Samsung spruiks Galaxy Buds Pro performance as comparable to hearing aids

Not quite, says peer-reviewed journal, but with prices well below rivals the 80 percent of hearing impaired people with no helpful tech will be listening


Samsung says a study of Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro, conducted by the Samsung Medical Center, suggest its wireless earbuds could be a handy substitute for hearing aids. Samsung does not make hearing aids.

A study [PDF] published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical and Experimental Otorhinolaryngology found that Galaxy Buds Pro’s Ambient Sound feature was effective in helping those with mild to moderate hearing loss to decipher sounds.

The study compared the efficacy of the Ambient Sound feature in the Galaxy Buds Pro (RRP ~US$200), which amplifies nearby sounds in four volume levels, to a ReSound LiNX Quattro hearing aid (which sells for thousands) and the Etymotic Bean personal sound amplifier (RRP ~$US$700).

Results found that Samsung's earbuds do work significantly to improve sound, albeit less successfully than the other devices tested.

The research was completed in partnership with Samsung Medical Center, a part of the wider study, and is the first to demonstrate true wireless earbuds potential as therapeutic wearables for hearing loss.

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According to the World Health Organization, only 17 percent of those who could benefit from using a hearing aid currently use the devices. The gap is consistently high in all parts of the world. However, 80 percent of people with disabling hearing loss live in low-and-middle-income countries.

“With rapidly aging populations it’s expected that, by 2050, one in ten people will have hearing loss. But while hearing aids are useful for managing hearing impairments, uptake remains relatively low, mainly due to the high price,” said Il Joon Moon, Associate Professor at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Samsung Medical Center.

While Samsung doesn’t claim its earbuds can replace hearing aids, the company does appear to be positioning itself as an alternative.

The super small study of 18 people found that the earbuds met hearing aid performance criteria and adequately boosted sound at seven different frequencies.

When it came to the ability to recognize words and sentences, 57 percent of study participants reported better communication with the earbuds than with no device. However, the earbuds did not perform as well as the amplifier or hearing aids.

“Samsung has been working in collaboration with Samsung Medical Center for over 10 years, focusing on the impact mobile devices can have on hearing and researching new ways to optimize sound experiences for users,” said Samsung’s press release of its name-sake hospital where the research was completed.

Hearing aid uptake remains relatively low, mainly due to their high price

The journal in which the study is published has an impact factor of 2.11, as judged by rating organisation SciJournal.org. Impact factor is a very subjective ranking of science journals based on the number of citations its articles receive. Three is considered a good rating, ten stellar, less than one is about average.

Ear-worn devices are already a huge boon in the wearable tech industry with spending on them rising 124 percent globally in 2020. Gartner expects in-ear wearables to account for $39.2 billion of $81.5 billion total wearable spending in 2021. The growth is thanks to remote workers upgrading for video conference and consumer use with smartphone devices, said Gartner.

Samsung often bundles its Buds with new smartphones in pre-order promotions that presumably make both more attractive. The hearing aid-like sound boost could help Samsung grow its share of the earbud and smartphone market, especially as wearable tech - which can do things like measure blood pressure - becomes more common.

However, it is unlikely anyone would consider these earbuds as an adequate replacement of medical grade hearing aids. ®


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