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CR's survey tells you which brands to consider and where to buy them
By Consumer Reports
For people who need them, hearing aids can represent a massive expense. Medicare and many private insurance plans don’t cover them, so most people are simply on the hook for the full price. Consumer Reports members, for example, typically spent $2,680 out-of-pocket for their devices, according to our recent survey.
Buying hearing aids can also be complex, given the wide range of considerations when you’re shopping, including battery life, fit, sound clarity, and more. To complicate matters, there’s also the option of direct-to-consumer hearing aids, generally available online without a prescription, as well as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).
Our newly updated hearing aid brand ratings, based on exclusive survey data from 26,788 CR members, can help ensure that you spend your money wisely.
Our hearing aid brand ratings cover 16 companies: Audibel, Beltone, Bernafon, Kirkland, Lucid, Miracle-Ear, Oticon, Phillips, Phonak, ReSound, Rexton, Signia, Starkey, TruHearing, Unitron, and Widex.
In our brand survey, CR members weighed in on their satisfaction with their hearing aids in three ways: overall; based on different characteristics, such as battery life and reliability; and how they performed in different situations, such as talking in small groups or listening to the TV or radio.
Here’s what we found about brands and retailers, and what to keep in mind when you’re shopping for hearing aids. You can find our buying guide and full ratings here.
Costco Receives Top Marks for Hearing Aid Value
More than 6 in 10 members said they were completely or very satisfied with their hearing aids.
But the survey reveals some differences from brand to brand. As it has in previous surveys, Costco’s in-house brand of hearing aids, Kirkland, landed at the top of the ratings, with an Overall Satisfaction score of 78 (out of 100), followed closely by the Phillips, Oticon, and Phonak brands, all at 75.
Costco’s Kirkland brand was the only brand to receive top marks from members for value, which we defined as satisfaction with a hearing aid’s performance vs. its cost.
Phillips and Rexton also received high marks for value, but all other brands got average to low scores.
Value is an important factor to consider, because it is the strongest predictor of members’ overall satisfaction with their hearing aids.
Insurance Coverage Is Not a Given
As you probably already know if you’ve shopped for hearing aids, insurance for these devices is often spotty, and some insurers—including Medicare—offer no coverage at all.
In our survey, more than half of the 24,483 members who reported on the type of retailer where they bought hearing aids said insurance covered none of their initial costs.
Hearing Aid Pricing
Costco also stands out as a retailer, according to the 9,407 CR members who rated individual retailers. (The company sells hearing aids of other brands in addition to its own Kirkland brand.) Costco, which topped the list in overall satisfaction, is the only retailer to receive top marks for price transparency and for the selection of price plan options.
In fact, Costco is by far the most popular individual hearing aid retailer in our survey.
Perhaps because of this, wholesale clubs were near the top of the chart for overall satisfaction based on retailer type, as rated by 24,483 members, topped only by the Veterans Administration. For those who qualify, then, the Veterans Administration is also a good option.
Our ratings of individual hearing aid retailers include, in alphabetical order, Audibel, Beltone, Connect Hearing, Costco, HearingLife, HearUSA, Miracle-Ear, Sam’s Club, Starkey Store, and TruHearing.
What Matters When Using Hearing Aids
Price aside, Costco’s Kirkland brand and Oticon got high marks for sound clarity, while the other brands we rated received average scores.
All but one brand received high marks for ease of changing or charging their battery (the exception was Lucid, which received an average score), and all received average to high marks for reliability and visibility to others. But for battery life, Audibel, Bernafon, Lucid, and Unitron fared less well than the others we rated.
The Kirkland, Phillips, and Oticon brands received high marks for some of the situations in which people commonly use hearing aids: while listening to the TV or radio and talking on a cell phone. (Phonak and Miracle-Ear also received high marks for listening to the TV or radio.)
All brands received average scores for use when talking in small groups. And all got low marks when used for one-on-one conversations in noisy places, and in loud social settings generally.
If you’re trying to decide which features you may want in hearing aids, CR members also reported on what they consider some of the most important ones.
Smartphone capabilities were the most frequently chosen feature among our members in the hearing aid brand ratings sample. This was followed by rechargeable batteries, wireless connectivity to other devices, automatic switching/adjustment to level of noise in the room, and digital noise reduction.
Non-Prescription Hearing Devices
In addition to traditional hearing aids procured via an audiologist or licensed hearing aid dispenser, consumers also have the option of buying hearing aids direct-to-consumer (DTC) online or via mail order, as well as purchasing non-hearing aid sound amplifiers, known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). (For more on the distinctions between these sorts of devices, see our guide.)
Only 5 percent of CR members who said they use any kind of assistive hearing device used one of these options, which was not enough for us to be able to score individual brands. Still, about 3 out of 4 members who opted for a non-prescription device said it helped them hear better, with moderate differences between the different types of devices.
Among people who used a device marketed as a DTC hearing aid, 84 percent said it improved their hearing, while 71 percent who used a device marketed as a PSAP said it helped them hear. Among those who said they used a self-fitting hearing aid (at the time of the survey, just one option for this type of hearing aid was on the market, from Bose), 79 percent said it helped them hear.
Editor’s Note: This article is based on a Consumer Reports survey conducted between Dec. 2, 2021, and Jan. 4, 2022.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.