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Bose SoundControl Hearing Aid Review: Pros and Cons

Background 

There is a new category of hearing devices. In 2017, the US Congress passed legislation allowing vendors to sell Over the Counter (OTC) hearing aids that you can buy off the shelf or on the internet without so much as a hearing test or visual inspection of your ear. This month the FDA finally got around to defining what an OTC device is. 

The new Bose SoundControl would be classified as an OTC hearing aid. 

I’m a proponent of OTC hearing devices and will probably offer them as an affordable option when they become legal in the near future.  

I am an audiologist, have worn hearing aids for 30 years and have 40 hears of hearing healthcare experience. I’ve worn all makes and models of hearing aids. I always evaluate a product before we offer them to our patients. 

After buying a pair of the SoundControl, I wore them several weeks while using the free Bose smart phone app to adjust them.  

Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids

Pros   

  1. They do not stream phone calls or music. Bose was smart to do this. When people with mild moderate hearing loss wear aids they do not need wireless streaming to hear phone calls or video sound tracks. Wireless streaming would quicky wear down the batteries and using rechargeable batteries would increase the cost of manufacturing and warranty repairs. 
  2. The phone App was easy to navigate 
  3. Very thorough user manual. It shared an honest explanation of what to expect and not expect. I could not find where the manual shared the 1-year limited warranty.  
  4. Sixty-day money back guarantee. 
  5. Sound quality is good; The aid was better sounding in my mild/moderately impaired left ear. I could tell that the aid was at its limits in my more moderately impaired right ear but still very useable. 

Cons: 

  1. Minimal ear level controls. The sound quality is totally dependent on using the app with blue tooth connection. If you don’t want to hoover over the phone app making adjustments throughout the day, this is not the product for you. Without the app, this aid is simply a general non custom amplifier with volume control and no access to customized memories. There are no audible indicators when volume is changed using the switch on the aid. 
  2. Exaggerated claims. Bose claims that you can self-tune this device and duplicate the quality of a doctor fit prescription aid. I used an oscilloscope (live speech mapping) to check how close the aids were to a prescription target. I found the aids to significantly over amplify or under amplify by 8 decibels. Time permitting, I would like to test this out with more users. 
  3. No hearing test in the app. Other OTC sellers give you the ability to test your hearing acuity with the aids in your ear. Then you can use the result of that test to download custom prescriptions to the app. 
  4. The price is too high. Bose sells high fidelity wireless rechargeable earbuds for about $299 a pair yet they want to charge you $850 for a pair of these entry level aids.  
  5. If you have any common service or repair problems you will have to ship these back to Bose as your local hearing providers do not have the parts,  

My recommendations to the consumer 

Do your homework before you buy any OTC hearing aid. If you live in an urban area with more competition, you will probably find a doctor who has better value hearing aids priced at or below $1000 for a pair. For instance: Gardner Hearing Doctors in Tampa Bay charge $980 for name brand hearing aids with a 3-year warranty instead of 1 year, loss and damage insurance, proper exam, doctor prescription fitting, and the ability to totally control sound with a button on the aid or an app.  If you do choose to buy OTC products, at least ask your doctor to look in your ear canals for obstruction, fungus and fluid behind the ear drum. Most insurances will cover a proper hearing exam. Getting a proper hearing evaluation will give you peace of mind when you buy aids off the internet or at big box stores. 

Bose SoundControl Hearing Aid Owner's Guide

My recommendations to Bose 

I think you will have the best 5 star rated OTC on the market if you make these changes: 

  1. Lower the cost to about $500 a pair. Congress approved OTC products in order to give greater access to better hearing at affordable prices. 
  2. These aids must be bought in pairs. Allow consumers the ability to buy one aid in case they lose one or don’t need a pair. 
  3. Enable users to access custom listening programs through the switch on the aid in addition to using the app. 
  4. Your aids give no audible sound indicators when volume is changed. Give purchasers an audible indicator when they change volume or access custom settings with the switch on the aid.  
  5. Give consumers the ability to test hearing with the app and then apply those results to customize the SoundControl settings. 

Bose, please have an independent researcher evaluate the exact product you are selling in order to validate the claims you make about its performance. 

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Daniel Gardner, M.S.

Daniel Gardner, M.S.

Founder and CEO of Gardner Audiology
Daniel Gardner, M.S.

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