Conventional wisdom tells us that those who need hearing aids have a profound hearing loss. The caricature of an older man holding his hand to his ear and yelling, “What’s that?” likely comes to mind. The truth, though, is, more and more people are seeking help from audiologists because they have a mild hearing loss. They can hear fine, they will tell the audiologist, but they have trouble understanding what people are saying. What they need are aids like Starkey hearing aids.
That’s where the true nature of hearing loss comes in. Hearing involves more than the complicated workings of the inner and outer ear. It also includes the brain and its interpretation of sound. If you start to notice that it is becoming more difficult to understand what others are saying, you may have hearing loss. For example, if you hear people speaking but miss or misinterpret occasional words, especially in a crowded or noisy room, you may be experiencing the early stages of hearing loss. One way to regain clarity is to employ technology such as Starkey hearing aids.
What are Starkey Hearing Aids?
Starkey Hearing Technologies, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., manufactures a number of wireless and digital hearing aid styles. Each is designed to be discreet and to fit comfortably in the wearer’s ear. The styles Starkey hearing aids offers include:
Made for iPhone
This hearing aid connects wirelessly to your iPhone, iPod or Apple Watch. Not only will it help you hear better in noisy environments, it will also stream phone calls and play audio such as music from your device.
Many first-time wearers select this hearing aid because of its ease. It fits behind the ear with the receiver tucked in the ear canal.
Another choice for many first-timers, this hearing aid fits almost completely in the ear canal. Only the aid’s removal handle is visible, and even that is relatively hard to see.
The in-the-canal hearing aid is custom-built for a snug fit, and a portion of the hearing aid remains visible after insertion. In-the-canal hearing aids, including the two listed above, can be difficult to remove for some people. Audiologists suggest these only for people with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss because of limits to the aid’s power and volume.
Also custom-made, this hearing aid fits snugly within the outer ear. Designers built the in-the-ear hearing aid for those who prefer something a little less invasive. Some in-the-ear hearing aids include a telecoil, which is a small magnetic coil that collects sound through the hearing aids’ circuitry rather than through a microphone. This allows for clearer telephone conversations and improved hearing in places with custom sound systems.
When you think of hearing aids, this is most likely the style you imagine. Starkey hearing aids make behind-the-ear hearing aids in three sizes, from mini to “power.” The hearing aid consists of a plastic case that houses the aid’s electronic components. The case sits behind the ear, collecting sound and passing it to either an ear mold or an open-fit tube. Open-fit behind-the-ear hearing aids are good for people who build up earwax or who find that the earmold muffles their own voice too much.
Popular among all ages, but especially younger hearing aid wearers, this style tucks completely within the ear canal and is virtually invisible. These are also custom-made.
How Do Starkey Hearing Aids Work?
Hearing aids are built with either analog or digital electronics. Choosing the best type is almost entirely up to the user since comfort and individual performance are so critical to success. For example, wearers’ lifestyles can affect the type of hearing aids they use. Someone who is active may prefer to not have a behind-the-ear hearing aid.
Analog Hearing Aids
Analog hearing aids use technology to convert sound waves into amplified electronic signals. Also, analog hearing aids are custom–built and programmed by the manufacturer based on your audiologist’s recommendation. Most have a handful of settings for the type of environment you might find yourself in, including quiet rooms, crowded spaces, and open areas. Generally speaking, analog hearing aids are less expensive than digital hearing aids.
Digital Hearing Aids
Digital hearing aids convert sound into a numerical code and then amplify that information. Also, digital hearing aids differ from analog aids in that the information the aid gathers, including pitch and loudness, can be adjusted by frequency. This opens up the number of adjustments and listening environments the audiologist can recommend to the manufacturer.
What’s Unique About Starkey Hearing Aids?
Two things stand out about Starkey hearing aids when compared with other companies in the field. The first is Starkey’s history with hearing aid innovation. The second is the company and its values.
Starkey developed the industry’s first in-canal hearing aid and first digital, fully programmable invisible hearing aid. It continues pushing the envelope to make discreet hearing aids, even exploring the use of nanotechnology. Its hearing aids are waterproof to combat moisture, which can be deadly to electronics.
The company has an evidence-based design philosophy, only making changes to models when it is sure the changes will make a significant difference to the user’s experience. That philosophy has led the company to design hearing aids that work well in noisy environments and to employ simpler controls.
Starkey Hearing Technologies also embraces philanthropic pursuits. Its Starkey Hearing Foundation takes a global approach to improve people’s ability to hear. It has donated time, treatment and hearing equipment to more than a million people in need worldwide. It tackles the same issue nationally through the Hear Now nonprofit program.
The company is also invested in a national hearing health program called Listen Carefully. The program focuses on teens, teaching them the science of hearing and what high-decibel sounds like loud music over headphones can do to hearing health.
How Much Do Starkey Hearing Aids Cost?
