For years I regularly buy cheap goods from China at wish.com. I am often positively surprised. Of course you can’t expect top quality, but under the given circumstances, surprisingly good stuff often arrives in my mailbox.
In any case, I found this device in the Wish catalogue, entitled “Digital bluetooth Hearing Aid USB Rechargeable Sound Amplifier Deaf-aid Audiphone Behind Ear”, advertised in the picture as a wireless hearing amplifier.
This is promising, I thought, and ordered two of them. These things are not only supposed to amplify the ambient sound, as hearing aids should, but also connect wirelessly to the mobile phone via Bluetooth in order to listen to music or even make phone calls. They also have rechargeable batteries that can be charged via USB.
I know since about a year that my hearing is no longer the best. The ear specialist diagnosed a hearing loss of about 25% in both ears in the higher frequency range. This hearing loss is within the normal range for my age, just under 60, so she recommended that I get fitted hearing aids from a hearing health care professional. She said it was better to start with a hearing aid right away than, say, at the age of 80, when the auditory nerve was already so damaged that hardly anything could be done anymore. At this time, on the other hand, the auditory nerve can still be trained to compensate for the lack. It is also conceivable that my tinnitus could weaken as a result. It is possible that tinnitus occurs because otherwise there is total silence around these frequencies.
Well, I followed her advice and consulted a hearing aid specialist. He explained to me that there are hearing aids in many quality levels and price ranges. The most expensive one was a Phonak device for about 8000 Swiss francs, equipped with all the frills such as rechargeable batteries and a Bluetooth connection to a mobile phone. Cheaper devices would work with exchangeable button cells and would not have Bluetooth on board. As my budget is a bit tight at the moment, I limited myself to what the insurance company reimburses me. In Switzerland, the disability insurance IV pays up to 1850 francs for hearing aids. I got a pair of such hearing aids, Widex brand, with which I am quite satisfied.
Now I was curious about the Chinese cheap hearing amplifiers, especially about their Bluetooth capability. But even before I ordered them, it was clear to me that, logically, I could not expect the quality and range of functions of a Phonak device. I therefore assumed that the frequency response could only be influenced within narrow limits or not at all.
I ordered two pieces in beige and two weeks later I had them in my mailbox. The price was indicated as 32.00 Swiss franks instead of 343.00 per piece, with a shipping fee of 12.00 added. So two of them cost a total of 88 francs. If you take the official catalogue price, two pieces would be 710, but probably nobody pays that price. When I compare this price with the Phonak devices, there are worlds apart. Are they worlds apart in terms of functionality?
Unpacking and first glance
The box looks nice enough. Apparently the product does not have a name, but is simply called “Digital Hearing Amplifier”. The slogan “Better Sound Better Life” underneath sounds very promising.
The box contains:
- Hearing amplifier, complete with earpiece
- Pretty plastic storage box
- Exchangeable ear seals in different sizes
- Cleaning brush
- Charger with US plug (any other standard mobile phone charger can also be used here)
- Charging cable USB 2.0 to device connector (any other standard Android charging cable can be used here)
- User Guide in english language
According to the user manual, the hearing aid should be charged for six hours before first use. The next two charges should only be carried out after the battery is completely discharged, and then a full charge should be carried out. The battery has a capacity of 60 mAH and the device is supposed to have a continuous running time of 100 hours. This corresponds to an operating time of over 6 days with a usage time of 16 hours per day. Compared to the runtime of my Widex hearing aids with button cells of around three days, this is a good deal better.
A downer is that the charger has a US plug. So, an adapter to Swiss or EU plug is required. But you can also get these cheaply at Wish, for example the ones shown on the right.
Operation as hearing amplifier
The user manual indicates that the volume should be turned down when switching on, otherwise there is a risk that the first hearing impressions will be too loud. To set the volume, the units have a continuous rotary wheel with positions marked with 0 to 4. When playing around with it for the first time, it can be seen that from about position 2.5 on, the unit tends to have a very strong tendency to feedback of its own signal, and thus to whistle. Position 1 is already about as strong as my Widex hearing aids. I was therefore surprised about the amplification levels which at first sight seemed to be overpowering. But these still prove to be quite useful, as we will see later.
So the normal operation as a hearing aid looks like this: Turn the volume to level 1, turn on the hearing aid, put it on your ear, enjoy. It can also be switched on and off while sitting on the ear, the on-off slide switch can be easily felt and operated behind the ear. Be careful when operating the volume wheel, however, because it can easily be turned higher than you want — and then it may be roaring into your ears.
