Finger tapping the Bluetooth button on a touchscreen
HEARING AIDS

Clearing Up the Confusion Around Bluetooth and Hearing Aids

BY EARGO - APRIL 1, 2024

 

 

Bluetooth: the cool technology with the funny name has become increasingly ubiquitous since its inception 30 years ago. It uses radio waves to allow devices to share their connections wirelessly over short distances.

As we approach the quarter mark of the 21st century, this technology is without a doubt omnipresent in our lives; in fact, it’s estimated that around 10 billion devices use Bluetooth. It’s in your car, your phone, your speakers, your printer, your home appliances, and more. More than ever before, it is revolutionizing wearable technology like earbuds and hearing devices.

In today’s consumer electronic space, the majority of products feature Bluetooth as standard, but what does it actually mean for us?

Connectivity vs. Streaming

Bluetooth hearing aids have been evolving quickly for the last 10 years or so. The technology allows for a number of beneficial features which can be thought of as falling into two broad categories: Bluetooth Connectivity and Bluetooth Streaming.

As a rule, products described as hearing aids with Bluetooth fall into the Bluetooth Connectivity category—they pair to your compatible phone or tablet and enable you to control certain hearing aid settings, either from the phone itself or through a companion app.

Graphic depicting Bluetooth technology connecting to multiple different devices Bluetooth Connectivity lets you pair a compatible device to control settings.

By comparison, products described as Bluetooth hearing aids usually fall into the Bluetooth Streaming category—they pair to phones, tablets, and more to allow wireless streaming of phone calls, music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other audio directly through the hearing aids.

Graphic depicting Bluetooth technology streaming from multiple different devices Bluetooth Streaming lets you pair a compatible device to stream audio.

As innovation progresses, many products will actually be able to achieve both Bluetooth Connectivity and Bluetooth Streaming.

According to Deb Corti, Eargo’s Senior Director of Product Management, “Customers considering a purchase of hearing technology should know how to differentiate between devices that have Bluetooth Connectivity and those that feature Bluetooth Streaming so they can select a product that suits their individual needs. Connectivity allows for remote control and customization options, while Streaming can enhance the audio listening experience with calls, music, and more.”

Deb Corti, Eargo’s Senior Director of Product Management Deb Corti, Eargo’s Senior Director of Product Management

Size Matters

The components required to make the Bluetooth magic happen include a microchip and tiny antennas and receivers that process radiowaves and facilitate the wireless communication from the phone or app to the hearing aid.

Not all products are able to incorporate all Bluetooth technology features due to limitations in their form factor (the physical specifications of the hardware).

view of Eargo 7 hearing aid components Eargo 7 uses Eargo Ultrasonic (EUS) technology in place of Bluetooth.

In particular, smaller styles of hearing aids, like completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or invisible-in-canal (IIC) devices that sit within the ear canal have limited real estate for these components. It’s therefore much more common to see behind-the-ear (BTE) and visible in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids that feature Bluetooth Connectivity and Bluetooth Streaming.

When it comes to Eargo products, our virtually invisible, self-fitting, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids (Eargo 5, 6, 7, and Eargo SE) are indeed too tiny to include these Bluetooth components, so we placed the components inside their charger cases instead.

Hand holding Eargo 7 hearing aid device The virtually invisible Eargo 7 is less than 3/4" from end to tip.

The charger connectivity allows users to program the self-fitting Sound Match results into the devices and allows them to apply firmware updates to their products. This connection places these Eargo devices in the hearing aids with Bluetooth category.

For in-ear customization, Eargo 5, 6, 7 and Eargo SE get around the small size problem by using a technology that’s completely different from Bluetooth. These devices instead use proprietary Eargo Ultrasonic (EUS) communication waves from the paired mobile device to the already-present microphones in each hearing aid, which are able to receive the commands. This means users can adjust the volume, mute, treble, and bass and change programs without Bluetooth.

However, with our newly released, discreet, OTC earbud product, LINK by Eargo, we have entered the Bluetooth hearing aids category. Wearers can experience hearing aid mode in one of four preset programs and can seamlessly switch to streaming rich-fidelity sound quality for music, audio, and phone calls. LINK by Eargo is the first product in this category to feature Bluetooth 5.3.

LINK by Eargo device shown in ear LINK by Eargo is an earbud-style hearing aid with Bluetooth Streaming.

Jennifer Gilligan, Senior Product Manager at Eargo, says, “With an extended range, enhanced audio quality, and improved power efficiency, Bluetooth 5.3 technology revolutionizes the hearing aid experience yet again. This lets users stay connected and engaged with the digital and real worlds like never before.” She continues, “Earlier this year, Eargo was the first to add this new technology to its portfolio, debuting an earbud-style OTC hearing aid with Bluetooth 5.3. With a discreet design, LINK by Eargo offers users the best of hearing life to the fullest and Bluetooth Streaming, all in a low-profile form factor.”

Jennifer Gilligan, Eargo's Senior Product Manager Jennifer Gilligan, Eargo's Senior Product Manager

In a world saturated with technology, gadgets, and innovation, it can be difficult to navigate the information and make an informed choice as a consumer. We hope this article has helped to clarify a few of the main points. Below are answers to some of the most common questions we get about Bluetooth hearing aids.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bluetooth hearing aids vary in cost, but the National Council on Aging says Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids run between $699 and $7,500 per pair, depending on the form factor and the specific Bluetooth capabilities.

You can talk on the phone or listen to music with hearing aids that have Bluetooth Streaming capabilities. However, not all Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids have this ability. Some hearing devices have Bluetooth Connectivity, which is a separate feature. Bluetooth Connectivity allows you to pair your hearing aids with a device (e.g., a smartphone) to adjust the settings or modes—for example, to select from different listening programs or control the volume through a paired mobile app.

Whether hearing aids with Bluetooth are better than other hearing aids depends on your individual needs, preferences, and lifestyle. Some of the advantages certain Bluetooth hearing aids can offer include wireless connectivity, audio streaming, and remote control and customization, but you may have to sacrifice other benefits like smaller size, virtual invisibility in the ear, or enhanced aid to your hearing.

Bluetooth earbuds are not the same as Bluetooth hearing aids. Earbuds alone are not designed or certified to function as medical devices like hearing aids and are not held to the same standards. While general earbuds can certainly stream audio with other paired devices, they lack the specialized technology and customization capabilities that exist in hearing aids to specifically help address hearing loss. 

If you want a device that combines an earbud form factor and functionality with hearing aid functionalities, look for earbud-style hearing aids, such as LINK by Eargo, that include one or more hearing aid modes plus Bluetooth Streaming capabilities.

The numbers you see after Bluetooth correspond with the version of the technology. The higher the number, the newer the version. For example, compared to Bluetooth 5.1 and 5.2, Bluetooth 5.3 allows your devices to communicate over longer distances, offers improved audio clarity, supports lower-latency streaming (reducing the delay between transmission and playback), and uses power more efficiently, which can prolong the battery life of your devices.

Learn more about hearing aids on the Eargo blog.