Eargo 5: Smart hearing aids with built-in test

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Eargo recently announced its latest smart hearing aid – Eargo 5. We don’t do that a lot news on hearing aids here at Engadget, but the California-based company is making some of the most “gadgets” we’ve tried and the latest model seems to be continuing that trend.

Like Neo HiFi i Neo before it the Eargo 5 is a small, “invisible” (completely in-channel or CIC) hearing aid that comes with a charging case. In older Eargos, that case has doubled as a way of connecting “buds” to the phone. Unfortunately, this meant that the buds had to be in it while they were being updated. The novelty this time around is that you can make profile changes and even more while actually wearing hearing aids. Moreover, there are key new features that are changing the way hearing aids sound. This is an exciting update for brand fans as it adds to Earg’s already smooth user experience, which is sorely lacking in many of the major brands you can find at your local audiologists.

The most interesting new feature is “Sound Match”. Hearing aids have long had different profiles, and the audiologist usually adjusts them to your needs, but Eargo’s direct consumer (and the need for buds to be in the case) approach has made this much-needed personalization difficult. So far?

Sound Match is actually a hearing test built into the Eargo app. Once you have paired the case (via Bluetooth) you can remove the Eargo 5s and the app will guide you through the test. If you have ever completed a hearing test, you will be familiar with it. The app plays a series of sounds and you tell it if you can hear it or not; at the end you will be presented with the results for each ear.

James Trew / Engadget

As simple as this is, my initial experiences with it weren’t quite smooth. Not least because it took several attempts (and some back and forth with Eargo) to pair the case with the app. After several attempts to restart and install, I was able to connect and access the test – most likely due to early hardware.

Since then, the test has been mostly simple, until I noticed that there was a “replay” button. I noticed that sometimes when I didn’t hear the sound, I definitely heard it after tapping the replay. As before, it was audible enough that I wouldn’t miss it the first time. That meant I had to do the test again to make sure I didn’t type “No” wrong when the sound really wasn’t playing at all.

Aside from the minor hiccups, if I made sure I did the test correctly, I could further customize the experience by changing the profiles available on the device. There are six situational (restaurant / meeting, etc.) and four preset. You can store a total of four people on the hearing aids themselves.

Previous Eargo models would simply tell you the number of audio profiles that are active as you switch between the four offered (by double-tapping on the tragus). With Eargo 5 you are now told the name of that profile if you have chosen one of the “situational” ones to eliminate speculation. You can also further customize these profiles in the app or simply change the volume and noise reduction (there is now also a noise reduction that I should mention) without the need to permanently change the profile. This includes adjusting the volume and treble / bass.

Eargo 5 smart hearing aid.

James Trew / Engadget

Although you can now customize the sound and profiles while actually wearing the Eargo (previously you had to take them out and put them in the holster, which is less than ideal), there is no music / sound stream from your phone. Eargo uses ultrasonic commands to communicate between the case and hearing aids. It’s a neat way to allow small updates, but not enough for slightly heavier categories. Remember, size is key here, and streaming on such small devices that enter your ear is not an easy thing.

This new customization functionality really enhances the Eargo experience. I’ve tried a few different devices, and the ones that best serve hearing loss are, predictably, the ones tuned by an audiologist. This meant that, although the older Eargos were some of the most appealing in terms of user experience and form, they were not exactly suited to my personal situation and provided only limited tools to adapt the sound to their needs.

With Earg 5, I find them much more helpful in my hearing, especially on the side I have problems with. In fact, I personally prefer to wear only one, because my hearing loss is one-sided, and amplification on the “good” side can feel a bit. I also find wearing both less comfortable. There’s no logical reason why wearing one for a long time should be okay, but two not, but I think the combination of too much “extra” hearing (on my good side) and the physical feeling of something in both ears is just a lot of sensory stimulation, at least for me. Obviously, if you have bilateral hearing loss, you will need all the help you can get.

If you own a pair of older Eargos and are wondering if the hearing testing feature on your model can come with an update, unfortunately, that’s not possible. There is specific hardware here that allows ultrasonic commands, which is not present in previous models.

Eargo 5 smart hearing aid.

James Trew / Engadget

In addition to the Sound Match, Eargo claims that the sound has been redesigned from the ground up for “optimal sound and speech performance”. The company isn’t elaborating further, but, with the new customization feature, it’s fair to say that this is already a completely different experience from previous models, so any other improvements are hard to pick, but it’s good to know they’re there.

In addition to basic updates, there are some welcome usability customizations. The charging box now has lights around where your hearing instruments should be placed to help you position them properly at night. These lights also provide feedback by changing color when software is updated or aids are not loaded properly. You will also no longer need to be sure that the contacts on the buds match those in the housing. The new magnetic inductive charging system means that it will automatically click into the right position.

Although Earg’s application remains a smooth experience, there are a few small possibilities to further improve it. The volume control is nice and simple, and you can choose to amplify either side individually or both in pairs. What is missing is visual feedback or even an in-ear tone to let you know when you reach the top or bottom of the range. There is also no indication whether any changes you make to the profile are permanently saved or there is an obvious way to reset them to the default values, but these are minor problems with the user interface.

It is claimed that the battery life is about 16 hours after charging. Add a battery to the case and that means you won’t need to plug them in for a few days, which is handy on weekends when you don’t want to worry about finding an outlet. If you need it, the charger is USB-C, so you probably already have something for your phone or laptop (the cable is included, of course).

Overall, this is a significant update for the product directly to the consumer. Eargo has corrected a lot of things in terms of making his products useful and appealing to a mass audience. This is important when assessing this over 40 million Americans may benefit from an auxiliary hearing aid. What has been missing, so far, that is, has been a way to tailor them to your specific needs. What in the world of hearing loss can be the difference between a slightly better understanding of television and the ability to choose quieter sounds in a noisy environment. The latter makes something that makes everyday life much more natural and makes social situations much more enjoyable, so it’s something really worth having on such a small device.

Remember, however, hearing aids are not a cheap product category. A good pair will often bring you a couple of thousand dollars, more if you want something to order. The Eargo 5, then at 2,950 US dollars, may look steep compared to a pair of wireless headphones, but it is relatively affordable among peers with hearing aids. If you are already an Eargo user who wants to upgrade, there is a “repeat customer discount” that can delete $ 500 from IFRS.

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