The device works. Ambient noise is amplified and can therefore be heard more easily. There is, however, audible amplifier noise, which is not so great. Also, you can’t adjust the frequency response and, without having taken more precise measurements, I got the impression that the frequency response is not exactly hi-fi quality. My almost 60-year-old hearing, therefore, is under the impression, that the sound of this hearing aid is louder, but a bit muffled. When I compare it with my Widex hearing aids: With the Widex, the clarity and crispness of the sound increases, with this Far East hearing aid, the sound tends to be muffled, but in return, the volume can be adjusted much more strongly than with the Widex.
I had bought two such devices to be equipped for both the right and left ear. That works well. You put a hearing amplifier on the right and left ear and you can hear and perceive the amplified ambient noise well. The clearly audible amplifier noise is not ideal, but it is not so strong that it would mask the ambient noises.
The gain must be adjusted separately on the right and left. Therefore, you have to be careful when regulating the volume control to ensure an even volume. By comparison, Widex hearing aids communicate with each other and always set the same gain, whether you adjust the volume in the right or left ear. This is a nice advantage, but you can live with the separate volume control of the hearing aids.
Here is a size comparison. On the left you see the hearing aid from Widex. On the right you see the Chinese hearing amplifier. The miniaturization of the right model is not quite as successful, but this may be due to the greater range of functions.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a letter scale to compare the weight of the two devices, but my impression is that the right device is of course a good deal heavier than the left one, but that doesn’t matter, neither of the two devices feels like a burden on the ear. Both can be placed on the ear in such a way that they feel good and fit quite well.
With the Widex, the sound is created at the top of the device and is conducted through the clear tube to the earpiece. The tube and earpiece can be removed. They come in different lengths and sizes, so the right choice will give you the best fit.
In the Chinese hearing amplifier, the sound is produced in the earpiece. An electrical cable runs through the clear tube to the loudspeaker in the earpiece. Unfortunately, the tube cannot be removed from the hearing aid, as is the case with the Widex. Therefore, the tube cannot be shortened or lengthened. At least the rubber part of the earpiece can be removed. Different sizes of this rubber part are included with the device. The user can therefore easily make this adjustment him- or herself. The earpiece can also be turned slightly on the rubber tube so that it can be adjusted to easily sit on the right or left ear. For my ear, the tube is a bit long, but the rubber seal in the ear feels good and is comfortable enough. It’s a good idea to press the earpiece firmly into the ear so that it seals well and no ambient sound around the earpiece enters the ear during use.
Because of the thicker and longer tubing, the sound processor is more visible from the front and also protrudes slightly beyond the wearer’s ear. By comparison, the Widex’s thinner tube, which also disappears completely behind the wearer’s ear, makes it unobtrusive. I have already been told several times by a person I’ve met that they didn’t even notice that I was wearing hearing aids. The sound processor, on the other hand, is noticed more quickly.
Bluetooth pairing with the mobile phone was as uncomplicated as one would expect nowadays. You press the corresponding button on the hearing aid for three seconds (it is labeled with “M”, I guess that stands for “mobile”), check your mobile phone, tap the appearing device “ZTQ” and perform a pairing. Now it is connected and active.
Now you can play music on your mobile phone and the music will resound in the active hearing amplifier. I’ll come back to what this means in a moment.
When the music is turned off, only the amplified ambient noise is heard again, so the hearing amplifier goes back to normal sound processor function.
When a call comes in, it can be answered by pressing the M button on the hearing amplifier. The voice of the call will then sound in the active ear.
Unfortunately, neither the music nor the call will be heard in both ears.
The two sound amplifiers do not communicate with each other and not simultaneously with the mobile phone. Both can be paired with the mobile phone, but only one of them can be activated at any one time. This means that the sound from the mobile phone is only transmitted to the hearing amplifie that is currently active. By activating one or the other paired hearing amplifier on the mobile phone, you can decide whether the sound is transmitted to the left or the right ear. This is a great pity and clearly clouds the Bluetooth listening pleasure.
The width of the volume setting proves to be an advantage now. Music or a conversation partner can reach the ear much better if the amplification is significantly increased for this purpose.
Unfortunately, when actively paired with the mobile phone and without active sound transmission, a weak but nevertheless annoying regular short beeping can be heard. This is probably due to the fact that the Bluetooth connection to the mobile phone is continuously maintained in order to be ready for use at any time. If the Bluetooth function is switched off by pressing the “M” button for three seconds, the beeping also disappears again.
This hearing amplifier is unbeatable for its price, even though it cannot be adjusted to individual hearing, is a bit noisy, and Bluetooth can only be activated on one ear. On the plus side, we have the long running time, as well as the wide range of adjustable volume. It is very well suited as an inexpensive introduction to amplified ambient hearing, less so for special hearing needs and as a Bluetooth device. The manufacturer should definitely do his homework and enable pair coupling of two devices, just like Apple’s AirPods, for example. The hearing amplifier isn’t worth the catalogue price of 343, but the offer of 32 is definitely worth considering.