The older we get, the more likely we are to have hearing loss. Presbycusis, age-related hearing loss, affects 1 in 3 people aged 65 to 74, and about half of all Americans 75 or older. There are prescription hearing aids, of course, and for mild hearing loss, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), of which the Clarity Chat is one.
The Clarity Chat certainly looks like some of the “behind the ear” hearing aids you may have seen other people wearing, but it is not sold as one. Prescription hearing aids are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and are usually sold, fitted and adjusted by licensed audiologists and hearing aid specialists. A PSAP cannot be called a hearing aid, but it is something anyone can buy, and making it work is up to you.
While I don’t have real hearing loss – although I might develop it as it runs in my family on the paternal side – I did try the Clarity Chat to see how it sounded compared to some other PSAP devices I’ve reviewed.
I had a two-ear set – you can purchase for one ear if that’s all you need – and it consisted of the behind the ear receivers, two pairs of thin tubes to carry sound to your ears (one set a little longer than the other), three pairs of “tips” in different sizes, a dozen small batteries, and cleaning tools. It was not difficult to insert the batteries, and with my glasses temporarily off, fit the Clarity Chat PSAPs behind, over & into my ears.
There are two sound adjustments on each receiver, one a rocker type switch for making the sound louder or softer, the other a button you press to change to one of four different “programs” – general listening, noisy environments, quiet conversation, and telecoil phone calls (also for theatres and other public spaces that have induction loop systems that transmit sound to hearing devices). For every change in volume or program, there is a beep or voice prompt.
Until I got the tips inserted properly and the volume level adjusted, there was some feedback squealing, quite annoying, but that can happen with any hearing assistance device.
The Clarity Chat definitely boosted the high-end frequencies, where most mild hearing loss starts, and even at the lowest volume and the everyday program, I found it a little disconcerting to hear myself talk with that high-end boost, although I spent many years in radio talking while wearing headphones. I didn’t notice any “improvement” in speaking with my wife or watching TV, but then again, I don’t have real hearing loss, so it would be more helpful for someone who does have real high-end drop-off.
The written manual – and yes, a printed manual actually comes in the box! – says it can take two or three weeks to get fully accustomed to using the device (I only wore them for part of two days), and they are sold with a 45-day money back guarantee, which should be enough time for a buyer to decide if they are worthwhile.
Prescription hearing aids generally start at about $1000 each (per ear) and the fanciest ones, with Bluetooth capability for listening to music and the ability to control them from your phone can cost significantly more. Prescription hearing aids usually include professional fittings and adjustments, where they can be “tuned” to each person’s particular hearing issues, while PSAPs provide more generic amplification.