AirPods Pro 2 as Hearing Aids? An Audiologist's Review

The AirPods Pro 2 (also known as 2nd generation) are Apple's latest offering in their line of true wireless earbuds. Known for their sleek design and seamless integration with other Apple devices, these earbuds have become a staple for many tech enthusiasts. They offer high-quality sound, better battery life and active noise cancellation, making them a popular choice for music lovers and professionals alike.

In September 2020, Apple released the iOS 14 update, which essentially turned the AirPods Pro into (almost) hearing aids. I did a detailed review on the AirPods Pro at that time to see how well they amplified sound for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. To be honest, they performed pretty well. In fact, after seeing my review video, several individuals brought their AirPods Pro into my clinic for us to optimize them, and many of them experienced a relatively good amount of success with these devices.

Since then, Apple has released the new AirPods Pro 2, which has the same features that allow you to turn your AirPods into hearing aids. Technically speaking, the AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2 are not hearing aids or over-the-counter hearing aids, but they obviously have some hearing aid capabilities. Therefore, I decided to review these devices just like I would any other over-the-counter hearing aid device.

Airpods Pro (2nd generation) and case

One of the most significant upgrades from the first-generation AirPods Pro is the inclusion of a new internal H2 chip. This chip samples sound at an astonishing rate of 48,000 times per second. To put this into perspective, the latest hearing aid from Phonak, a leading hearing aid brand, samples sound at a rate of 700 times per second. This advanced technology allows the AirPods Pro 2 to offer a wide range of sound capabilities with lower distortion.

According to Apple, the H2 chip gives the latest version:

  • Better Active Noise Cancellation
  • Better Noise Reduction
  • Better Acoustics

These devices have a battery life of 6 hours, which is a 33% increase over the 4.5 hours of the previous generation. While this increase is impressive, it is still not as good as most rechargeable hearing aid systems. Many modern prescription hearing aids, including popular models like the Oticon Real and Phonak Lumity, offer a full day of battery life. To wear hearing aids all day long, someone would need to purchase 2 or 3 pairs to make it through an entire day.

Dr. Cliff's Pros and Cons for Airpods Pro 2

Airpods Pro 2 Pros

  • Cheaper than hearing aids
  • Customizable with the MIMI app hearing test
  • Good streaming capabilities

Airpods Pro 2 Cons

  • Limited battery life
  • Doesn't fit all ears
  • Limited customization

The Hearing Aid Capabilities of AirPods Pro 2

While Apple does not market the AirPods Pro 2 as hearing aids, they come equipped with features that can enhance hearing abilities. The earbuds come standard with a transparency mode, which allows users to hear the world around them through the headphones. This feature can be particularly useful in noisy environments, where distinguishing individual sounds can be challenging.

However, the transparency mode's amplification volume is quite low and not customized to the user's hearing loss. To transform the AirPods Pro 2 into a form of starter "hearing aids," users need to take several steps:

  1. Take a hearing test and upload your audiogram. Every person's hearing loss has a unique shape. To unlock the AirPods' full potential, users need to take a compatible hearing test and upload their audiogram. This allows the AirPods to compensate for the user's specific hearing loss in both streaming and transparency modes. To get an audiogram, visit one of our HearingUp providers. They can give you a professional hearing test and talk to you about the differences between Airpods Pro 2nd Generation and prescription hearing aids. To get a professional hearing test, look for one of our HearingUp providers near you.
  2. Update audio accessibility settings. With the audiogram in place, users can navigate to the "Headphone Accommodations" settings on their device and tune their AirPods to match their audiogram. This customization ensures that the sound from the AirPods is tailored to the user's specific hearing loss shape.
  3. Turn up the transparency mode volume on the AirPods. The built-in Transparency Mode in the AirPods Pro 2 isn't loud enough to assist most people with hearing loss. However, users can increase the volume of the world around them through a few simple settings adjustments.

The Live Listen Feature

One of the standout features of the AirPods Pro 2 is the Live Listen feature. This feature uses the iPhone as a microphone to drown out background noise and amplify sound. It can be particularly beneficial in crowded spaces or when trying to hear someone speaking across the room more clearly.

However, it's crucial to note that while Live Listen enhances hearing, it does not replace a hearing aid. Hearing aids are designed to amplify sound and are highly specific to the user's particular type of hearing loss, ear anatomy, and needs. An audiologist can help determine the best solution for each individual.

