The Difference Between Amplifiers (PSAPs) and Hearing Aids

Recently, we’ve begun to see ads for products that are being advertised as “hearing aids”, yet are actually amplifiers or personal sound amplifiers.

The Difference Between Amplifiers (PSAPs) and Hearing Aids

by Dr. Kevin Ivory

With so many people active on social media these days, it isn’t surprising that many companies use these platforms to advertise their hearing-related products. Recently, we’ve begun to see ads for products that are being advertised as “hearing aids”, yet are actually amplifiers or personal sound amplifiers (also known as PSAPs). Even the FDA has addressed this issue, due to some unscrupulous vendors labeling their amplifiers as actual hearing aids. To help clear up confusion, I wanted to write an article that detailed the differences between a hearing aid and an amplifier.

While both types of hearing products can help someone to hear better and have some of the same components (more on that later), there are some significant differences.

Most importantly, hearing aids can be programmed by an audiologist to help with a specific hearing loss. Every patient has a different hearing loss, both in severity and frequency shape. Because of this, hearing aids are programmed to each person’s hearing loss using standards developed by the manufacturers and National Acoustics Labs. At Glendora Hearing Aids & Audiology, we then use Real Ear Measurement (REM) to verify that the programming is effective after sound travels down the ear canal. Since the shape and length of an ear canal can change the acoustics, these real ear measures are important to make sure the hearing aid is programmed appropriately.

Amplifiers, on the other hand, have the same settings for every person. There may be a volume control or button that allows to change some minor settings, but there is no specific programming for each patient.

How do you know if you are looking at an amplifier or a hearing aid?

This can be difficult, as many consumers rely on the company selling the product to accurately describe their products. Unfortunately, many of these companies are based overseas and do not market their devices appropriately. Typically, if you are looking at a legitimate hearing aid (classified in the United States as a class II medical device by the FDA), it will come from one of the following manufacturers or brands:

- Oticon
- Starkey
- Resound
- Phonak
- Signia
- Widex
- Unitron
- Sonic (Innovations)
- Rexton
- Bernafon
- Miracle-Ear (Signia)
- Beltone (ReSound)

If you see a hearing device that comes from another brand not listed here, it is possible you are looking at an amplifier or PSAP.

What are some other features that hearing aids have that amplifiers do not?

Modern hearing aids from the top manufacturers typically come with features not included in PSAPs. Some of these features include:

Bluetooth technology

While some amplifiers do have Bluetooth capabilities, most do not. In addition, hearing aids have much more sophisticated Bluetooth options, like the ability to connect to more than one device at a time.

Rechargeable batteries

Some amplifiers do promote rechargeable batteries (usually with a simple cord that plugs directly into the device), but most do not have this. Modern hearing aids not only have this option, but their rechargeable systems are more sophisticated and reliable. For example, many of the top brands have rechargeable hearing aids that can last a full day without needed to be charged.

Remote programming

Remote programming capabilities allow your audiologist to program your hearing aids without you being in the office. During a pandemic, this type of telehealth technology has been essential for some patients.

If you or a loved one have a question about a hearing product you have seen advertised, please contact us.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Kevin H. Ivory
Audiologist & University Instructor
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Dr. Kevin Ivory, Au.D., CCC-A received his Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then went on to earn his Doctor of Audiology degree from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the top 10 audiology residential programs in the country.

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