aids. And, if you still want to cut corners and consider a less expensive PSAP device, remember that you get what you pay for. 

If you have questions about Eargo hearing aids and if Eargo is the right solution for you, give us a call at 1 (800) 734-7603.

Sources

[1] https://www.fda.gov/media/75418/download

[2] https://blog.eargo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/MT10-Hearing-Review-Article.pdf (Source: HEARINGREVIEW.COM I MarkeTrak 10: Hearing Aids in an Era of Disruption and DTC/OTC Devices)

Author

Steve is Eargo’s Head of Sales Operations. With over 25 years experience as an audiologist, Steve has helped countless patients over the years.

6 Comments

  1. Peter Versteegen Reply

    What I’m looking for is a hearing aid whose frequency response I can tune myself in an arbitrary setting. Use an iPhone to control the settings would be ideal.

    • We’d suggest getting in touch with our hearing experts at 1-800-734-7603 or hearinghelp@eargo.com to learn how Eargo Neo’s Sound Programs can be personalized with all-new hearing settings downloadable from the cloud.

  2. Randy Sanovic Reply

    I’ve ordered a trial set weeks ago…..none arrived???

  3. George Broussard Reply

    I tried Eargo pluses, then the Neo’s. After a few days I realized that the sound was not what I needed, my hearing loss was from a diving accident. So I sent them both back for refund. Its been 12 days now that the shipping delivery acknowledgement was rec’d – BUT NO REFUND?
    Ive written a letter today to Mary McAndrew, maybe she can pass it on to Steve Eagon so I can see some results. Thanks for reading)
    My Doctor will give me a hearing test in 3 mos, then prescribe me hearing aids. PSAPs are a fantastic invention, however, with an actual injury to the inner ear, they perform amplification, but still, I am unable to hear TV well, and of course the cell phone doesn’t do well with the eargo’s.
    Im just wanting to get my monies refunded and move on.
    Thank you Mary!

    • Hi George, Thank you for your comment. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience, and can confirm you have been refunded today as you had discussed earlier with one of our hearing professionals, Renee. Please reach out if there’s anything we can do to help moving forward.

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