OTC hearing aids are at CES 2023, but few know the brands behind them

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2023 will be an important year for hearables. While the concept isn’t new, this is the first CES since the FDA established a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. OTC hearing aids hit shelves in mid-October and are now on the show floor in Vegas. But the best hearables are from brands you’ve probably never heard of.

If you’re familiar with hearables, you probably won’t be surprised to see Eargo with an FDA-cleared OTC self-adjusting hearing aid at CES. The company has been a regular at CES since 2015, and technologically it is seventhgen device isn’t so much a new never-before-seen gadget as a refinement. (The Eargo 7 technically belongs to the company third FDA-approved OTC self-adjusting hearing aid as agency granted Eargo 5 and 6 510(k) approval in 2022.)

This year’s updates include features such as the new Sound Adjust Plus with Clarity Mode, which can automatically choose between amplifying speech or reducing noise in loud environments. Like its predecessors, the Eargo 7 also features IPX7 water resistance, a long battery life of 16 hours, and is nearly undetectable when worn. Customers can also consult virtually with certified audiologists. But for all this technological feat, I bet most of you have never heard of the company unless you had to buy a hearing aid.

That’s the problem with OTC hearing aids. They really could help millions of people, but many people who could benefit from them don’t know they have a hearing loss or that legitimate over-the-counter hearing aids are an option. The companies that make them are not household names, and the technology companies are to be household names and would like to sell OTC hearing aids have little to no experience navigating the labyrinthine world of FDA regulation. If only there was a way to join forces!

While the Eargo 7 is a really nice gadget, the tech isn’t actually the most interesting thing Eargo is doing at CES. Much more interesting is how the company is highlighting its partnership with Victra, one of the largest Verizon-authorized retailers, on the show floor.

Eargo CEO and president Christian Gormsen explained in an interview that this year’s booth has a station where Victra employees simulate the shopping experience. (I’m covering the show remotely, so I haven’t seen it in person.) The idea is to give everyday people an idea of ​​what to expect when buying an OTC hearing aid. The cabin also has a tunnel experience that simulates what hearing loss is like for people with normal hearing, as well as a second station operated by Eargo audiologists who can talk more deeply about what hearing loss actually is.

“We want to meet the customer where they are and bring all these things to life at CES,” says Gormsen. “The biggest problem with hearing loss is that people aren’t really aware of it.”

Close up of Eargo 7

The Eargo 7 is the company’s third FDA-cleared OTC hearing aid.
Image: Eargo

That’s why a collaboration like the one between Eargo and Victra (and by proxy Verizon) is remarkable. Consumers will see much more of it.

Other audible companies are partnering with well-known device manufacturers to get their technology into stores.

Nuheara – another audible maker you’re probably not familiar with unless you peruse the top CES lists each year – is teaming up with HP to launch the FDA-cleared HP Hearing PRO. The HP name may be on the product, but under the hood it’s Nuheara’s technology.

“Everybody knows HP, right?” said John R. Luna, CEO of Nuheara, who also chaired the Consumer Technology Association’s working group to review the final FDA ruling. “We all have or have had something that is HP, and for many consumers, HP represents quality, consistency, and industry-leading technology…when you scan the shelf at a Best Buy, it’s blue and white.”

It is also a beneficial arrangement for HP. The company spun off its medical division in 2000 and has not been a player in this space since.

“Everybody knows HP, right?”

Similarly, Sony’s recently launched self-adjusting hearing aids are the result of a partnership with WS Audiology, a Danish-based hearing aid manufacturer. And like Eargo’s partnership with Victra, starting in 2023, Sony will leverage WSA’s HearUSA retail network to sell its devices.

This strategy makes a lot of sense, but it’s hard to say how it will play out over time. The FDA ruling is only a few months old and transition periods are always a bit chaotic. We won’t see how the dust settles until later this year. But whatever strategies companies are using, it’s clear we’re at a major turning point in audible technology.

“It’s not going to be a revolution overnight, but it’s really changing. It will be very dynamic and I think we will see a lot of new entrants, new ideas and new concepts,” says Gormsen. “Ultimately, the winner here is more people doing something about hearing loss.”

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