In 2018 in the USA Consumer Reports conducted a survey of over 17000 of its subscribers to determine which hearing aid brands have the best overall performance. In this article we will review the results
Consumer Reports does an effective job of reviewing all kinds of products from cars to electronic goods including hearing aids. Best overall performance was based on 12 criteria as follows:
1. Battery Life. 7. Visibility to Others
2. Ease of Charging. 8. Sound Clarity
3. Ease of Cleaning. 9. One to One in Noise
4. Value 10. Talking in small groups
5. Reliability 11. Talking on a mobile phone
6. Fit & Comfort 12. Listening to TV or Radio
Their survey identified 16 different hearing aid brands that scored from 67 points to 76 points out of a total of 100 points. According to the reports survey a 100 point score would mean all respondents are “completely satisfied”, 80 points that they are “very satisfied” and A score of 60 means “somewhat satisfied” on average.
The outcome had the following rankings:
1st Place; The Kirkland Brand with 76 points
2nd Place; Siemens Signia with 75 points
3rd Place; Resound, Widex, Phonak & Oticon all with an equal 74 points.
4th Place; Rexton with 73 points
5th Place; Liberty with 72 points
6th Place; AGX, Starkey, Bernafon, Unitron and Audibel with 70 points
7th Place; Miracle Ear with 69 points
8th Place NuEar & Beltone with 68 points.
Consumer reports also mentioned that score differences less than 4 points are not meaningful on this survey. So looking at the top rated hearing aid brands on this list we see there is no significant difference between the Kirkland, Signia, Oticon, Phonak, Widex, Resound and Rexton brands. They all have less than 4 points difference. We also see there was no significant difference between the brands in bottom tier of the range which include; Nu-Ear, Beltone, Miracle Ear, AGX, Starkey, Bernafon, Unitron and Audibel.
If you are a member of consumer reports you can log onto their website and ranks these hearing aid brand according to what criteria is most important to you. For example if cosmetic discreteness was the most important criteria to you, you can click on the Visibility to Others tab and it will reorder the hearing aid brands based on the criteria that is important to you.
One limitation of this consumer reports survey is that they admit “This data is only based on Consumer Reports members and may not be representative of the General US Population.” The sample of the data may not accurately represent different peoples’ needs and priorities in different regions.
Another serious limitation with this survey is that a number of brands within the survey are actually the same brand. Although there are 16 hearing aid brands listed in this survey all 16 are actually owned by only seven different hearing aid companies. That means there are multiple brands within each company. Some of these brands are close to identical with one another. So who owns what? Well Sivantos owns the Rexton, Signia, Kirkland and AGX hearing aid brands. Sonova own the Phonak and Unitron brands. Starkey own the Starkey, AGX and Audibel Brands. GN Hearing own the Resound, Beltone and co-own the AGX brands. William Demant own Oticon, Bernafon and also AGX. Widex own widex and AGX brands and Liberty is the Liberty brand. We can see that AGX is owned by five of the seven brands and this is because AGX Rebrand the hearing aids. For example you can have a Oticon Opn model hearing aid that AGX take the Oticon label off of it and simply rebrand it as AGX-O. Another name for this is White labelling.
They are the identicle hearing aids just under different brand names. Some hearing aid dispensers do this so it’s difficult for consumers to compare ‘apples with apples’. It does seem strange that AGX that ranks at the bottom of the list is the same hearing aid technology as the ones toward the top of the list only they have a different brand names on them. This may have something to do with perceived brand confidence.
Over all it is good that a consumer reports is attempting to give us information on the merits of different brands of hearing aids and being able to compare them. However, they can be flawed and subject to bias despite presented attempts to appear neutral. Therefore surveys should be viewed critically.
The performance of any chosen hearing aids is largely effected by how well they are fitted by a hearing care provider. A good sign that a hearing care provider follows best practices is if they fit hearing aids using Real Ear Measurements (REM) to prescriptive targets to verify they really are the best fit to your unique ear canal shape and volume. There are many hearing aid dispensers that simply program the hearing aids to manufacturer default prescriptions to your Audiogram and doesn’t ensure optimal amplification. This is because ear canal shapes and volumes can vary substantially from a large man to a petite lady for example so the actual sound pressure level (volume) developed at the ear drum across the frequency range can vary dramatically.
The only way to truly ensure optimal amplification is for the Clinician to perform fine tuning guided by real ear measurements (REM’s) to prescriptive targets. Unfortunately, in a relatively unregulated para-medical field there is a huge spectrum of quality of fitting practices and the uninformed patient may never realise just how much benefit they are missing out on with sub-optimally programmed hearing aids. As well as optimal programming, effective coaching in the use and management of hearing aids and all the attributes they have to offer should form part of a progressive rehabilitation plan. This is best guided by an experienced, registered and qualified hearing care professional.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at Harmony Hearing & Audiology to book a complimentary consultation with one of our experienced Audiologists who are happy to discuss your hearing and communication needs.
Harmony Hearing & Audiology