Published Jun 22, 2022 5:49 PM
Virtually all hearing aids cost $1,000 or more, which makes finding the best hearing aids under $100 prohibitively challenging. Modern hearing aids contain advanced digital technology, including tiny computing systems that allow them to be highly customizable and amplify only certain sounds. Most inexpensive hearing amplifiers have not been approved as hearing aids by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, like the hearing aids of the past, focus on simply amplifying sound without the same level of customization.
“If you go back 10, 15, 20 years ago to what hearing aids used to be, they’re now becoming more of a direct-to-consumer solution,” said Dr. Vinaya Manchaiah, director of audiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. These products are called personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) and can technically only be marketed to people without hearing loss who want to amplify their hearing.
However, many people use these items to help them with hearing loss out of necessity, either because insurance will not cover the cost of hearing aids or because they do not have insurance and cannot afford to buy a hearing aid out-of-pocket. While some cheap PSAPS have minimal benefit and can actually further damage hearing, research shows that others can benefit people with hearing loss. Here are some personal sound amplifiers that can help you hear better for under or around $100 per device.
How we chose the best hearing aids under $100
To find out general information on hearing aids, personal sound amplification products, the differences between them, and what determines if an amplifier is safe to use, we spoke with five audiologists and heard from a sixth over email. All sources answered questions about affordable hearing aids and amplifiers, though two answered questions focused on PSAPs and direct-to-consumer hearing aids. For more general information and our recommendations for true hearing aids, please see our article on top hearing aids.
To determine our product picks, we looked at products compared in scientific studies, a comparison published in a professional magazine, and comparative tests done by staffers at Wirecutter and Consumer Reports. We also looked at recommendations for limits on safe hearing aid sound amplification. In choosing, we mainly primarily considered each product’s price, how well it worked compared to true hearing aids, and whether it was safe to use without the potential of damaging hearing. The size and discreetness of the best hearing aids under $100 were also considered, as was ease of use.
Things to consider before buying a personal sound amplification device
Get your hearing tested
The first step you should take before buying any hearing device is to take a hearing test. You’ll get the best results at a doctor’s office but there are also hearing tests that you can take online. The doctor will be able to diagnose possible causes for hearing issues, such as ear infections, injuries, or blocked canals.
Generally, PSAPs are appropriate for those with mild or moderate hearing loss, the two least severe categories of hearing loss. If your hearing loss is categorized as severe or profound, PSAPs—even the best hearing aids under $100—may not be helpful for you. You’ll likely need true FDA-approved hearing aids to improve your hearing.
Check your insurance and consider your options
It’s worth double-checking that you aren’t able to get insurance to cover the cost of hearing aids before investing in a PSAP. Though these devices are affordable, studies show that many people tend to be more satisfied with a true hearing aid that can be customized for their hearing loss. Insurance companies will likely not cover the cost of any PSAP because they are not considered medical devices. If your barrier is not cost, but rather a hesitancy to seek or lack of access to medical care, you may also want to consider online providers of true hearing aids, such as Lively and Lexie.
Consider the risks
PSAPs range in price from less than $30 to around $500 or even more for a pair. The cheapest PSAPs are simple sound amplifiers, amplifying all sounds equally regardless of relevance. That might be okay if you are talking to only one person in a quiet room but will likely be confusing in any noisy environment. Research shows that around 90% of these devices have poor sound quality and don’t meet sound standards set for hearing aids.
“They are simply general amplifiers,” said Dr. Rachel Smith, a clinical associate professor of audiology at the University of Rhode Island. “So they’re just kind of making everything louder.”
Other studies have found that because cheap hearing amplifiers can block the ears without amplifying sound properly, people tend to hear worse while wearing them. Very cheap amplifiers also have the potential to do more harm than good, overamplifying sound and causing further damage to hearing. Even investing more in one of the best hearing aids under $100 is usually a better choice if you want a device that has the best chance of working for you without causing further damage.
The best hearing aids under $100: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: Sound World Solutions CS50+
Why it made the cut: Though it’s on the more expensive side, this device is one of the few that can truly stack up favorably against a traditional hearing aid.
- 12 hours of battery life, rechargeable
- 3 presets, complete customization through app
- 112 dB maximum sound amplification
- Data on effectiveness when compared to a hearing aid
- Helpful features like Bluetooth for calls and music
- Highly customizable through both presets and the app
- Hundreds to thousands less than hearing aids
- More expensive than some PSAPs
- Not discreet
These devices are some of the few that stack up well against true hearing aids, according to multiple studies. In a 2017 comparison published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, these devices performed the closest to hearing aids of the five PSAPs tested, as measured by participants’ accuracy in interpreting speech. In another study published in 2018, the CS50+ performed the closest to a true hearing aid out of three PSAPs when tested for audibility, speech recognition, listening effort, and sound quality. As a well-studied and tested product, you can also be sure it’s safe to use.
