NOTE: Throughout this article, I refer to Lively and the Lively 2 Pro hearing aids. Shortly after I bought my new hearing aids, Lively joined with Jabra to become Jabra Enhance. The Lively 2 Pro model is now the Enhance Select 200. The Lively team remains intact, and the hearing aids themselves are unchanged.
I just ordered a new pair of ears.
I’ve had hearing loss for some years now. How many years is a guess, since the loss is gradual and slow, such that I didn’t even notice it at first.
I’ve written about this before in my post “Now Hear This.”
I’m at the point now that I’ve lost an entire octave at the top of my piano keyboard and understanding conversations is harder. I miss too many words and struggle to understand what’s being said. My brain hurts.
And I’m far, far from alone. About 30 million of us could use a little assist in hearing, yet the majority don’t have hearing aids and aren’t even considering them. One reason is the prohibitive cost of hearing aids. On average, a pair will set you back $5,000, and it’s a rare health insurance policy that covers hearing aids (Medicare does not). Hearing aids had to be prescribed by a professional audiologist, too, which ain’t cheap.
October 2022 marks the beginning of a new era in hearing aids. The FDA has now authorized a new class of Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids, which should be adequate for a lot of cases and much, much less expensive.
BEWARE cheap “hearing assists.” Legally, they can’t be called hearing aids, since that’s a recognized class of devices governed by the FDA. You can get a wide range of assists that “look” like hearing aids, but most just raise the volume. Louder doesn’t necessarily address the problem.
I’ve seen movies at an IMAX theater where the volume levels were downright painful, but I still couldn’t understand dialogue in a lot of situations. If you’re at a bar or a wedding, you know that the cacophony of voices around you makes hearing someone across the table impossible. Situational hearing varies. A good hearing aid accounts for this by dimming background voices and focusing on the voice you want to hear.
I’ve been looking at Lively. (NOTE: Lively is now Jabra Enhance. Same people, different name.) I’ve been ignoring their TV ads for a couple of years, but Wirecutter just listed them as “Best if you’re new to hearing aids.” And I like their set-up.
An online hearing test helps to identify the problems. It won’t replace a professional audiologist, but it’s a good starting point. The Lively (now Jabra Enhance) pros adjust your new hearing aids before they’re shipped, according to the results of the online hearing test, and they should make a great improvement from the first day of use.
As time goes by, I can talk to Lively audiologists, who can then adjust my hearing aids on the fly through the connected app.
With a tap, I can switch between all-around setting, crowded room (restaurant, bar), listening to music, or outdoors (filters out wind noise). Each of these quick settings has different buttons to enhance different sounds or filter them out.
A handy little 3-band equalizer is available to adjust bass, midrange, and treble.
I can also adjust each hearing aid separately. Over time, I can work with Lively audiologists to fine-tune my hearing aids to my personal hearing weaknesses.
Also, take note, I can return them within 100 days for a full refund if they don’t do the trick.
I ordered the Lively 2 Pro model (now Enhance Select 200) which tucks behind the ear, runs a wire into the open dome hearing elements inside my ear canals. A good number of various tips in large, medium, and small are included. These work via Bluetooth with the cellphone app and can even serve as streaming headphones for music and audio from my phone.
And if you have an iPhone, these will also function as your phone headset. (For Android, I still have to use the cellphone’s microphone.)
Of course, the Pro models are rechargeable and come with a case that will recharge the hearing aids if I’m away from home. In fact, the case is good for three full charges of these hearing aids, which is plenty, even if you can’t get to an outlet. They also include cleaning and maintenance tools.
So. How do they work? Right out of the box, they help me hear normal conversations. Boosting the high end frequencies fills in the parts of speech that I’ve been missing. Of course, this will take some getting used to. If you wear glasses, you remember when you first had them – they could be a bit disorienting. Same with these hearing aids, which let me hear the high end that I haven’t heard in years. I would describe the sound as super-crisp. Not tinny, but sound now has an edge to it. Wood floors creak. I can hear my slippers hitting the floor with each step. My pants swish as I walk. Little things like these that I forgot existed are back in my world now.
And, of course, I can talk with my wife without the occasional “huh?” or “eh?” or “what?”
On Day Two, I left them in for almost the entire day. At times, I even forgot I was wearing them, until I crinkled a snack wrapper or made lunch with clanking dishes and the sound of an iron skillet hitting a glass stovetop. All of these sounds were previously muffled, now crisp and clear. I’m anxious to try them out in a crowded setting with loud conversations.
On Day Four I got my wish. A small family gathering with people talking over each other. I was able to listen to and understand multiple speakers at once, almost as if my hearing was not impaired. A couple of folks remarked that I was talking more than usual, actually joining in the conversation. Before, I would sit quietly and just listen. I was always able to hear voices, I just couldn’t fully understand what they were saying. That’s over. I found that switching to the “restaurant” setting on the app helps. I guess that any venue where multiple people are talking at once is going to need this “crowded bar” setting. It really makes a difference.
I just had an orientation appointment booked with a Lively audiologist. She took her time going over the operation of the hearing aids, the cellphone app, and care and cleaning of the hearing aids. At one point during the Zoom meeting, she measured the wires going into my ears and offered to send slightly longer ones. I described the sound of the high frequency sounds I was hearing (crinkling a paper bag was painful), and she sent an adjustment to me while we were talking, helped me download and install the adjustment through the app, and sounds became much better immediately. I also said that I’d be seeing a local audiologist for a proper hearing exam and she walked me through how to upload the resulting audiogram to Lively, so that adjustments can be made according to the audiogram. And, finally, if I need to reach out to Lively at any time, I can call, use the app, or simply text.
So far so good.
I’ll add to this product review over time. If you’re thinking about getting help with your hearing, see an audiologist, talk about a hearing exam. But don’t put it off like I did (for too long). It will make a big difference.
If interested, see www.jabraenhance.com.