Hearing Amplifiers vs. Hearing Aids: What You Should Know?

Disclaimer: If you are experiencing hearing loss, we strongly recommend visiting a hearing health professional. OTC hearing aids and hearing amplifiers are not a replacement for medical advice, and sudden, unexplained hearing impairment should be considered a medical emergency. 

Researching hearing assistance devices can be incredibly confusing. Knowing your options can help a great deal—such as hearing aids vs. hearing amplifiers.

There's a good chance you know someone who would benefit from a hearing assistance device. If you don't, it might just be yourself. Unfortunately, there's no shortage of obstacles when it comes to obtaining one, from high cost to the time it takes to get a professional hearing test. 

As you might expect, these issues have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

In the United States, the FDA has sought to address this problem by making some hearing aids available over the counter. Unfortunately, that's only served to make things more confusing for some people, even further blurring the lines between the myriad options available to the hearing impaired. Today, we're going to clear the air at least a bit by explaining the difference between two of your most common choices — hearing aids and hearing amplifiers.   


What Are Hearing Aids?

In North America, hearing aids are considered a class 1 medical device. Although still subject to strict regulations and quality control standards, they're also considered low-risk, meaning they aren't surgically invasive.  Contrast this to cochlear implants and bone-anchored hearing devices, both of which are class 3, requiring surgical implantation. 

Although typically available via prescription from an audiologist, hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss are also available over the counter. They provide a range of unique features, including tinnitus relief, Bluetooth connectivity, control via a companion app, live troubleshooting, and even artificial intelligence. Additionally, they generally ship with a comprehensive warranty, as most hearing aids are intended to last up to a decade.


What Are Hearing Amplifiers?

Also known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), hearing amplifiers do precisely as their name suggests. They amplify all sound in the wearer's surroundings without isolating any specific frequency. Their simplicity makes them ill-suited for anything beyond very mild hearing loss, and in some cases, they can actually worsen the wearer's hearing impairment.

Hearing amplifiers are typically used in situations where an individual needs to hear distant sounds with greater clarity. They're frequently used by hunters, birdwatchers, rescue teams, and security personnel. They can also help the wearer hear distant conversations or listen to media at a lower volume.


How do Hearing Aids Differ from Hearing Amplifiers?

Initially, one of the core differences between PSAPs and hearing aids was that the latter were available only via a prescription. Even now that this is no longer the case, the two device types still differ from one another in a multitude of ways. These include: 

  • PSAPs are not medical devices and are not regulated by a governing body.

  • Even a mid-range hearing aid will likely be costlier than most PSAPs.

  • PSAPs amplify all sound, while hearing aids amplify specific frequencies. 

  • Modern hearing aids typically leverage a companion app that provides the user with greater control over their device. 

There may be also quality, support and price difference between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers.  



If you know someone you suspect may be struggling with hearing impairment, a hearing amplifier may allow you to gently demonstrate this to them. That, in turn, could potentially convince them to schedule a hearing evaluation. Aside from this narrow use case, hearing amplifiers are of little use where hearing loss is concerned — it simply isn't what they're designed for. 

And although hearing aids are typically much more expensive than PSAPs, remember that you get what you pay for. The sound correction and advanced features of a hearing aid often more than justify the price. With that said, even though you can purchase hearing aids over the counter, you should not simply go out and buy one.

Instead, we recommend scheduling an appointment with an audiologist before making any purchase decisions. In addition to diagnosing your unique class of hearing loss, they can help you choose a hearing aid that's the best fit for your needs.