Eargo 6 hearing aid
“Eargo 6bs are super small, but normal hearing aids sound better and have better features.”
Great customer support
Tiny 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 merger of Sivantos and Widex in 2019, it’s now the Big Five. But the Big Five’s grip on the market is starting to weaken due to the arrival of new players like Jabra and Bose, online sales and changing regulations. One of these new players is Eargo, a direct-to-consumer hearing aid company. He released the Eargo 6 in January and sent me a pair for review. Here’s what it was like to use them.
There’s 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 inserted into the ear canal, they disappear into the shadow of the ear. I took a photo from the side of my head and couldn’t see them from any angle. The only thing I could see was the device’s removal wire – a clear plastic string that stays outside the ear.
Once inserted into the ear canal, they disappear.
Unlike most hearing aids, the Eargo 6 is rechargeable, so you won’t need to change hearing aid batteries every few days. Eargo claims to have a battery life of 16 hours, 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 getting this prompt, so the battery life claims seem accurate. As for the case, it’s supposed to last three days between charges. When I wore just one hearing aid, I could last almost a week between charges, and even longer if I didn’t wear them all day.
The Eargo 6s were as comfortable as my regular hearing aids.
Aside from charging and cleaning, Eargo 6 won’t require much daily care. The company recommends replacing microphone caps and petals every few months. Eargos come with replacement microphone caps and petals. The petals allow a perfect fit inside the ear canal. They are made of soft and flexible silicone and are available in two sizes and styles.
Eargo 6 hearing aids come with medium-sized closed petals installed. The first time I wore them I had feedback and occlusion issues. Occlusion is the echoing, hollow sound of your own voice when you cover your ears. The size and style of the petal was also very uncomfortable, bordering on pain.
To make Eargo 6 almost invisible, one big thing had to be sacrificed: Bluetooth.
During my welcome call with Eargo, the hearing care professional suggested I upgrade to mid-sized open petals to solve all of these issues. I was skeptical that different petals would reduce the feedback, but she was right. Once I fitted the correct petals, the Eargo 6 hearing aids were as comfortable as my regular hearing aids.
In order to make Eargo 6 rechargeable and almost invisible, one important thing had to be sacrificed: Bluetooth. The Eargo app connects to the charging case via Bluetooth, but the hearing aids themselves are not Bluetooth compatible. Your phone communicates with the hearing aids using ultrasound signals.
As soon as Eargo’s hearing care professional told me that, a lot of Eargo 6’s little quirks made sense. The Eargo app prompts you to turn up the volume if you try to make adjustments while the phone volume is too low, otherwise the signals won’t be strong enough. Apparently it’s common for people (myself included) to mistakenly program only one hearing aid on their first try because they’re holding their phone to one side. It can also cause sound tuning adjustments to only apply to one hearing aid, as the user’s head blocks the ultrasound signals.
The Eargo app guides 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 him if he can hear them. Although similar to an audiometry test, it should not be considered a substitute for it.
After completing Sound Match, the results will be used to create the “Normal” program for your Eargos. You can use this program for most quiet environments, such as your home or a classroom.
The Eargo 6 has several other programs to optimize the hearing aids in different situations. Different programs change the volume and apply filters, masking background noise so conversations are easier to hear. The programs also have persistent settings, so that the treble reduction in the TV program does not affect the bass increase in the Mask program. If restaurants are usually too loud, you can lower the volume in the Restaurant program and then return to the Normal program when you leave.
You can also switch between programs by pressing in front of your earlobe. It’s triggered by an accelerometer, so you need to use a fairly firm key. Tapping only changes programs one side at a time, but it’s a subtle way to change programs without having to pull out your phone.
I always had the same problem: the high frequency sounds were just too loud.
I experimented with the programs, but didn’t switch much between them. I could tell the programs were different – TV, music and phone all sounded different from each other – but none were better than the Normal program in my experience. I also never change my regular hearing aid program, so I’m sure personal preference plays a role here.
When I changed the program, I always had the same problem: the high frequency sounds were simply too loud. I lowered the treble as much as possible, but that only dulled the effect.
As I can hear high frequency sounds very well, it’s quite understandable, but I’ve had a few issues that aren’t specific to my hearing loss. My car sound rang loudly and echoed, 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 hissing noise. This happened a few times when I was watching TV, but was more common in public, with things like backing up trucks or beeping machines.
The worst case happened when someone set off the burglar alarm at an office supply store. Every time the door alarm rang on my right, the left hearing aid (the only one I wear) rang in my ear. This happened about 10 times before the door alarm went off, and the hearing aid never “realized” it had to filter out this 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 understand what was being said. The quality wasn’t bad, high frequency sounds aside. Eargo support can program the 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, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but people with high frequency hearing loss may have better results.
Our point of view
Eargo 6 hearing aids are designed for special customers, namely those with mild hearing loss who do not want anyone to know they are wearing a hearing aid. I wonder how big that customer base will be in a few years, given two things: the rule changes proposed by the Food and Drug Administration allowing the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, and the growing popularity of headphones in general. When no one can tell the difference between hearing aids and headphones, would anyone want to pay more for an invisible hearing aid that doesn’t stream music?
Is there a better alternative?
The Eargo 6 is quite a unique product. There aren’t many other tiny, rechargeable, self-programmable hearing aids out there. If you’re not obsessed with invisibility, traditional hearing aids offer better sound quality at a comparable price.
How long will they last?
The Eargo 6 has an IPX7 water resistance rating and can be submerged in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. They are not meant to be worn while swimming, but they will accidentally survive in the shower. However, you should delete them as soon as you notice them. During the two-year warranty period, Eargo will replace each hearing aid once if it is lost. Outside of warranty, Eargo may be willing to repair devices for a fee. All of this is typical of the hearing aid industry.
Should I buy them?
At $2,950 a pair, Eargo 6 is similarly priced to most of its competitors. 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 expect from a hearing aid, Eargo will bend over backwards to make you happy with your purchase.
Personally, I’ll stick with my old regular hearing aid. Nobody notices it anyway, and it has Bluetooth.