The SWS CS50+ has three pre-set frequency modes, though you can customize the amplification further through the accompanying app. It uses rechargeable batteries, which have a 12-hour charge, that come with the device. You can also use the device’s Bluetooth to listen to music or take phone calls.
The main disadvantage of these PSAPs is their significantly higher price and, since they are sold individually, you need to buy two. Still, they are hundreds or thousands of dollars less than almost any hearing aid and in many ways compare favorably in terms of quality. They are also quite bulky and noticeable, though reportedly not uncomfortable to wear.
Most affordable: Britzgo Otto (BH-220)
Why it made the cut: If you’re on a tight budget, these affordable devices are likely safe, amplify sound effectively, and are helpful for many.
- 500 hours battery life, disposable
- 4 preset modes
- 129 dB maximum sound amplification
- Extremely long battery life
- Somewhat customizable
- Positive reviews
- Limited information on safety and effectiveness
- Not rechargeable or Bluetooth compatible
At $60 per device or $113 for a pair, these Britzgo hearing amplifiers work for you if you are on a tight budget. They come in two colors—blue and silver—and are relatively discrete. The style is similar to “receiver in the ear” hearing aids, though they are bulkier than most similar-looking hearing aids. It has four pre-set modes: one for low frequency (pitch) sounds, as well as for high frequencies, medium frequencies, and a wide range of frequencies. You can switch between them based on your preferences, hearing loss, and environment. The device is fairly easy to control and it has easily replaceable batteries that last a long time.
Not many studies evaluate devices in Otto’s price range and many do find that these devices have little benefit or are even harmful. However, with over 2,000 positive reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that many people feel that they have benefitted from these inexpensive devices. In a frequency response test done by Wirecutter, the devices amplified sound in much the same way as other amplifiers, including ones that are much more expensive, though they didn’t do as well with some of the highest frequencies.
These amplifiers are generally considered to be safe and not harmful. Birtzgo’s devices are designed by doctors and audiologists, and the Jobs Accommodations Network claims on its website that they are certified to be safe by 96% of audiologists, though it’s unclear where this claim comes from. Consumer Reports found that all but the cheapest PSAPs are generally safe to use. That said, the maximum sound amplification level and full-on gain of the Otto, two measures of sound amplification, are both above what the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) has suggested (110 dB and 35 dB, respectively) as a safe maximum level for an over-the-counter product. That means some very loud, sustained noises (such as a siren) could be dangerously loud when amplified, especially if the person still has a substantial hearing at that frequency.
Best headset-style option: BeHear Access
Why it made the cut: This versatile and affordable device looks like a normal Bluetooth headset but can also amplify sound and reduce noise. in a variety of situations.
- 13 hours of battery life, rechargeable
- 4 preset modes + 2 telecoil modes
- 116 dB maximum sound amplification
- Bluetooth capability for calls and music
- Somewhat customizable
- Amplifies sound effectively and likely safely
- Limited information on safety and effectiveness
- Not discreet or appropriate in all situations
The BeHear Access costs $300 dollars in total but it only requires a single device. That means you’re effectively paying $150 per ear. That’s the general price range of many devices listed here. This device looks and in many ways works like a regular Bluetooth headset, but can also amplify sound in a wide variety of situations. Like many amplifiers, it’s especially recommended for one-on-one conversations, watching TV, and talking on the phone. It works best in situations with limited background noise. It has three modes for amplifying different frequencies and incorporates a host of technologies, including noise reduction. Like a regular Bluetooth headset, you can also use it to take cell phone calls or listen to music.
The same Wirecutter sound comparison that looked at the Otto above also found that this product amplified sound in a similar way to many other devices—specifically, in a way that would amplify high frequencies more (age-related hearing loss tends to impact higher-frequency hearing first). If anything, the BeHear Access amplified the highest-frequency sound slightly more effectively.
Like other mid-range PSAPs, this device is likely safe to use. Its maximum sound amplification is also lower than the Britzgo Otto amplifier, though still slightly over ASHA’s recommendation, though its full-on gain is higher. The device is rechargeable and features a telecoil, which can be used with some landline phones as well as with amplification systems in places like churches and movie theaters to amplify sound directly through the device. This device can be used with or without its corresponding app.
Best body-worn device: Pocketalker Ultra
Why it made the cut: The Pocketalker is an affordable, easy-to-use hearing device that has been shown to be able to meet guidelines met by hearing aids for people with mild hearing loss.
- 200 hours of battery life, disposable
- Only one mode, adjustable tone and volume
- Roughly 123.8 dB maximum sound amplification
- Easy to use
- Some data on quality/effectiveness
- Likely safe
- Long battery life
- Virtually no customization
- Data suggests only appropriate for mild hearing loss
One of the least expensive types of PSAPs, as well as the simplest to use, body-worn devices amplify sound from a person’s surroundings through a box-like device connected to headphones. Wearers only need one device to work in both ears.
