I’m Erika. I love learning about new technology, particularly with technology designed to help people hear and connect to their families, friends and community. I first learned about the Jabra Enhance Plus 18 months ago in a tech talk related to OTC hearing aids. OTC stands for “over-the-counter”; this was driven by the PCAST report (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) that was published in 2016 and was rejuvenated by Biden’s Executive to the FDA to develop regulations and labeling on a new classification of non-prescription hearing aids that would be available to purchase by consumers without professional engagement.
The purpose was to introduce lower cost entry to hearing aids for consumers. This is opening a whole new pipeline of devices from manufacturers of consumer electronics to manufacturers of medical devices to get into the lucrative market of entry level amplification. Bose had launched their new “hearing aid” which was a terrible flop, it didn’t have rechargeability, it had a ton of feedback (whistling), it didn’t even have basic streaming features. Signia launched a product, Apple Air pods added transparency mode and developed an app to “test” your hearing to apply mild gain to your Air Pod Pros, and Resound’s research team partnered with GN’s consumer electronic group that makes Jabra products to develop a hybrid hearing aid/consumer electronic sometimes referred to as a Hearable, PSAP (Personal Sound Amplifier), or and OTC hearing aid. Other companies have come out with products that they are marketing as hearing aids, the FDA has been playing whack-a-mole with these illegally labeled products. Whatever you may call the widget, it is an electronic device that is not programmed by a licensed hearing health care professional.
I was awarded a slot to participate in a pilot project to evaluate the Jabra Enhance Plus product before it was released commercially to the public. I have been wearing the device for the last 10 days. I have about 4 pages of feedback for the developers for the app and also the device itself. Here is my pro/con list.
Pros: The size and fit. It doesn’t look anything like a hearing aid, it is like a small button Bluetooth or wireless earbud. There is nothing hanging out of the ear to catch on masks. The green, faded yellow and red indicator lights on the device and the charger are intuitive ways to alert to battery life. The little charging case holds a charge even when it is not plugged in. It is easily portable, fits great in a pocket of my purse so I have them with me. The streaming is pretty seamless. The app controls are deceivingly simple, it seems like there should be more, but it is really just the volume up and down. They were a lot more comfortable to wear while reclining and listening to streaming audio than other wireless earbuds that I have used. It was easy to switch to a call while streaming. They enhanced listening when I was watching TV.
Cons: The built-in personalization didn’t seem to customize the sound; The filter setting was something that I wanted to change frequently, but it is a buried feature in the app. The fit was sort of uncomfortable in one ear and the selection of domes were not adequate. The occlusion effect for my own body noises was significant. My voice sounded too far away for people on the other end of the phone call. The sound quality for phone calls and streaming audio was inferior to other wireless earbuds that I use. I struggled in noisy situations to hear other people over my own body sounds. They move a lot in my ears with talking. They don’t connect to my computer, so going between zoom meetings and phone calls or other activities was cumbersome and I have to switch devices. My overall assessment is that there is a place in the consumer electronic world for these cute little hearing enhancers, but they will not yet replace my wireless earbuds. I look forward to future software updates that will hopefully improve and expand usability (like connecting to my PC for zoom calls).
Linda wore the Jabra Enhance Plus 5-6 hours a day. Mostly while watching TV. She loved how much easier it was to hear the dialogue on TV. She also enjoyed hearing her husband more easily while they were having conversations. She had little difficulty connecting the devices to her app, the most difficult part of the connection that Linda had was remembering her apple password. She was really impressed with the product and the price.
Beth wears the Jabra Enhance Plus about an hour a day, primarily for streaming while exercising. She loves the quality of the streaming for phone calls and listening to audio books. She tried the devices in a restaurant with friends, but really struggled to adapt to her own voice and thought that it was actually harder to focus on the voices she wanted to hear over some of the other environment sounds being amplified. She really didn’t find them helpful in the classroom like she had hoped, but she admitted that only tried them once in that setting.