Someday, fairly soon, hearing aids may get cheaper

Zenni Optical and Warby Parker have drastically reduced the cost of eyeglasses. After a recent glaucoma drain implant I developed good but double vision. With information from the internet I used my eye doctor’s prescription to get single vision normal, reading, and computer glasses with prism lenses from Zenni. They look great, fit fine, and apparently are true to the prescription. The most expensive pair was $39.92. Zenni charges an extra $9.85 for prism lenses. COSTCO charges $160 for prism lenses.

One of these days, the same thing is going to happen to hearing aids. My year old hearing aids bought on-line for a little less than $350 each are so much better than my $3000 pair it is difficult to believe.

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Glasses and hearing aids are apples and oranges; you just can’t compare them the way you do. First, there’s no such thing as a “correct” hearing aid prescription; in the near-to-mid term, hearing aid fittings are as much art as science. Second, hearing aids require adjustments, maintenance, etc. that glasses don’t. Third, hearing aids are a technology product requiring substantial R&D - advances in hearing aid technology have been quite substantial in the past ten years, whereas Ben Franklin could have made your single vision lenses 250 years ago. Brand-name hearing aids are ridiculously expensive now because of R&D costs, relatively small market, and aging business model. As the market grows and new distribution channels come into play, prices will come down. But not as dramatically as you’d imply, nor as quickly.

As far as your $350 hearing aids being “so much better” than your $3000 pair, yes, I find it difficult to believe.

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Source: Consumer ReportsDate: March 1, 2017

  1. Shop around. Costco, which was highly rated for customer satisfaction in our survey (see below), offers no-cost screenings at some stores and hearing aids for about $500 to $1,500 each. Buying aids online can save you as much as $2,000 per pair, but you may also need to mail them back for adjustments or pay a local specialist to adjust them. It’s always wise to see a doctor or audiologist first to determine your hearing needs and rule out other medical concerns.

My old hearing aids:
Virtue 12
Natural listening experience…meaningless
Highly effective feedback elimination…not very good even with molded ear domes (or whatever they are called)
Directional speech detector…never noticed it working at all in crowded environment
Optimizes sound environments…turns almost off in car, running water, at dinner with 12 people
Automatic telephone response…telecoil wouldn’t work at all…impossible to use wall phone
Approximate price: $1,900.00…that is about right
The Audibel Virtue 12 hearing aid is a cutting-edge device that can effectively solve common hearing aid problems such as feedback and background noise, and it produces exceptionally clear and natural sounds. Its Acoustic Signature feature can evaluate and classify different listening environments, and it provides a seamless transition between them. This product was considered one of the most advanced hearing instruments in the market when it was first introduced…not saying much for R&D

Art rather than science? I don’t think so. It is knowledge and science more than art. The basic fitting programs are complex applications. Some just don’t invest the time it takes to use all the application’s features. It may be sloth or an aversion to technology.

We have amateurs here that have invested the time and seem to do a better job than some licensed fitters. Um Bongo is an example of a fitter that approached fitting from a engineering background. When one approaches from the medical side, they may or may not be computer savvy. That needs to be addressed. The poorer fitters are probably not doing the work that is involved with each new application release. It is a matter of self-directed continuing education…

There’s also the problem of the volume of data in the industry some of which has a shorter and shorter half-life. Especially on the technology side. I’m not afraid to admit that I learn over 50% of the new developments of the brands im less familiar with via this site. There’s also pipeline stuff that we hear about that you pick-up face to face that’s not 100% but a good indication of where things are headed.

That said I’m headed to Nashville next year to see where things are going.

As to the price of product, I can’t see it rapidly diminishing as the costs of the human bits aren’t getting cheaper, the market is increasingly organically and the channels are being constrained. Even Costco are putting out a pair of product at $3k.

Actually, the telecoil kicks in with the “bleep,bleep,bleep” notice if I hold a strong disk magnet next to the hearing aid. But, I still can’t understand what the caller is saying. My new hearing aids connect via bluetooth to my LG smart phone and I can understand the caller with probably 90% comprehension.

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My guess is that the data would show that almost all hearing aid components are made in China.

And what would that have to do with the design, engineering, programming, IC development, software, APP development, testing, fitting, marketing, proving, training, follow-up services etc. that happen in your country? We know the bits in a hearing aid cost less than $50 and are made in a big factory in Souzhou.

