It’s no secret many adults suffer from at least some loss of hearing. In the US, the rate is about 15 percent overall and much higher for men. For those for whom hearing loss is a significant problem, hearing aids are an obvious solution. For those of us who only have minor issues — often age-related high-frequency loss — it’s a tradeoff between simply living with it and dealing with the cost, ergonomics, and often perceived stigma of wearing hearing aids.
Signia has introduced a new line of Active hearing aids in an earbud form factor, with the goal of reaching a new audience for their hearing aids. Their target is people who aren’t comfortable wearing traditional form-factor devices but are familiar and comfortable with earbuds. I’ve been working with a pair of Signia Active Pros for a few weeks now, and they’re definitely novel, with some unique strengths and a few drawbacks.
Note: Like most hearing aid companies, unfortunately, Signia doesn’t release pricing. But I’d expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 to get a pair, fitting, and ongoing customization and service from an authorized audiologist. That prices them below the very top models when purchased from a traditional audiologist, and in the same ballpark as high-quality hearing aids purchased from a Costco hearing center.
Signia’s Active Earbud-Shaped Hearing Aids
Signia offers a range of products in its new Active family of hearing aids. The Actives give you all the hardware, with built-in machine learning that works to adapt to each situation. The Pro version adds a lot more customization options. Unfortunately, without pricing, it is a bit hard to compare them. From what I can tell, the premiere experience of the Pro version costs about 50 percent more. If you can afford it, I think that makes a lot of sense. If you can’t, then it might be worth thinking twice about what you’re getting and what else is out there.
Customizing Signia Actives
In addition to the amazing amount of tech medical-grade hearing aids pack into a very small package, the primary selling point is the customization in fit and function provided by an audiologist. Historically, thanks to legal regulation, they had the market mostly to themselves. Now that it’s becoming easier for hearing devices over the counter, often for much less, the value of those services is an increasing part of the sales proposition for hearing aids approved as medical devices.
Signia works hard to make that case for its Active earbuds. As part of purchasing them, you work with an audiologist who can load up a number of customized programs that are also tuned to the results of your hearing test. They can also tweak the devices’ most powerful “Universal” program to help tweak it to your liking. As a simple example, when I’m streaming music, I don’t want to hear the outside world any more than necessary, so the audiologist I worked with turned off the external microphones for that situation.
You definitely don’t want to skimp on this process, as it can make all the difference in the world to the quality of your experience. As another example, I’m often in front of a computer and found that the fan noise was getting amplified in some modes. Via the Telecare capability built-in to the Signia app, I was able to work live with an audiologist while I sat at my computer and she reduced the volume of the distracting noise.
Long Battery Life With the Charging Case
A major design tradeoff for earbuds and hearing aids is power versus battery life. That’s especially true for listening to music and videos. High-end consumer earbuds typically only last a few hours on a charge, thanks to their relatively powerful speakers. Hearing aids, in contrast, are expected to last at least 10 and ideally closer to 20 hours on a charge.
Signia’s Active family tries to span that gap by having their case double as a charging station. The earbuds’ own batteries can be used for listening for up to 26 hours, but streaming uses the battery at a slightly faster rate. However, the case holds another three full charges. You can recharge the case wirelessly or using a USB-C cable.
Bluetooth Streaming, With Limits
The Active devices are officially certified as “made for iPhone” so they should operate seamlessly with an iOS device for streaming music and making phone calls. Unfortunately, the same isn’t quite true of Android. To stream music or make phone calls with Android, you need to use the optional Streamline Mic, which you pair with your phone or another device. It is a high-quality directional microphone that also doubles as a remote control, so as accessories go, it’s pretty slick. However, it is definitely an inconvenience to have to dig around for it whenever you want to stream music.
Speaking of streaming music, Active earbuds include a high-fidelity music streaming capability that modulates signals up to 12kHz, instead of a lot of other medical devices that top out at 8kHz. I could hear the difference when listening in that way, with more precision in detailed sounds. Signia offers another accessory called Streamline TV, which allows you to stream directly from your TV, but we didn’t have a chance to test one in time for this review.
Living With Hearing Aids: Everyone Else Is Suddenly Deaf
I found that the Active Pros also amplified the sound of my voice, especially outdoors at a distance. So I spoke more quietly and was, therefore, harder to understand than usual. If you wear the earbuds consistently, I think that would be pretty easy to compensate for, but if you only wear them sometimes, it might be a little trickier. This issue isn’t unique to the Active Pros, but because they fit so well, I was more comfortable wearing them when playing sports than I have been with some of the other pairs I’ve reviewed.
My Hearing Experience With the Active Pros
There was no question I could hear better in many situations when wearing the Active Pros. In particular, the “Face Mask Mode” helped me better understand the speech of those wearing masks, but also that of people who speak softly or with an accent. As the company said they would, the Active Pros stayed in place nicely even while playing sports.
However, I didn’t find that I could put them in my ears and forget about them, the way I could when reviewing more traditional hearing aids. They were great for a few hours, but then I’d find myself wanting to take them out for a bit. If you have mild hearing loss and only want to use them for specific circumstances, that’s probably fine. If you need to wear them all day, I’d definitely also try out a more conventional set to see which you prefer. One great thing you get by working with a quality audiologist is that you should be able to demo one or more pairs of hearing aids before you buy.
Are Signia Actives Right for You?
From my perspective as an Android user, I’d really like to see both some ability to control the volume or program using touch, and direct streaming from my phone for that price. However, the customization options and sound quality are excellent once you’ve worked with an audiologist to get them set up to your liking, so I have no issues with them on that account.
If you’re on the fence about whether you’re ready for a traditional hearing aid, but don’t have a problem wandering around with earbuds for hours at a time, a pair of Actives or Active Pros might be a great choice for you.
Hearing Aids: Better, Cheaper, and More Accessible Than Ever
Nearly everyone suffers from some hearing loss as they age, but for most people it isn't bad enough to warrant the expense of seeing an audiologist. Thanks to the new Hearing Aid Act, that's changing, as companies can now sell hearing devices direct to consumers. We look at some of the most promising.
Google Releases Live Transcribe, Sound Amplifier to Help With Hearing
Whether you have serious hearing loss or a slight impairment, Google's new hearing assist applications may prove helpful if you have a phone that can run them.