This information was published in the Daily Mail 10 Feb 2010

Eight million Britons suffer from hearing loss. Many don’t need a hearing aid, but require something to help make conversation clearer, which is where hand-held ‘amplifiers’ come in. But how good are they?

ANGELA EPSTEIN asks Kevin Taylor, a technologist for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, for his verdict...

 

Let's hear it for the 21st century ear trumpet: A deaf woman listens to her friend through
a hearing aid.
New hearing amplifiers make conversation clearer without the need for a full hearing aid
 
POWERFUL HEARING AMPLIFIER HA-18, £19.95
hktdc.com
 

Matchbox-sized device with volume control wheel that also works as an on/off switch.

It’s claimed to help you hear everything ‘loud and clear’, boosting sounds by up to 50 decibels.

VERDICT: Has reasonable headphones that come with interchangeable tips of different sizes.

An amplification of 20 to 30 decibels is best; the high amplification of this device could be a disadvantage as the higher you go, the more feedback there is, distorting the sound.

It comes with a tone setting to adjust the treble (high) and bass (low) sounds; many people have high-frequency hearing loss, so enhancing the treble may help.

But the sound quality was generally poor and the microphone picked up lots of handling noise (ie when it rubbed against clothing), causing a distracting whooshing sound.


RATING: 4/10. The HA-18 Hearing Amplifier boosts the treble but has a distracting whooshing sound
CRESCENDO 50, £89
0844 824 3000; asda.com
 

Mobile phone-sized device, this simply claims to amplify sound and allow you to listen at a volume that is comfortable.

VERDICT: Produces good sound quality and the controls are easy to use.

You can also connect it directly into the audio output socket of your TV using a special lead.

Getting the sound direct from the source improves sound quality, and means others can still watch TV normally.

It has excellent features, including a loop listening device, so you can pick up special audio channels at theatres and cinemas, and comes with tie or clip, and neck cord. 


The Crescendo 50 has excellent features and easy controls. Rating 9/10
INCREDIBLE EAR AMPLIFIER TS-2008, £12.95
taising. manufacturer. global sources.com

 

Small 50p-sized device you clip on to clothing. The instructions claim it has an amplification of 95 decibels.

VERDICT: Everything about this is tiny - you’ll need fingernails to use the on/off switch and open the battery door; the volume control is small and fiddly, too.

The only way of knowing if the device is switched on is to listen; the ‘on’ position is not marked.

Boosting the sound by 95 decibels would be far too loud, although the device’s decibels actually measured much less when tested. In fact, the sound improvement was quite moderate and the quality was unnatural.

It also picks up clothes rubbing and handling sounds. The only plus side is that it’s discreet. 

 


Incredible ear amplifier, TS-2008. Only moderate sound improvement. Rating: 1/10
SMART EAR, £12.99
0871 784 3001; harrogatehouse offers.com
 

The manufacturer claims you can ‘hear everything that’s said - even 100ft away’, yet it’s ‘small enough to pop into a shirt pocket’ - so useful for radio, TV, parties and lectures.

VERDICT: It does the basic job of amplifying sound, and the sound quality wasn’t too bad at low-to-mid volume settings.

It looks like a pocket radio with mini earphones.

However, it could prove to be a party pooper, as it amplifies every sound in the room equally, including background noise and conversations you might not want to hear.

The poor handling noise could mar the reasonable sound quality. Useful for one-to-one conversation, but not for something more distant, such as the television - however, overall, a good, cheap option. 


The Smart Ear, £12.99 (left), amplifies all sounds equally so can be a party pooper. Rating: 7/10.
RNID SONIDO DIGITAL LISTENER, £72.62
01733 361 199; rnid.org.uk
 

An RNID device (a notfor-profit product), it can amplify sound by 20 to 30 decibels.

VERDICT: This device, the size of a small television remote, gives a good overall performance. It has an isolated internal microphone encased in a rubberised chamber, which stops it picking up any other noise when handled.

There are easy-to-use push-button volume and tone controls and, unique for these devices, volume levels for each ear can be adjusted individually (important as people often have different rates of hearing loss in each ear).

The sounds are digitally amplified to cancel feedback. 


The RNID Sonido Digital Listener, £72.62 (right), uses digital amplification which cancels feedback. Rating: 9/10
WHISPER 2000, £15
0800 328 9338; betterlife healthcare.com
 

Claims to be a scientifically designed sound ‘reflector’ with sensitive microphone, which can be pointed in a certain direction to pick up a particular source of sound.

VERDICT: A bulky device - it looks like an old transistor radio. It does pick up sound or speech quite well when pointed in the direction of the source, and reduces sounds coming from the sides and behind.

Unfortunately, the low-quality on-the-ear headphones don’t do it any favours.

And feedback - a howling, whistling sound - is a problem, even at fairly low volume settings. Increase the volume further and the person standing next to you will be able to hear it, too. 


The Whisper 2000, £15 (left), has low-quality on-the-ear headphones. Rating: 3/10.
POCKETALKER ULTRA, £72.20
020 8532 6138; techready.co.uk
 

It looks like a small walkie-talkie and is described as an easy-to-use, portable amplifier that can improve your ability to communicate in difficult listening situations.

VERDICT: This has some good features, including a neck loop, a lead to connect it directly to the television, a ‘sensitive’ setting for picking up distant sound and an adjustable treble/bass tone setting, useful for those who struggle to hear high-pitched sounds.

The earphones are good quality, while the oversized microphone on the top means if you place it close to the sound source it will minimise background noise.

But features are not as impressive as the Crescendo or Sonido


The Pocktalker Ultra, £72.20 has an oversized microphone which allows you to place it close to the source and minimise background noise. Rating: 8/10
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