Recently the HOUSE pass a bill to allow hearing aids be sold OTC with some regulations. I don’t remeber the HB#. Now it’s up to the SENATE.

It is a flawed business model but I have a hard time seeing one that replaces it. Some drug retailers are getting into the act but there isn’t a full replacement around. Yes, there is Costco and Sam’s as a big box approach. But that doesn’t serve geographic diversity.

The meat of clinic viability is the mild-moderate aging population. OTC can serve that market fairly well. The result will be to lower available customers for a traditional clinic. Some of those will fail; others will see declining profits.

The 3D approach (cloud services) can expand a clinic sales area. That is unlikely to change the profit model greatly.

Some manufacturers are buying clinics and can live with lower profits because of their low product cost. That may be a possible route. But, for now at least, they aren’t shaking up the industry.

I had thought change was in the offing and remember Ol’ Doc Jake disagreeing. In this case he might have been right. It seems the replacement business model hasn’t shown up.

I’ve nothing against the the suggestion of cheaper hearing aids, but the drivers in the market are still favouring the old model. There’s an expanding baby-boomer population with cash who are general disinterested in looking under the hood. Anything more than changing a wax trap is beyond most of the current clients.

I appreciate there is a homebrew market though, but imho it’s a very small proportion, similar to how the this board represents a very tiny amount of the most tech-savvy users, there are thousands of views from amongst the switched on portion of customers and manufacturers, but given hearing aid sales are in the millions, that’s still a tiny fraction of the real market who generally don’t seem bothered by what’s in the box at all.

That said, a better educated market asking for specific product is a good thing, cause it makes for a more realistic sales process.

I think a person should be able to walk into a drug store, Target, Walmart, or whatever store they choose and buy a $250 hearing aid package that includes instructions and some kind of digital media that can be plugged into a device with Bluetooth or whatever wireless connectivity that is implemented on their device. This media would contain an application that would determine the audiogram and set their hearing aid to match the audiogram (“tap the screen or click the mouse when you hear a tone”. The application should allow the user to “tweak” the settings. That person should be able to return it if they choose. The instructions would include directions for ear wax removal like the ones I received prior to a COSTCO hearing test.

The whole package would probably come with “Made in China” printed on it.

iHear is probably the closest to this model currently. For what you’re suggesting, they charge $750. From looking at all the questions on this forum, I don’t know if it can get a lot cheaper. If it gets that cheap, they’ll be essentially become throw away items, and I think a lot would be thrown away as people give up in frustration and they won’t be worth repairing.

Mine from Sound World Solutions are closer and I certainly wouldn’t throw them away. If it wasn’t for their website, I never would have found the Comply ear tips.

I didn’t mean that the Sound World Solutions were junk and only worthy of being thrown away. What I was trying to convey is that if they reached the $250 pricepoint, I think it would be hard for a company to provide adequate support. Lots of new users aren’t sure if the hearing aid is “supposed to sound like this” or if there’s something wrong with it. For Brick and Mortar stores or online stores charging higher prices, it’s no big deal for somebody to check it out. Also, even at $750, there doesn’t seem to be much of a warranty. I’d expect even less if the price dropped. So, if a new user were either to become frustrated that it wasn’t helping, or it seemed to stop working, I think it gettting tossed would be a likely outcome.

We are a little out of sync. You said, “iHear is probably the closest to this model currently.” and I replied that mine were closer to the model (in price). Nowhere did you imply mine were junk. If I remember correctly, mine have a 12 month warranty and Sound World replaced one recently at no cost to me.

Also, not much support would be needed if they can be returned, no questions asked. The manufacturer might be induced to write instructions and a comprehensive application for setting them up that would minimize the number of returns. Hearing aids aren’t as complicated as a Windows 10 computer.

The perfect hearing aid for me would be one that would transcribe my grandchildren’s speech instantly so all I would hear would be a clear, understandable voice. That will be the day!

It’s not crazy at all, but we’re not there quite yet. 5-10 years, though, and I suspect that will be commonplace (as will high-quality real-time translation).

My final comment. I sure get tired of hearing “apples and oranges”. My initial post uses Zenni Optical as an example. Their glasses are made in China and regular shipping takes some time but I would call their website exceptionally good. Basically it is a factory to consumer operation.

Guessing doesn’t help.

The apples to oranges analogy is apt; get used to hearing it.