Hearing Aids Versus Hearing Amplifiers: What’s The Difference?

Assortment of hearing aids and hearing amplifiers

The ability to hear and detect sound helps humans live long and fulfilling lives. When we have difficulties with our hearing, it can be hard to communicate and interact socially, causing problems with our well-being and quality of life.

Mild hearing loss can occur for multiple reasons, with the most common being aging and noise exposure. As our ability to hear deteriorates, Audiologists can suggest options to manage and improve the condition. We’re here to explore the difference between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers. Find out how these hearing devices work, and if they can be a solution to your hearing problems.

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How Do Hearing Amplifiers And Hearing Aids Differ From One Another?

Before we dive in, it is important to note that hearing amplifiers and hearing aids are NOT the same thing. 

As the name suggests, hearing amplifiers work by making ALL sounds louder. Also known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), they do not require a prescription and can be used by virtually anyone. Hearing amplifiers are intended to be marketed toward people with normal hearing, especially in situations where soft sounds are hard to detect, like bird watching or hunting.

Assortment of hearing amplifiers

Hearing amplifiers aren’t FDA regulated medical devices. They’re available over the counter and are relatively cheap – and for good reason. They can’t be fine-tuned like a hearing aid and often over-amplify low-to-mid frequency sounds – rather than the high frequency sounds that help to improve speech clarity. Unfortunately, they can work against patients who skip going to a hearing professional like an audiologist and attempt to use it as a hearing aid.

Unlike hearing amplifiers, prescription hearing aids are prescribed by a hearing professional. These hearing devices are custom-made and include programming that is personalized to each patient in order to address the patient’s hearing issues, and can’t be used by just anyone. Hearing aids fine tune only the frequencies that patients struggle to hear, and amplify at just the right volume.

Note that some hearing aids can be purchased over the counter, which are NOT the same as PSAPs and are meant for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. Unlike PSAPs, OTC hearing aids are FDA regulated and intended to be used with those who have hearing loss.

The takeaway is that hearing aids are real medical devices. A hearing amplifier, on the other hand, is an electronic device that makes all sound louder.

Dangers Of Personal Sound Amplification Products

No one wants to do further damage to the point they can no longer hear. In this economy, who can blame people with trouble hearing for seeking cheaper alternatives? Every year, the number of people who suffer from hearing loss increases.

Direct-to-consumer hearing devices, particularly amplifiers, are attractive options for dealing with hearing issues. The popularity of these devices continues to increase beyond use in recreational activities. As we continue to explore their potential impact on normal hearing, it becomes clearer that more research is needed.

We do know a hearing amplifier can amplify sounds to dangerous volume levels, and even has the potential to make tinnitus worse. Until hearing experts declare otherwise and a proper hearing test is conducted, choose a hearing aid that can be customized for you.

Quality: Hearing Amplifiers Vs Hearing Aids

Prescription hearing aids are without a doubt the best quality hearing device you can get your hands on. Here’s how they differ from personal sound amplification products in terms of quality:


Hearing aids are medical devices, much like a wheelchair or pacemaker. In the US, medical devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They fall under the Class 1 Medical Devices category and require a prescription from a medical professional. These prescriptions are only granted to people with hearing loss after tests are carried out.

Hearing amplifiers don’t need a prescription. They are electronic devices that people with normal hearing use to make sounds louder. The FDA regulates hearing aids, but not amplifiers.


This is a key part of what makes a hearing aid different from a hearing amplifier. A hearing care professional performs hearing tests to diagnose the type, configuration, and degree of hearing loss, providing valuable information that helps to determine what type of hearing aid will work best.

Hearing aids are unique to the patient’s condition. They can be further customized to meet their needs with something as simple as a favorite color, or charging ports for people who can’t manage changing batteries.

Hearing aids can be:

  • In the ear (ITE)
  • Behind the ear (BTE)
  • In the canal (ITC)
  • Completely in the canal (CIC)

Most hearing amplifiers, on the other hand, are “one-size-fits-all” and not customizable.

Different types of hearing aids


A hearing aid costs more than a hearing amplifier, as it is more likely to feature advanced technology that increases the cost of the device. Patients will also need to consult a hearing specialist for expert services, which comes with another set of costs.  Without the expertise of an audiologist, the hearing device itself is not useful. It must be programmed appropriately and the patient must be taught how to care for and operate the device. Additionally, bundled charges often include warranties for repair and loss & damage, as well as other necessary follow-up services. 

Volume vs Clarity

Hearing amplifiers amplify all sounds while hearing aids amplify specific sounds and make them clearer.

Hearing aids are much more sophisticated. These high-tech devices are able to adjust sound quality based on your environment and can distinguish speech from background noise. Loud sounds are also modified to comfortable levels. Advanced models have features like feedback cancellation, app connectivity, tinnitus relief, and wind noise reduction.

Generally speaking, cheap hearing amplifiers offer low acoustic quality. In some cases, they are no help, particularly for detecting high frequencies.

