“The Eargo 6b are super small, but normal hearing aids have better sound and features.”
- Very comfortable
- Great customer support
- No Bluetooth
- Inconsistent connectivity
- Tinny sound quality
The hearing aid market has long been dominated by The Big Six companies: Phonak, Resound, Oticon, Sivantos, Widex, and Starkey. However, after a 2019 merger of Sivantos and Widex, it’s now down to The Big Five. But The Big Five’s stranglehold on the market is beginning to weaken due to the arrival of new players like Jabra and Bose, online sales, and changing regulations. One of those new players is Eargo, a direct-to-consumer hearing aid company. It released the Eargo 6 in January and sent me a pair for review. Here’s what it was like to use them.
There is one design element that sets Eargo’s hearing aids apart: They’re virtually invisible. The hearing aids themselves are tiny, about the size of a multivitamin. Once they’re inserted into the ear canal, they disappear into the shadow of the ear. I took a picture of the side of my head and couldn’t see them from any angle. The only thing I could see was the device removal thread — a clear plastic string that remains outside the ear.
Once they’re inserted into the ear canal, they disappear.
Unlike most hearing aids, the Eargo 6 is rechargeable, so you won’t need to fiddle with changing hearing aid batteries every few days. Eargo claims they have 16 hours of battery life, depending on usage. The Eargo app prompts you to charge them if the hearing aids have less than 25% battery life. I wore my hearing aid for over 12 hours without receiving that prompt, so the battery life claims seem accurate. As for the case, it is supposed to last three days between charges. When wearing one only hearing aid, I could go almost a week between charges, and even longer if I didn’t wear them the entire day.
The Eargo 6 were as comfortable as my regular hearing aid.
Aside from charging and cleaning, Eargo 6 won’t require much daily care. The company recommends replacing the microphone caps and petals every few months. Eargos come with some replacement microphone caps and petals. The petals allow for a snug fit inside the ear canal. They’re made of soft, flexible silicone, and they’re available in two sizes and styles.
The Eargo 6 hearing aids ship with medium-sized closed petals installed. The first time I wore them, I had problems with feedback and occlusion. Occlusion is the echoey, hollow sound of your own voice when you plug your ears. The size and style of the petal were also very uncomfortable, bordering on painful.
To make Eargo 6 nearly invisible, one big thing had to be sacrificed: Bluetooth.
During my welcome call with Eargo, the hearing professional suggested I switch to medium-sized open petals to solve all these problems. I was skeptical that different petals could reduce feedback, but she was right. Once I had the right petals installed, the Eargo 6 hearing aids were as comfortable as my regular hearing aids.
In order to make Eargo 6 rechargeable and nearly invisible, one big thing had to be sacrificed: Bluetooth. The Eargo app connects with the charging case using Bluetooth, but the hearing aids themselves aren’t Bluetooth-enabled. Your phone communicates with the hearing aids using ultrasonic signals.
As soon as Eargo’s hearing professional told me that, a lot of Eargo 6’s little quirks made sense. The Eargo app prompts you to turn the volume up if you try to make adjustments while the phone volume is too low, because the signals won’t be strong enough otherwise. Apparently it’s common for people (myself included) to mistakenly program only one hearing aid on their first try because they hold their phone off to one side. That can also make sound tuning adjustments only apply to one hearing aid, because the user’s head blocks ultrasonic signals.
The Eargo app walks customers through a simple pairing process, then programs new devices using Sound Match, which tests the user’s hearing loss by playing tones at different volumes and frequencies, then asking if they can hear them. Though similar to an audiometry exam, it shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for one.
After you complete Sound Match, the results will be used to create the “Normal” program for your Eargos. You can use this program for most quiet environments, like your home or a classroom.
The Eargo 6 has several other programs to optimize hearing aids for different situations. The different programs change volume and apply filters, masking background noise so conversations are easier to hear. Programs also have persistent settings, so lowering the treble in the TV program doesn’t affect the increased bass in the Mask program. If restaurants are too loud in general, you can lower the volume in the Restaurant program and then switch back to the Normal program when you leave.
You can also switch between programs by tapping in front of your earlobe. It’s triggered by an accelerometer, so you need to use a pretty firm touch. Tapping only changes programs for one side at a time, but it’s a subtle way to change programs without having to take out your phone.
I always had the same problem: High-frequency sounds were just too high.
I experimented with the programs, but didn’t switch between them much. I could tell the programs were different — TV, Music, and Phone all sounded different from one another — but none was better than the Normal program in my experience. I never change the program on my regular hearing aid, either, so I’m sure personal preference plays a role here.
When I did switch programs, I always had the same problem: High-frequency sounds were just too high. I lowered the treble as much as possible, but that only took the edge off.
Since I hear high-frequency sounds just fine, this is somewhat understandable, but I had some problems that aren’t specific to my hearing loss. My car’s dinging sounded warbly and echoey, and high-pitched sounds in speech (like the “S” sound) were always a bit tinny.
Sudden high-pitched sounds would sometimes cause Eargo 6 to emit a shrill whistle. This happened a few times when I was watching TV, but it was more common in public, with things like trucks backing up or beeping machines.
The worst case happened when someone triggered the antitheft alarm in an office supply store. Every time the door alarm beeped to my right, the left hearing aid (the only one I wear) blared into my ear. This happened around 10 times before the door alarm turned off, and the hearing aid never “realized” that it needed to filter out that sound.
The Eargo 6 hearing aids had decent sound quality for general use. If I plugged my good ear, I could listen through the hearing aid and make out what was being said. The quality wasn’t bad, high-frequency sounds aside. Eargo support can program hearing aids using a copy of the user’s audiogram, but I didn’t have a copy of mine to send them. In my case, that likely wouldn’t have made a difference, but people with high-frequency hearing loss may have better results.
The Eargo 6 hearing aids are designed for particular customers, namely those with mild hearing loss who don’t want anyone to know they’re wearing a hearing aid. I wonder how big that customer base is going to be in a few years, given two things: The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule changes allowing for over-the-counter sale of hearing aids, and the increasing popularity of earbuds in general. When no one can tell the difference between hearing aids and earbuds, will anyone want to pay more for an invisible hearing aid that doesn’t stream music?
The Eargo 6 is a fairly unique product. There aren’t many other hearing aids that are tiny, rechargeable, and self-programmable. If you’re not obsessed with invisibility, traditional hearing aids offer better sound quality at a comparable price.
The Eargo 6 have a water-resistance rating of IPX7 and can be submerged in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. They’re not meant to be worn while swimming, but they will survive accidentally being worn in the shower. You should remove them as soon as you notice, though. During the two-year warranty period, Eargo will replace each hearing aid one time if it is lost. Outside of the warranty, Eargo may be willing to repair devices for a fee. This is all typical for the hearing aid industry.
At $2,950 per pair, Eargo 6 is similar in price to most of its competition. For reference, Costco has hearing aids as low as $1,400 per pair — but they look like hearing aids. If invisibility is the most important feature you want from a hearing aid, Eargo will bend over backward to make you happy with your purchase.
Personally, I’ll stick with my regular old hearing aid. No one notices it anyway, and it has Bluetooth.
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