Eargo Sets a New Bar In Hearing Aid Technology

By Mark Vena - May 9, 2018
Affordable hearing aids from Eargo. While hearing health issues have historically been under-emphasized, it’s estimated that 360 million people suffer from some form of hearing loss (over 5% of the global population) worldwide. In fact, it is ranked as the third largest health issue after heart disease and arthritis. Many people will suffer some degree of hearing loss over the course of their lives, though it often goes undetected until a person gets older. Hearing loss has been associated with a number of issues, such as chronic depression. It’s even been shown to correlate with lower earning potential. Conversely, several studies have shown that hearing loss treatments can dramatically improve the quality of life and can significantly mitigate brain degeneration. While the benefits of hearing aids are clear, hearing aid adoption has flatlined for many years due to high prices and only recently-overturned regulation that required people to get a hearing test from a professional before getting a prescription to buy one. Fortunately, the bipartisan Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act was passed in 2017, giving adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss access to OTC hearing aids. Enter Eargo, a Silicon Valley-based start-up that makes nearly invisible hearing aids. Eargo offers two pairs of hearing aids, the Eargo Plus and Eargo Max, priced at $1,950 and $2,450 respectively—about half what you might pay for traditional hearing aids from traditional manufacturers. Eargo’s hearing aid technology is based on the company’s Flexi Fibers, a soft material that dangles the aid in the ear without blocking the ear canal. Unlike traditional aids (which typically amplify sound using a tiny speaker) Eargo’s innovative technology design allows bass sounds to travel into the ear so only treble sounds need to be augmented. Packaging for the Eargo solution. What’s so different about Eargo? Beyond affordability, Eargo’s value proposition is based on 4 specific elements.  First of all, unlike traditional hearing aids that are bulky and clearly visible, Eargo’s solutions fit discretely in a person’s ear canal—nearly impossible to detect by others. Secondly, they are designed to be extremely comfortable—utilizing the aforementioned Flexi Fibers, they appear to “float” in the ear canal (though they stay firmly in place and are unlikely to get dislodged during light or moderate physical activity). Thirdly, they purport to offer genuinely natural sound, since only high-frequency sounds are amplified. Finally, Eargo hearing aids are rechargeable, avoiding the cost of expensive and specialized replacement batteries ( which can run $50 or more for some traditional hearing aids). Additionally, Eargo hearing aids ship in a very convenient, USB-powered, hard carrying case that recharges the hearing aids when not in use. As an added bonus, the Eargo charging case is portable so the hearing aids can be charged on-the-go. Its internal rechargeable battery holds a charge for about a week while charging the Eargo aids every day. The Eargo hearing aids themselves are designed to last all day on a single charge. How well does Eargo work? To put Eargo to the test, I asked my 83-year-old mother, who suffers from mild hearing loss, to try the Eargo Max for a few weeks. She had been on the cusp of ordering a $3,500 set from a well-known manufacturer after having a hearing loss evaluation performed at her local Costco. Frankly, she was quite skeptical about trying on a hearing aid solution from a company she had never heard of before, and even more skeptical when I asked her to try and use them right out of the box without third party assistance. The next time I visited her, to my surprise, I saw that the Eargos had been removed from their packaging and were quietly charging in their case. My mom was able to remove each Eargo from the charging case and install the correct one in each ear with relative ease. Her initial setup experience was positive, and she remarked to me that she found the tutorial videos on the Eargo Web site to be extremely helpful with inserting/removing the Eargo devices, as well as finding the perfect fit for the replaceable Flexi Fibers (regular and large size, which are included in the box). Side note: A set of 12 additional Flexi Fibers can be purchased for $40. The real question is, did Eargo significantly improve her hearing experience? The answer is completely subjective, of course, but I can report that she continues to use them after having them for almost nearly a month. Since her hearing loss is relatively modest, her original objectives in considering a hearing aid were the ability to listen to the TV without excessively cranking up the volume and listening to group conversations at restaurants. She believes that Eargo has successfully provided her with that ability in a convenient, no-hassle manner and perhaps most importantly, without the stigma of wearing a traditional over-the-ear hearing aid. For the different ambient noise environments she might find herself in (e.g. at home or at a restaurant), she also liked Eargo’s ability to change between 4 sound profiles (low to high amplification) simply by cupping your hand and double-tapping on the ear. It should be noted that only the more expensive Eargo Max ($2,450) model offers these sound profiles and noise amplification, though Eargo offers low monthly financing (ranging from $90 to $114 per month) for both models. The bottom line I believe Eargo is a terrific and disruptive solution that is positioning the company well to take a significant bite out of the $20 billion hearing health market. Currently, Eargo only sells its hearing aid solutions directly via its online store. The company also claims exceptional customer support, with dedicated hearing professionals that are focused on providing concierge-like customer service via the phone, chat, or email. I think anyone suffering from low or moderate hearing loss will find Eargo to be an affordable and excellent solution that will improve their daily lives.
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