Hearables are all the rage. And I could not be more enthusiastic about the trend.

What Is a Hearable?

A hearable is a smart device that fits comfortably in your ear and delivers audio sound. However, hearables can do more than deliver music. They can also enhance hearing in certain “noisy” situations, like restaurant dining or a gym workout. Some actually aid hearing for individuals with mild hearing loss. Though, it should be noted, the FDA does not yet classify any hearable as an actual hearing aid.

The genesis of the word “hearable” stems from other smart devices known as “wearables.” Good examples include Fit Bit and Apple Watches. These devices integrate with your smartphone to help you track health and wellness goals. Not to be outdone, some hearables also track fitness goals, too. They can monitor the heart, measure your steps, and provide other health statistics.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas every January, electronics manufacturers vie for media attention and accolades for their newest and coolest gadgets. This year, hearables arrived as one of the cool kids. They’re stylish, no doubt. But manufacturers build these devices slightly larger than typical earbuds to accommodate a bigger battery and more sophisticated features, like noise cancellation. Some models even feature adaptive listening, which means it senses your environment (ex: movie theatre or restaurant) and automatically adjusts the audio stream for the best clarity.

But hearables are more than reliable, advanced, and smart. They’re cool. And that is what makes them a game-changer for hearing health.

Hearables as Simplified Hearing Aids

Some hearables sense and adjust for sound direction. A few feature digital signal processing to analyze ambient noise and separate speech from background sounds. Users can choose standard settings for each environment, for example a “restaurant” setting. The user can also fine tune amplification and sound quality to suit their personal taste. A smartphone app usually handles all of the hearables’ settings. The many hearing-aid-like features anticipate the coming OTC hearing aid market, made possible by 2017 legislation taking effect in August 2020.

Now Hear This!

This confluence of technology, legislation, and wearable trends is good news for hearing well. When everyone is wearing a smart, in-ear device, it won’t matter so much whether they are listening to music or using it for hearing enhancement. So, hearables can play an important part in helping hearing aids becoming mainstream.

As I discussed in a previous article, hearing well is important not only for communication, but for overall health. If barriers to hearing aid use include social stigma or the fear of a difficult user experience, hearables should encourage wider and earlier adoption of hearing aids. And that means more people stay healthier longer, even happier.

If you know someone who is reluctant to address their hearing loss, please share this article with them and encourage them to check out hearable alternatives to hearing aids. As always, I appreciate your thoughts and comments!

Bill Schiffmiller is the CEO and Founder of Akoio, a company dedicated to providing products and services tailored to the needs of people with hearing loss. A life-long hearing aid user and hearing wellness advocate, Bill was the former Accessibility Advocate for Apple, Inc., and received his Master of Professional Studies degree in Design Management at Pratt Institute.