In a 2016 analysis, the Pocketalker Ultra met many of the same sound targets met by hearing aids for mild hearing loss, as well as some for moderate hearing loss, though for moderate hearing loss it fell below the typical standard.
A main advantage of a device like the Pocketalker is that it’s extremely simple to use. There’s no app to figure out and it doesn’t have multiple modes. You simply plug in the included earbud or headphones, listen, and adjust the tone and volume as needed. Of course, this simplicity can also be a disadvantage, since it’s not as customizable as other PSAPs and far less so than hearing aids.
Though the Pocketalker comes with two headphone options, it can be used with a variety of headphones, making it somewhat more uncertain what the maximum sound amplification might be. Its specs indicate that it falls into the same place as the other devices on this list. That’s over ASHA recommendations, though not substantially, and so is likely safe to use. The Pocketalker uses two AAA batteries and boasts a battery life of 200 hours, far longer than any true hearing aid.
Best discreet device: Tweak Focus+T
Why it made the cut: For those who value a more discreet device, the Tweak Focus+T is much less visible but still has been shown to be effective and compare favorably to hearing aids.
- 5-7 days of battery life, disposable
- 2 environment presets + telecoil, 4 amplification modes
- Unknown maximum amplification
- Data on effectiveness
- Small and discreet
- Long battery life
- Not rechargeable
- No Bluetooth calls or music
- Not as effective as the SWS CS50+
If a larger, more noticeable hearing amplifier is a major drawback for you, this product might fit your needs. In the same 2017 JAMA study that tested the CS50+, researchers found that this device also compared favorably to hearing aids, though it did not work at well as the Sound World Solutions device.
The Tweak Focus has a longer battery life (five to seven days) than our previous pick but its batteries aren’t rechargeable, and there is no Bluetooth compatibility for taking calls or listening to music. It’s also less customizable, though it has two presets for different environments and four ranges of amplification for different severities of hearing loss (in addition to volume control). It also has a telecoil.
Like the Sound World Solution device, this one has a higher cost but is also more easily comparable to traditional hearing aids. It’s also likely very safe because it’s been well-studied and was designed by an audiologist.
Q: What brand of hearing amplifier is best?
Several studies have found that overall, the Sound World Solutions CS50+ can provide superior sound amplification that is in some ways on par with a true hearing aid while not damaging remaining hearing with overamplification.
Q: What is the easiest hearing amplifier to use?
Of the amplifiers on our list of best hearing aids under $100, the Pocketalker is likely the easiest for most people to use, as it requires minimal setup, does not have various modes, and has no associated app.
Q: Can you buy a hearing amplifier online?
Yes. You can buy any of these amplifiers online. You can also buy many true hearing aids online, notably through direct-to-consumer services like Lively and Lexie, though these options are more expensive than PSAPs and our picks for the best hearing aids under $100.
Q: How do I choose a hearing aid or amplifier?
A doctor can provide the best advice if you have access to one. Beyond that, we try to recommend solid options that work for the majority of people. If you choose to purchase a true hearing aid through an audiologist, they can also help you decide what might work best for you based on your needs and individual hearing loss.
Q: Is it OK to use only one hearing air or amplifier?
Using only one hearing aid or amplifier might work well if you only have hearing loss or have much more hearing loss in one ear than the other. If you have hearing loss in both ears but can only afford one amplifier or hearing aid, using only one will not hurt you, but it may not be as effective as using a pair.
Q: What are the side effects of a hearing amplifier?
Hearing aids or amplifiers that are used properly and fit well shouldn’t have notable side effects. Hearing aids that are adjusted to be too loud can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and headaches, while hearing aids that don’t fit properly can hurt the outside of the ear or the ear canal or can be itchy. If they are adjusted right or don’t work well for you, you might not be able to hear well.
Hearing aids can sometimes cause acoustic feedback, where they will make a ringing sound, which happens when the amplifier picks up sound from its speakers that’s already been amplified. Properly adjusted hearing amplifiers should not have excessive feedback, though it may still be an occasional issue.
Q: How long does it take for your brain to adjust to a hearing amplifier?
Research shows that the longer someone with hearing loss does not wear a hearing amplifier, the harder it is for their brain to adjust to sound amplification. With hearing aids, many people adjust in two or three weeks, but it can take some as long as four months to get used to them.
Q: What is the average lifespan of a hearing amplifier?
Most true hearing aids last between three and seven years, though they can last for longer. There is less data on the lifespan of PSAPs. You can make sure the best hearing aids under $100 last as long as possible by caring for them properly.
Final thoughts on the best hearing aids under $100
Selecting an affordable personal sound amplification product can be tricky, especially with many products that are functionally useless or could damage hearing. Though truly effective products may come with a steeper price tag, and the best hearing aids under $100 are more likely to be a true help to you in addressing hearing loss if you cannot currently access a true hearing aid, and can help you feel less cut off from the sound and the people you love.