Less than 20 percent of people who would benefit from a hearing aid wear one,1 even though untreated hearing loss can lead to additional health problems. Many say high prices keep them from getting hearing aids, and others worry about a negative stigma around hearing loss. Whatever the reason, millions of people in America are struggling with their hearing.
Luckily, for many older adults with mild hearing loss, wireless earbuds like AirPods can be used as an assisted listening device when paired with a smartphone. They are cheaper than hearing aids, and the wearer doesn't have to let anyone know that they're using the devices to amplify sounds. Inexpensive and discreet? We like the sound of that. In this guide, we'll show you how to set up and use your AirPods to help with hearing step by step.
Can AirPods Be Used as Hearing Aids?
AirPods utilize a feature called Live Listen that uses your iPhone as a microphone. Live Listen helps drown out background noise and amplify sound so you can hear better in a crowded space or hear someone speaking across the room more clearly. If you ever have trouble hearing someone at dinner in a noisy restaurant, this feature could benefit you.
While this feature helps you use your AirPods to enhance hearing, it does not replace a hearing aid. Hearing aids do more to amplify sound and are highly specific to your particular type of hearing loss, ear anatomy, and needs. An audiologist can help you determine what is right for you. For those with more severe hearing loss, getting the right equipment is extremely important; people who let hearing loss go untreated are at a greater risk for depression and dementia.2
What Devices are Compatible with Live Listen?
To use Live Listen, your iPhone or iPad needs to be running iOS or iPadiOS 14.3 or later. To check whether your software has the necessary updates, do the following:
Step 1. Go to “Settings.”
Step 2. Click “General.”
Step 3. Tap “Software Update.”
Step 4. Check to see what operating system your device is using.
Step 5. If you need to, upgrade by tapping “Download and Install.”
In addition to the right software, you'll also need a pair of AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or Powerbeats Pro.
How to Use AirPods as Hearing Aids with the Live Listen Feature
To use Live Listen with your iPhone or iPad, you'll first need to add it to your “Control Center,” which is the screen meant to house your most used features.
Step 1. Go to your settings again and tap “Control Center.”
Step 2. Scroll down to find the “Hearing” icon and tap the green “+” sign next to it.
Step 3. Make sure the hearing icon is now up in the “Included Controls” section.
Step 4. Tap “Settings” at the top of your screen to save the change.
Now that you've added Live Listen to your Control Center, here's how to use the feature.
Step 1. Connect your wireless earbuds to your phone and open your settings. Tap “Bluetooth.”
Step 2. Tap your wireless listening device so that it reads “Connected.”
Step 3. Open your Control Center and check that the hearing icon was added. To access the Control Center, either:
- Swipe down from the top right corner of your screen (iPhone X and later)
- Swipe up from the bottom of the screen (iPhone SE, iPhone 8, and earlier)
Step 4. Tap on the hearing icon.
Step 5. Tap where it says “Live Listen.” This will turn Live Listen from “Off” to “On.”
Step 6. Put your phone in front of whatever sound you want to hear and adjust the volume to where you need it.
Step 7. Continue using your iPhone as usual by tapping out of the box and tapping or swiping out of the control panel.
Pro Tip: While Live Listen is on, your phone will measure the volume of what you listen to by telling you the decibels, or dB. You can use this feature to make sure you aren't listening to anything too loud for too long, which might further damage your hearing. Damage to your hearing can start at just 80dB when exposed for two hours.3 At 100dB, damage can happen in as little as 15 minutes.
How to Turn Off the Live Listen Feature
To turn off Live Listen, simply:
Step 1. Open your Control Center by either:
- Swiping down from the top right corner of your screen (iPhone X and later)
- Swiping up from the bottom of the screen (iPhone SE, iPhone 8, and earlier)
Step 2. Tap the Hearing icon.
Step 3. Tap “Live Listen” to switch the mode from “On” to “Off.”
Step 4. Return to your home screen by tapping out of the box and tapping or swiping out of the control panel. Happy listening!