Starkey hearing aids range in price from $1,800 to $2,500. Double that amount if you need a hearing aid for each ear. It is understandable if those prices elicit a bit of sticker shock.
Hearing aids are often custom-crafted pieces of equipment, and their price point falls in line with similar healthcare technology. They are built based on carefully gathered biometric data and fitted for each individual by trained professionals. Appointments, analysis, and evaluation are often included in the retail price of the hearing aid, as is other work like probe microphone verification, routine follow-ups, unscheduled adjustments, and minor repairs. That’s all above and beyond the costs associated with mass-produced consumer electronics.
That said, there are some ways you might be able to offset the retail price:
Not all health care coverage is the same, so if you have private health insurance through your employer or otherwise, review what is covered before you begin your hearing aid journey. You may discover that your insurance covers hearing tests and evaluation but may not cover the cost of hearing aids. Reach out to your insurer to find out what is covered, if there are approved providers you should work with and whether you have to pay and then submit a claim.
Similarly, if you are covered by Medicaid, you should review eligibility requirements under your state program. Most programs cover some hearing aid cost. Some cover the full cost.
Flexible Spending and Health Savings Account Plans
Your employer may offer either a flexible spending or health savings account plan. Both allow you to set aside funds before tax to purchase qualified health products such as hearing aids. Health savings plans are available to those on a high-deductible health insurance plan. Funds deposited in an HSA can accumulate year-over-year and earn interest.
Veterans Administration Benefits
Qualified veterans have access to hearing evaluation, analysis, and in some cases, hearing aids. Reach out to your local VA to see what benefits you might be able to use.
Individual Financing Options
There is always the option to take a personal loan to purchase hearing aids. Some financial services organizations offer loans at low-interest rates that are specifically for health care needs. You may be able to learn more about this option through your audiologist.
What Do Users Think?
Overall, Starkey hearing aids users find the products worthwhile. Of 31 reviews on ConsumerAffairs.com, the average reviewer gave the hearing aids three stars out of five.
Those who gave the hearing aids five stars praised them for their comfort and performance. “I can hear my cat eating kibble across the room,” wrote one reviewer. “The devices are tiny, invisible and come with a two-year warranty which includes damage and loss.”
Reviewers who rated the hearing aids with one or two stars complained about the technology not working. One reviewer said he returned to the hearing aid provider every other week over a year but could not get the hearing aids adjusted to a point where they performed well. Others complained that the hearing aids worked for a short period, less than six months in some cases, before breaking.
Most reviews fell in the three-star range. Customers who gave the hearing aids three stars lauded their performance and occasionally chided the longevity of the devices. “The hearing aid helped me hear better, and everyone I know that uses it is very fond of it,” wrote one reviewer. “Quality was nice. However, it did not last too long. Overall I was satisfied.”
Another customer bought Starkey hearing aids for his parents. The reviewer wrote that he was satisfied with the price, but, like others, he also ran into some quality problems. Contacting customer service was easy, however. “I did not have trouble contacting staff when my parents needed help with their hearing aid,” he wrote. “The staff was very friendly.” The work the customer service put in to help the man fix his issue was enough for him to appreciate his investment.
How Does Starkey Measure Up to Competitors?
Starkey Hearing Technologies is considered one of the “Big Six” hearing aid manufacturers in the world. It is the only member of the Big Six from the United States. The other companies are GN ReSound, Sivantos, Sonova, Widex and William Demant.
GN ReSound, from Denmark, manufactures the ReSound brand. Signia is sold by Singapore-based Sivantos. Switzerland’s Sonova sells Phonak hearing aids. Widex, from Denmark, sells hearing aids under the Widex name. William Demant, another Denmark manufacturer, sells Oticon hearing aids.
In a survey of audiologists by a leading website focused on hearing aids and hearing aid technology, Starkey falls somewhere in the middle with respect to criteria such as value, sound quality, reliability, ease of fit and use.
Starkey ranks in either fourth or fifth place for value, sound quality, and reliability. The company scores higher in ease of fit and ease of use, coming in third place. It rates high in customer service as well but comes in first with regard to returns by patients. That return rate is certainly something to consider while shopping.
Experts do point out that it is hard to compare brands rather than individual hearing aids. Most hearing aids are custom-made, and hearing loss differs from person to person. If you have an opportunity to test-drive different brands, that serves you well when you make a decision. Moreover, the best hearing aid is really up to how comfortable you are with the technology and the fit.
Starkey Hearing Technologies is a major manufacturer, and its customers generally enjoy its products. It rates well with respect to value and sound quality, with a handful of brands falling below it in these important categories.
That said, customers tend to give Starkey’s product only three stars, a rating that is worthy of some pause before a person invests. Reviewers and audiologists agree that Starkey hearing aids are average. Depending on your individual hearing needs and your resources to pay, average might be great. However, you may want to shop around a bit before making a final decision.