Conversation Boost

Another feature of the AirPods Pro 2 that deserves mention is the Conversation Boost. This feature is designed to help users focus on the voice of the person directly in front of them in a crowded environment. It's a useful tool for those who struggle to hear in noisy situations, such as in a busy restaurant or at a social gathering.

To turn on Conversation Boost, you need to navigate to your device's accessibility settings. From there, scroll down and tap on 'Audio/Visual', then 'Headphone Accommodations', and turn it on. Once your AirPods Pro are connected to your iPhone or iPad, open the control center. With the hearing control added to the control center, tap it to show the menu. Tap 'Headphone Accommodations', then 'Transparency Mode' if it's not already on. Tap anywhere outside the menu to go back to the hearing controls, scroll down, and tap 'Conversation Boost' to turn it on.

The Limitations of Using AirPods Pro 2 as Hearing Aids

While the AirPods Pro 2 offer some hearing aid-like features, they are not without their limitations. For one, they may not be comfortable for all-day wear. The design of the earbuds may not fit comfortably in all ear shapes and sizes, leading to either the earbuds falling out or discomfort over prolonged use.

In addition, the social dynamics of wearing earbuds constantly can be challenging. In many social situations, wearing earbuds can be seen as a sign of disengagement or a lack of attention. Many people still view using earbuds while around others as rude, and might not realize they are being used for hearing enhancement purposes. This can lead to misunderstandings and awkward interactions.

Lastly, the sound output may not be sufficient for those with more than mild hearing loss. While the AirPods Pro 2 can enhance hearing abilities, they are not designed to replace hearing aids. They lack the power and customization that comes with a professionally fitted hearing aid.

Putting Airpods Pro 2 to the Test: Real Ear Measurement

Using the latest in hearing aid verification procedures (Real Ear Probe Tube Measurement), we tested the Airpods as hearing aids with my assistant Bri, who has a mild to moderate hearing loss. After entering her audiogram, the initial settings of the AirPods Pro 2 failed to match her prescription for anything above 1000 Hertz on their initial settings based on her entered audiogram, essentially leaving her significantly under amplified, which would provide her with little to no benefit using these devices. We attempted to customize the transparency settings to Bri's prescription and after several attempts of modifying the amplification levels, transparency, balance, and tone settings, we got closer, but not good enough - we were still not meeting her hearing loss prescription above 3000 Hertz, which would ultimately caused her to struggle with clarity and speech.

Real Ear Measurement of Airpods Pro 2 (after adjustments)

While testing the capabilities of the AirPods Pro 2, we noticed that setting the Transparency Mode tone control to the "Darker" setting increased the low frequency amplification and decreased high frequency amplification. Users should be careful when they shift it over to "Darker" because while that might sound a little bit more natural to them, it actually can create a phenomenon called upward spread of masking, where the low frequencies can end up drowning out the clarity from the high frequencies. For context, imagine trying to listen to a piccolo with a tuba playing right next to it! I have a video on the upward spread of masking here.

My Verdict

After using the AirPods Pro 2 in various settings, I found that they could be a good starting point for those with mild hearing loss who are looking to experiment with amplification for the first time. The sound quality and clarity were impressive, and the devices did a good job of picking up voices and reducing background noise. They are a testament to how far technology has come, offering a range of features that can enhance the listening experience. Their potential use as a hearing aid alternative is intriguing. However, it's important to remember that they are not a replacement for professional hearing aids.

Hearing aids are medical devices designed to address hearing losses of all kinds. They are fitted and programmed by professionals to meet the unique needs of each individual. While the AirPods Pro 2 can provide some assistance for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, they cannot provide the same level of care and customization that hearing aids can. Therefore, if you're considering using the AirPods Pro 2 as a hearing aid alternative, proceed with caution and fully understand their limitations. They can be a useful tool for those with mild hearing loss, but they are not a cure-all solution. If you're experiencing hearing loss, I strongly recommend consulting with an audiologist to determine the best solution for your needs.

Cliff Olson

Cliff Olson is an Audiologist and the co-founder of HearingUp and Applied Hearing Solutions in Phoenix, AZ. In addition, he runs and creates content for the popular DrCliffAuD YouTube channel.


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