Hearing Aids’ 3 Big Flaws

and how my brother’s hearing loss inspired me to start a company.
Plus: 3 ways to protect your hearing

February 2024

Hearing loss is a pervasive challenge that affects people across ages and backgrounds. Nearly every one of us will encounter some degree of hearing loss in our lifetimes, whether due to aging, exposure to loud environments, or genetic factors. This universal aspect of hearing impairment not only connects us through shared vulnerability but also calls for a collective reimagining of how technology can enhance auditory experiences for everyone. The following article describes what’s wrong with hearing healthcare technology and how to protect your hearing.

A dire realization

It was during a family gathering on Christmas of 2017 that I — for the first time in the 25 years I had spent with my brother — asked about his experience living with hearing impairment. As long as I can remember, he managed his life remarkably well. Until then, I never actually questioned the unique challenges his particular circumstance posed.He explained that when multiple people speak, their voices merge into an unintelligible mess for him, background noise can drown out any conversation he wants to engage in, and how he taught himself to lip-read to better understand others. He then offered me to try his hearing aids and I curiously accepted. Upon trying his high-end, super-expensive hearing devices, I suddenly heard everyone equally loud, no matter if they were right in front of me or in another room. Imagine a group of people conversing next door and all of a sudden, all those voices enter a shouting match right next to your ear. Within just two minutes, it became so uncomfortable, exhausting, and even anxiety-inducing that I had to remove the hearing aids. This brief experience opened my eyes to the world my brother navigates daily.Can you imagine leading a successful career and family life like that? I was impressed — but also terrified. As I read up on hearing loss, I realized that close to everyone experiences it at some point in their life. It is considered a normal part of aging. Even I can spot some of the early effects in my hearing now at only 31, though most do not recognize the symptoms until it starts to become a problem. Maybe you can, too. A simple test follows later in the article.For most who are affected, hearing loss becomes devastating to their social life and psychological health. It isolates them, removing them emotionally from their families. Just imagine a happy family gathering with grownups chatting and kids laughing while you’re incapable of following conversations, engaging in jokes, or simply enjoying the experience. No wonder substance abuse and depression are rampant in those living with hearing loss.But why is that?

How hearing aids work

See, hearing aids don’t just make everything louder. They amplify the frequencies a person struggles to hear, which is determined by a unique hearing profile.To better understand this, imagine sound as many co-existing, overlapping vibrations, some vibrate very fast, some quite slowly. Our ear has the incredible ability to split those vibrations up, similar to how a prism splits white light into its composing colors.Various Sounds and their typical frequency and loudness (lower is louder)Every person’s hearing profile, that is how intensely the “colors” (i.e. frequencies) are perceived, is different. Someone’s hearing may tilt more towards “red” and another one’s may tilt more towards “blue”. For every frequency, there exists a so-called “hearing threshold”. That is the minimum required loudness of that frequency to be perceived. This hearing threshold across all frequencies is called the “Audiogram”, that’s your hearing profile.Male & Female hearing threshold in dB for different age groups. Lower means a sound needs to be louder to be perceived.Audiologists can measure this hearing profile and program a hearing aid to specifically adjust the less receptive frequencies, similar to how a photo filter makes your picture’s colors look more or less vivid or appear warmer or cooler. For people with hearing impairment, some frequencies’ hearing threshold has increased so far that they vanish completely even at regular volume. A good hearing aid amplifies those frequencies enough to make them audible again without further damaging the wearer’s hearing. Much like a DJ will turn up the bass or treble, depending on the sound he wants to create. That is the basic principle of a hearing aid, only that it has to process sound within tiny fractions of a second to prevent echoes and painful feedback squeals.

Testing your hearing

Next time you listen to music in a quiet environment, turn down the volume all the way. Then, slowly start turning it up again and pay close attention to the instruments and vocals of the song. Notice how different instruments seem to suddenly “appear” as you turn the volume louder? If so, that is because the volume was too low for their pitch to be perceived by your hearing. If you do not experience this, your hearing may still be quite ok.Another great way is to listen to this video of a sound slowly increasing its pitch. Listen with high-quality headphones and pause when you stop hearing the sound. That is the highest frequency you can still hear at the given volume and it will be different for different volumes. Typically, age-related hearing loss affects higher frequencies first. Be careful though, high frequencies can be quite painful to listen to.

