MDHearingAid has been disrupting the traditional brick and mortar hearing aid sales channel for more than a decade. A Midwest company that assembles and distributes its equipment out of Southfield, Michigan, they sell directly to consumers and have evolved their offering over the years from a very simple device to a sophisticated hearing aid with a well-designed online hearing test.1
For this year's review, I took MDHearingAid's online hearing test (you'll see my results below), fitted and tested MDHearingAid's CORE and Volt devices, and synced the CORE with their smartphone app. I'll show you how it all works below.
Overall, my takeaway is that MDHearingAid's prices and capabilities can provide improvement for many types of people with simple hearing loss. Read on as I provide the nitty-gritty on my experience!
As I went through the hearing test on MDHearingAid's site, I found it to be quite well done and the results match the ones I've gotten in a traditional sound-treated booth. It's very easy to use and navigate and of the online tests out there, I'd put it at or very near the top of the pack. The results are presented in both a simplified “thermometer” version as well as a traditional audiogram.
You can see how the test is conducted and the results of my test below. I like how the interface and results provide information that caters to the needs and level of understanding of both first-time and more experienced users.
The top image shows how the test is conducted. You're first asked to put in headphones and set your volume to “max”. Then you'll select the softest tone that you can barely hear at six different frequencies, one ear at a time.
In the case of my test, the “thermometer” image below shows that my test responses were similar to other people without hearing loss. “Normal” hearing is a range, but since my marks are on the lower half of the green section, I'm in good shape.
This is also shown in the more traditional “Audiogram” image below except in this case the “good” scores (in green) are on the top. The red O's are my right ear and the blue Xs my left. Each mark shows the softest level in approximate deciBels (dB) I heard each tone. Like a piano, the lower “bass” tones are on the left and the higher treble pitches on the right.
Like other manufacturers, MDHearingAid offers a few technology and price levels. This allows folks with either very simple listening requirements, or very limited buying power to improve hearing without breaking the bank. Speaking of the bank, MDHearingAid also offers financing through a third party. This kind of financing is common in hearing aid sales. Be cautious however as most have very high-interest rates for balances carried over past the typical “no-interest” promotional period.
The Pro is the entry-level device which, at $199, is pretty much accessible to everyone. Physically the Pro is a “Mini BTE” with a slim tube and stock earmold. MDHearingAid offers several sizes of these stock molds which they find fit the majority of folks.
It has two pre-set configurations (one flat and one sloping) that the user can select. The circuit itself is analog, which is very unusual in the world of hearing aids. The first digital sound processors appeared in the late 1980s with the first commercially viable hearing aids emerging in the early 1990s. Most people made the transition well, but I have had a few patients who prefer the way an analog hearing aid operates. The limited, fixed configuration of the Pro further limits the possibility that this might help these folks, but if their hearing loss fits one of the two pre-sets, it might be worth a shot.
Next up the technology ladder is the “Air” which uses a digital amplifier and sells for $399. Like the Pro, it uses the “mini BTE” form factor with a “slim tube” and stock earmolds.
According to the website, these offer four programs designed for different listening environments, but they only list “quiet, social and noisy.” On the upside, they offer a manual volume control which I find useful even in more advanced technologies.
The Volt is essentially the Air with a rechargeable battery. This feature adds two hundred dollars to the price, but I see a few good reasons to do this.
One, the hassle of changing batteries every 10 to 14 days is not overwhelming, but it's a thing. Not only do you need to buy the batteries, but you have to dispose of them. All hearing aid batteries are now zinc-air and safe for disposal, but they need to be kept away from children, pets, and those with memory difficulty.2
A second reason I like rechargeable hearing aids, especially in Florida where I live is moisture resistance. The battery door is one of the biggest vulnerabilities in a hearing aid for moisture and dirt, and rechargeables eliminate this.
Finally, as a guy with sausage fingers, I have a tough time with hearing aid batteries. Many seniors also have reduced sensitivity in their fingers (neuropathy, Renaud's, etc.) that make handling small batteries difficult.
The only downside I see with rechargeable systems is that if the charger fails, there is no back-up option. Fortunately, rechargeable systems have improved significantly.
I found the demo units they sent me to be well built, with an easy to use charger that fully charged in a few hours. The ear tips are comfortable and I was able to find one in the package that allowed me to tun up the devices about halfway without any feedback. If I had a more severe loss, I would need to use a different ear tip which might have been a bit on the tight side, but in general, I was impressed.
The top of the MDHearing Aid technology catalog is the LifeEar Core. The form factor is the same as other models, but the Core has a slightly slimmer shape. The coupling to the ear is the same slim tune and stock earmold.
They claim that the digital processor is more advanced and they offer a smartphone app to create custom profiles and allow fine-tuning within them.
The Core currently sells for $799 each.
I downloaded the app and found it well-designed and intuitive.
MD Hearing Aid was nice enough to send me a pair each of the CORE and Volt devices. The CORE easily connected to the app, and they even caught my mistake of not fully closing the battery door.
The personalization process took a bit under ten minutes. Essentially, this repeats the on-line hearing test. The big advantage of this version is that it's theough the hearing aids in my ears. We call this “in-situ testing” and it's very good at compensating for ear canal acoustics. It's not quite the gold standard fo Real Ear Measurement, but it's much better than just using the audiogram.
I find apps like this very helpful for those with dexterity issues as well as those who need assistance with their hearing aids. The app lets a relative or caregiver adjust the devices and see their condition much better than trying to do it on the ear.
MDHearingAid offers access to their audiologists via email or a toll-free number which also handles general customer service issues.
Their customer service department also handles requests for replacement accessories like batteries, replacement tubing, and domes, as well as storage cases and cleaners.
We found that all MDHearingAid's products offer a 45-day return option and a standard 90-day “parts and labor” warranty. Additional coverage is available in the form of the MD Shield Protection Plan (one or two years).
One of the notable limitations of both the standard and up-sell warranty is the lack of loss and damage coverage, which is standard from most traditional hearing aid manufacturers, Even though the purchase price is low, a few losses can easily get one into the price points of entry-level devices that do offer this coverage. In my clinical experience, the folks that need loss and damage coverage are those with memory loss. If purchasing for a loved one in this situation, this may be a consideration.
MDHearingAid disrupts the standard assumptions of how people get hearing aids. While their technology is limited compared to other products, I have to say, they are, essentially what I was selling as “high end” about 15 years ago. While technology has changed, the human ear hasn't. If your needs are pretty simple, I can't say, and more importantly couldn't prove, that these simpler devices wouldn't provide measurable improvement to those who have hearing loss and listening needs within the fitting range of these products. Considering that in the US most insurance plans do not pay for hearing aids, MDHearingAid offers many people access to hearing help who would otherwise be left out in the cold.
As a practicing audiologist since the 1990’s, Brad Ingrao, AuD has fitted thousands of hearing aids to seniors and people of all ages. Brad is the Official Audiologist for the International Committee on Sports for the Deaf and a well-known speaker. Dr…. Learn More About Brad Ingrao