Is the phrase “I’m sorry, what did you say?” a common part of your day? It is for me. My hearing is…questionable, or, as my wife put it, “It’s not normal to be 34 and need the closed captioning.” The good folks at Etymotic have clearly experienced this too, and that’s where the Bean Quiet Sound Amplifier can shine.
Bean is not prescribed by an audiologist, so these are more like the reading glasses you get at the drug store-you may not need them all the time, so it is cheaper and easier to buy over the counter tools for when they are needed. To that end, the Bean comes with a handy little carrying case, and takes small but easy to find batteries. These aren’t what you wear full-time, they’re what you pop in when you’re heading to a noisy dinner or out at a party. Here’s how Etymotic explains the difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplification product (PSAP):
In terms of what consumers “hear,” how do PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) differ from hearing aids?
Both types of device allow consumers to hear sounds louder.
- Both hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers have the same three basic components: Microphone, amplifier and receiver.
- Both amplify sound.
- Both deliver sound through a sound tube at the end of the receiver.
- Both come in in-ear and behind-the-ear models.
- Hearing aids are intended to correct hearing loss, which is considered a medical condition by FDA.
- Hearing aids are regulated by FDA – PSAPs are not.
- All state laws require the sale of hearing aids only by licensed professionals.
- Hearing aids are adjusted to compensate for impaired hearing in certain frequency regions—most generally in the high frequencies (pitches).
- Hearing aids generally are digital and must be programmed with a computer; this often takes several visits to a professional’s office.
- Many hearing aids have custom molds, but some are basically ready-fit: i.e., no ear impression is needed; the best (stock) eartip is selected by a professional.
- PSAPs are intended to amplify sound, not correct hearing loss. Examples: –Enhanced hearing for hunters –Hearing TV better –Hearing better at a distance –Hearing better in the car –Hearing better in social situations –Hearing better in worship services
- PSAPs can be purchased from any source (mail order, Internet, big box store, pharmacy, hearing professional, physician) without recommendation, prescription or state regulation.
So while the reading glasses analogy may seem like a stretch, it’s actually a pretty good comparison. And it puts my needs squarely where the Bean’s strengths are, because I really don’t need full-time hearing aids, I just need a boost in crowded situations, or when there’s a ton of background noise, like in a moving car. I’ve actually seen an audiologist, and they said my hearing came in as struggling under conversational range, but it wasn’t necessarily dramatic enough to use hearing aids (also, there were some congestion issues that cleared up a bit of my hearing-so if you can’t hear, maybe you need to have the inside of your nose rearranged too!)
Physically the Beans are quite compact for what they are. They really do look like little beans with earplugs attached. Etymotic includes several different sizes of plugs, because proper ear fit is key for a hearing device. If you prefer foam earplugs, or want a different design, they have you covered. It’s a thoughtful touch to include so many different designs of earplugs, as well as tools to clean the Beans themselves. They also throw in a pack of batteries, so you can literally crack open the box and get started with the Beans right away. They are quite simple to operate; just pop in the battery and secure the Bean in your ear. If it is not seated properly, you will hear hissing and feedback, but this stops as soon as the Bean is properly installed. You can adjust the sensitivity up and down with a tiny switch, but you cannot turn them off. Like reading glasses, you just remove the Bean when you don’t need it; Etymotic also includes a carrying case for this express purpose.
The Bean certainly lives up to all its claims once you seat it properly in your ear. I had some difficulties at first, and could hear all sorts of weird hisses and feedback, but once I had it sealed and settled, I was shocked at the difference. It’s not that things felt louder, it’s sort of like when you haven’t worn your glasses in a while and you put them back on; you could still see before, but now you can read the sign across the room that used to be a blur of letters. Everything sounded a little clearer. I did notice that while I technically only needed them for one ear, it felt more comfortable and less odd to wear them in both.
Because I used the Bean intermittently, I can’t confirm Etymotic’s exact battery claims, but I would say from my limited experience that they’re fairly accurate. I pulled the battery out when I wasn’t using the Bean, and found the batteries were still good for a few weeks, so I’d say their week to ten days estimate is probably right. The earplugs are quite comfortable, and there’s a range of options for different ear sizes. My ears are fairly small and I had no issues with finding a plug size that sat comfortably for me.
Here is our video take on the Bean as well:
Overall I like the Bean, but I have a few issues. One is that while they are small, someone looking at your ear can definitely see them, so if you’re very vain about wearing hearing aids these aren’t for you. Luckily for me I have long hair that covers my ears, so unless someone was up close and personal they wouldn’t notice, but it’s worth noting, especially since you don’t want the Bean mistaken for a small Bluetooth headset or anything. My wife was very shocked at how large they were, and commented that she wouldn’t wear a hearing device that was so obvious, so the size and appearance are a very individual issue. Just note that while they don’t stick out, anyone looking at your ears can clearly see them. Also, this has nothing to do with their abilities as hearing devices, but they sort of vaguely resemble the ear worms from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (Note that this is only an issue if you, like me, were horrifically traumatized by those things.)
My other main issue is the price; at $299 for one/$549 for a pair, these aren’t cheap. Certainly they are far, far cheaper than hearing aids out of pocket, but some insurance policies will cover the cost of audiologist exams and hearing aids. Finally, while these are a good stopgap, it is important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing ongoing hearing loss. If, like me, you’re in the in-between space, where hearing aids are overkill but you keep hearing “did you wind the clock” instead of “did you walk the dog”, the Bean can be a revelation!
We have an aging population of baby boomers in this country, and not everyone is covered for or needs full-time hearing aids. My minor criticisms aside, the Bean is an excellent concept that can improve your quality of life, or at least make sure you hear the beer list correctly at your favorite bar! If you are interested in the Bean, you can get 10% off with the code QSA10TP!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Very customizable fit; work quite well at amplifying sound without it feeling unnatural; takes standard battery size; carry case is included; no prescription required
What Needs Improvement: Pricey; are fairly obvious in the ear; battery life is low enough that you need to keep spares around regularly