3 Big Problems with hearing aids

1. Stigma

Most of the hearing aid innovation over the last 10 years has been to make the devices smaller, more energy efficient, and easier to hide inside the ear. That is a direct consequence of the widespread stigma hearing aids carry. Just think about it, what do you associate with the concept of a hearing aid? Age, frailty, disability?Compare that emotional association with glasses. Also stigmatized just a few decades ago as a tool for old people, glasses have become a fashion statement, associated with intelligence and thoughtfulness.

2. Size

Due to the trend of downsizing, hearing aids have hardly become more capable over the past few decades. Great features require powerful hardware and larger batteries, all factors directly opposed to miniaturization.Hearing aids’ operating principle of statically compensating the wearer’s hearing profile leads to a loss of direction and the ability to separate different sound sources from each other. Think of how well you, if you are hearing normally, recognize your name from a conglomerate of sounds, music, and chatter at a cocktail party. Something as simple as that seems like an impossibility to many living with hearing difficulties.If hearing aids could make the same transition in branding as glasses did, the ongoing drive to downsizing could be replaced with a drive for actual innovation.

3. Lack of Vision

What if hearing aids could not only compensate for hearing loss but offer enhanced auditory capabilities? Imagine superhuman hearing abilities, isolating voices, or being able to “zoom in” on a person you are listening to in a bustling cafe, blending out the noise around you and helping you to focus on the conversation.The next time you’re in a place that is too loud to comfortably talk to someone next to you, imagine being able to uniquely control the volume of all the background noise. Imagine your Headphones could do that for you, canceling background noise while letting the conversation continue normally. Now imagine having this issue every day of your life, when talking to loved ones or at work, with friends, or even strangers on the street. That is a reality for millions of people, most of whom cannot afford the thousands of dollars for a proper hearing aid.

Taking care of your hearing

Until we unlock superhuman hearing using technology, you may want to consider protecting your hearing from unnecessary harm. Here are 3 easy steps to do so:

1. Wear protection

In clubs and concerts, volumes easily reach harmful levels. Using simple earplugs is a great way of avoiding damage and reducing subconscious stress.
Apple’s Air Pods Pro even offer a dedicated feature for that: go to Settings > Sound & Haptics > Headphones Safety, and activate the toggle that says ‘Reduce Loud Sounds’.

2. Use Noice Cancelling headphones

It does not take a two-hour rock concert to damage your hearing. Studies show that exposure to moderate levels of noise such as traffic, an airplane cabin, or busy cafe chatter over long enough periods can lead to permanent hearing loss. Using noise-canceling headphones while exposed to such a situation can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and long-term damage to your hearing.

3. Test your hearing regularly

Most hearing aid wearers get their hearing aids many years after sustaining significant hearing loss. This leads to atrophy of the neural connections responsible for differential hearing (separating sounds) and localization of sounds, making it even harder for a hearing aid to compensate for the loss. Being aware of your hearing as well as getting hearing aids sooner rather than later will significantly improve your quality of life long-term.


These insights sparked my imagination. I opened my eyes to the possibilities for those living with hearing loss. It was this vision that led to the birth of clir — a company committed to breaking the barriers of traditional hearing aid technology. But our journey is far from complete.Recognizing a problem alone does not make for a great business plan. you’d need a workable solution and a way to distribute it, too. That Christmas Eve 6 years ago, I might have just found those.More on this in the next article. If you’re interested in technology and entrepreneurship, be sure to follow to stay up to date.Also check out our new app: clir Hearing. It turns your iPhone into a remote mic with AI superpowers, removing background noise from your environment and streaming it directly to your headphones and Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids.Your feedback, support, and participation are not just welcome — they’re essential to our mission of making hearing enhancement not just about compensating for loss, but about gaining new ways to experience the world around us.