As I settle into my mid-50s I realise I’ve accumulated a variety of broken body parts ranging all the way from my head to my feet. My eyes, for example, have three problems above and beyond simple myopia and I now read eye charts via The Force.
Alas, my Jedi Knight powers don’t work for my hearing. I’m quite deaf in the left ear and very deaf in the right. My late wife thought my hearing loss was very selective but I have audiology reports confirming my deafness.
The NHS fitted me up with one of their hearing aids a number of years back but I rarely wear it. This is because I’ve found it particularly useless in the places I need it the most, which is where there’s a lot of background noise that muffles the voices of people close by who I actually want to hear.
Furthermore, the NHS hearing aid is a big, obvious old Hector and, whilst I’ve reached an age where I’m not overly self-conscious about such things, something more discreet would hold more appeal.
The thing is, hearing aids are laughably expensive, particularly the discreet ones. They are clearly made from a combination of the hoof of a centaur and the horn of unicorn, ground together in the Large Hadron Collider, because they generally cost upwards of £1,000 for the cheaper ones and £3,000+ for the superior models.
It is a rip off, I have no doubt about that. I appreciate there’s a fair amount of miniaturisation involved in their construction but it’s basically a microphone, which converts sound to an electric signal, and that signal is then amplified, passed to a receiver and converted back to sound for transmission to the ear. There’ll be a printed circuit board doing some magic in the middle of all that too but it still seems overpriced.
You can get a whole iPhone for the price of a ‘cheap’ hearing aid and that performs basically the same function. Granted it’s much larger than a hearing aid but an iPhone will perform a multitude of other tasks beyond being a phone. For the price of an expensive hearing aid you can get yourself a brand new top of the range MacBook Pro.
For the most part I cope without one. I use subtitles on the telly, I can turn the volume up or use headphones for phone calls and I can hear most people reasonably well on a one-to-one basis. But there are still times when hearing loss is very inconvenient. It can be isolating and annoying and it’s often just as annoying for the person you’re trying to speak to as it is for you. There’ a lot of “Eh? What? Pardon?” and people having to repeat themselves.
Just the other day I thought someone said they were a pastor when, I was later told, they actually said they were a plasterer — more drywall screws than congregational pews.
It’s via this rambling entrée that I (finally) get to Hearing Direct. Their hearing aids are cheaper than most, which they claim is down to being an online-only service, and they get pretty good reviews. You’re still going to fork out £300-£500 per ear for their high-end hearing aids, but that’s significantly lower than anywhere else I found. Well, that’s not quite true. You will see cheaper ones around on places like Amazon and eBay but I’ve tried these before and found them to be fairly useless. My advice is to avoid such things.
So, let’s get specific to the Hearing Direct HD500.
Hearing Direct will deliver the next working day if your order before 4PM. They have an online hearing test you can take and I did so but then I couldn’t find a way to submit that with my order. It’s possible I missed this or maybe it’s not there at all.
They offer a full 30-day, no quibble returns guarantee and I can confirm they will honour this as I’ll explain in the Support section below.
Hearing Direct offer a number of different hearing aids and at first glance they look much of a muchness. I can’t tell you how to choose between them because I don’t know what your requirements are. Read the details of each one carefully before making your choice. I went for the HD500 on the presumption that it would be their best one.
If I had one recommendation here it would be to choose a battery-powered hearing aid rather than a rechargeable one. On the surface, getting a rechargeable one sounds like a better idea and I think it usually is with most electronic products, but it’s easier to manage battery-powered hearing aids when you’re out and about. You can always carry some batteries with you and replace them at will if a battery runs out, but you won’t always have the facilities to charge them up from USB (like maybe in a pub, in the street or in a desert).
The Hearing Direct HD500 itself
What you’ll receive is a small cardboard box with a small plastic box inside it. That small plastic box will contain a tiny hearing aid. It’s like uncovering a set of Russian Dolls.
Once you’ve stopped wondering how such a tiny item can cost so much, you’ll need to put a battery in it. My HD500 came with some of the Type 10 batteries the hearing aid uses. I found replacing the battery a bit fiddly but only because the hearing aid’s so small and I have fingers like sausages that are sorely lacking in the dexterity department. You need to flick open the battery compartment with your fingernail and then insert the battery. It’ll only go in one way round.