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Man putting in a hearing aid

Theoretically, anyone can make some sort of device to help them hear. Or at least, with mild hearing loss.

So, a microphone can pick up the sound, and some type of amplifier and speaker will enhance and replay it. This means the amplifier device will pick up all sounds and amplify them, but as a patient you may not want to hear all the sounds. Hearing problems are not that straightforward and need a more sophisticated solution to help with real life situations. 

Hearing aids don’t cure hearing loss, just like glasses don’t cure vision problems. They’re manufactured using advanced sound processing strategies that filter sound and send it through a controlled hearing amplifier for its user. This means that sounds can be filtered and controlled for the individuals needs so loud sounds won’t overwhelm the user. In addition the hearing aids use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make adjustments in complicated listening situations to help the person get the best sound into their ears. 

The best part about hearing aids is that they can work for nearly everyone, however in cases with severe to profound hearing losses, a cochlear implant may be more appropriate. This is why it is best to see a hearing care professional to get a proper evaluation to determine your needs. 

The most popular types of hearing aids use digital technology to convert sound waves to numerical codes. These are processed in real-time, and fine tuned based on the user’s programming. Hearing aids are more flexible than ever, and audiologists can even remotely adjust them, letting patients avoid trips to the clinic for follow up care. Many feature directional microphones to hear sounds from a specific direction.

Unfortunately, hearing aids aren’t covered by a lot of insurance providers, and they can be pricey. But, there’s no denying their value. Hearing aids can make a world of difference in someone’s life, bringing back sound, communication and socialization. 

Air-Conduction vs. Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids

Hearing aids fall under one of two categories – air conduction and bone conduction.

Air conduction hearing aids are the most popular option for people with hearing loss, and they deliver sound to the ear canal. Air conduction hearing aids aren’t for everyone, and [eople with chronic ear infections or malformed ear canals may benefit more from other solutions.

Bone conduction hearing aids are meant for people with specific configurations of hearing loss, such as conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, and single sided deafness. These devices are sometimes surgically implanted and may offer benefits for those suffering from tinnitus.

Modern bone conduction hearing technology limits skin and wound complications, and works best for people with conductive and mixed hearing loss, as well as single-sided deafness (SSD) by bypassing the outer and middle ear systems to stimulate the inner ear directly through vibrations.

Cost Comparison: Hearing Amplifiers Vs Hearing Aids

We did mention that getting a hearing aid is the more expensive option, but how much more expensive is it? What factors cause the price differences between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers?

Hearing Aids

The cost of your hearing aids depends on two main factors: technology and care type. The most expensive hearing aids have all the bells and whistles, and these are prescribed by an audiologist. OTC hearing aids tend to be cheaper.

Even if there are no initial consultation costs, you will be billed for follow-up appointments and cleanings. The severity of your hearing loss determines the type of hearing aid you get, which can range in cost. You should also factor in any accessories you’ll need, like batteries, a special charger, a remote microphone, or a TV connector.

You should expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 for good-quality hearing aids. Where possible, seek VA benefits, nonprofit support, financing, discount programs, and other avenues to lower costs.

Hearing Amplifiers

Only hearing aids require a prescription. Personal sound amplifying products are much cheaper, by as much as thousands of dollars. You could get one today if you walk into Walmart or Best Buy, or easily purchase one online. Though initial costs are cheap, the potential damage will cost more in the long run; thousands of dollars more.

Hearing Amplifiers Vs. Hearing Aids At A Glance

Hearing Aids Vs. Personal Amplification Products: Pros And Cons

The choice between hearing aids or hearing amplifiers is ultimately up to you. Here’s a summary of their differences to help you decide which option is right for you:

Hearing Aids


  • Hearing aids pick up on certain frequencies and amplify sounds
  • Customizable, and can be worn in the ear or behind the ear
  • Major positive effects on quality of life
  • Connectivity options
  • Tinnitus treatment options


  • May not be useful for people with severe to profound hearing loss
  • Can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance
  • Require a prescription from a hearing care professional

Hearing Amplifiers


  • Cheaper than hearing aids
  • Amplify sound
  • One-size fits all


  • Can cause costly damage to ears
  • Amplification cannot be personalized to an individual’s hearing loss
  • Does not filter loud noises
  • Not FDA regulated

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, the world of hearing assistance is nuanced, and understanding the difference between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers is crucial. While hearing amplifiers might seem like an attractive, low-cost solution for enhancing sound, they lack the sophistication and customization that prescription hearing aids offer. Hearing aids, regulated and prescribed by professionals, are tailored to individual hearing needs, providing not just amplification but clarity and comfort. They represent a significant investment in quality of life for those with hearing loss, going beyond mere volume increase to address specific hearing challenges. This article underscores the importance of consulting with audiologists and prioritizing proper hearing care. By choosing the right device for your needs, you can effectively manage hearing loss and maintain a rich, connected life. Remember, in the realm of hearing, one-size does not fit all, and the path to better hearing lies in personalized, professional care and technology.

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