To assess the effectiveness of the AirPods, a team of researchers at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan collected samples from 21 participants for a study that was published in the journal Science. The group put AirPods Pro and AirPods 2 earbuds to the test alongside high-end and entry-level hearing aids.
The AirPods were connected to an iPhone during the trial, which also included the environmental noise amplifier app “Live Listen” running. While the researchers gave them short sentences, participants used the pods. Once the researcher had finished speaking, they were asked to repeat the sentences exactly as they were.
Apple introduced Live Listen in 2016. It is a function that amplifies background noise in a manner similar to sound amplification equipment used by hearing-impaired individuals during activities like birdwatching.
In quiet settings, AirPods 2 were proven to function just as well as conventional hearing aids. Surprisingly, the AirPods Pro functioned in noisy environments like a high-end hearing aid. A noise-cancelling feature is included into the professional pods. The performance of the pods improved when the noises came from the sides (either left or right) of the participants. Both Apple versions, meanwhile, fell short as hearing aids if the sound came from the front.
According to Ying-Hui Lai, a bioengineer from National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei and the study’s co-author, “Two explanations may account for the difference between the two scenarios.”
It might have to do with the paths that soundwaves take as well as the sophisticated signal processing method used in high-end hearing aids. Engineers will hopefully be motivated by this discovery to create hearing aids and portable sound amplifiers that are more responsive in specific directions.
The study’s lead author, Yen-fu Cheng, stated in a press statement that although the wireless earbuds weren’t ideal, those who couldn’t afford expensive hearing aids may use them as a starting point.
Even with these earbuds, “they will experience an improvement in their quality of life,” added Cheng.
The authors of the study also pointed out that people might feel more at ease wearing earphones constantly rather than hearing aids, which are associated with social shame. People could be shielded from ableist attitudes and given a pleasant option with the AirPods. Additionally, it is frequently necessary to display hearing aids to medical professionals who will then fit and adjust the device. All of those laborious tasks are not necessary when using earbuds.
The price of AirPods 2 is $129, and AirPods Pro is $249, which is less than half the price of a basic hearing aid. The price of premium aids could reach $10,000.