The hearing aid has no on/off switch. It is on when the battery is inserted and the battery compartment is closed. When you’re finished using the hearing aid, make sure you open the battery compartment to switch it off, otherwise you’ll just be wasting your battery.
Inserting the hearing aid is easy enough. You push it fairly deep into the ear and there’s a clear plastic ‘coil’ that sits in the outer ear to help keep it in place. The easiest thing to do is to watch the video Hearing Direct provide:
You adjust the volume by smacking yourself in the head.
No, really, you do. There are four settings on the HD500 and you cycle through them by tapping your open palm to your ear. You’ll hear a beep and it will cycle through programme 1, 2, 3 and 4, and then back to 1 again, every time you tap.
The maximum volume is not as loud as it is on the standard issue NHS hearing aid. This is the price you pay for having a more discreet item. I’m pretty deaf in my right ear and the HD500 works okay for me, but if you’re extremely deaf you might want to consider a behind-the-ear hearing aid instead.
As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the problems with my NHS hearing was that it amplified the background noise too much and that drowned out the voices I was trying to hear.
The HD500 is much better in this respect. I’m not totally sure why but if I had to guess I’d say it’s because it’s in-ear rather than behind-the-ear. It seems to be better at picking up noises close to you rather than just amplifying everything.
I tested this out on people. I started wearing it without telling anyone and only one person noticed it and they heard it rather than saw it. If the hearing aid is not fitted snugly it will sometimes whine and that’s what this person heard.
But it’s very discreet and you’ll feel far less self-conscious about wearing it than you would with the standard issue NHS hearing aid, for example.
After receiving my hearing aid and trying it for a few days, I had to contact Hearing Direct’s customer services. The downside is that it took me three emails and a number of days to get in contact with them initially. The upside is that once you do manage to make contact the support is excellent.
I asked if the hearing aid could be made louder because, although it was certainly amplifying things, it wasn’t quite enough to satisfy my hearing loss.
The HD500 is programmed to certain levels and I was told they could increase the maximum volume by 20-25%. They sent another hearing aid out to me immediately and I had it the next day. They also emailed a return address and bar code for the old one so I could post it back. It’s free to post it back: you just need to print off the form, cut out the relevant bit, tape it to a box and take it to a Post Office.
The 20-25% increase in volume worked a treat.
I have been in contact with Hearing Direct over a number of other issues too. It whistled a bit too much and they sent me some soft wraps for a better fit and that cured the problem. I have also contacted them over a few things resulting from my own incompetence and they have been patient and helpful throughout.
I like the HD500 and will wear it far more often than I did my NHS hearing aid. I’m sure a lot of my friends will breathe a sigh of relief as a result.
I could harp on about how expensive these things are but Hearing Direct’s products are much cheaper than most, so let’s just be glad of that.
If your hearing loss is very severe, then the HD500 might not be for you. In fact, an in-ear hearing aid is probably not for you. Having said that, the hearing loss in my right ear is a well beyond ‘mild’ and the HD500 works for me at maximum volume.
I’m going to provisionally give this 4.5 stars, the dropped half star being for the time it took me to get in contact with support. As with all my reviews, I reserve the right to alter it in the future. I cannot for example speak of the HD500’s longevity yet because I haven’t had it long enough. If I have any additional problems or comments I’ll come back and add an addendum to this review and reevaluate my score as necessary.
For what it's worth, I'm reviewing this as what I'll call a mid-range hearing aid. There are ultra-cheap hearing aids in the sub-£200 range and in my experience they're simply not worth bothering with. Then there are expensive, 'professional-grade' hearing aids that cost £1,000+. Such hearing aids are fitted properly (you usually go to somewhere like Specsavers or Boots to get them) and higher quality but, as I said, expensive. The HD500 falls in between those two categories.
My advice for someone with poor enough hearing that they need to wear a hearing aid full-time is to go for a high-quality, 'professional', fitted hearing aid. Bite the bullet and pay the money. If your hearing isn't bad enough to require that sort of outlay, then the HD500 will probably suffice.