Eargo 6: Tiny hearing aids that don't scrimp on features

The high-tech hearing aids are closing in on their larger competition.

James Trew / Engadget

In the world of hearing aids, Eargo stands out for a few reasons. Not least because of its different approach, but also because of its rapid, annual release cycle. It’s all part of how Eargo operates more like a technology company instead of a stuffy medical-device provider. This year’s model? It’s number 6, and it’s not a huge leap from last year’s, but it’s still a notable one. One that pushes Eargo ever nearer to feature parity with the competition it seeks to outdo while maintaining its tiny, tiny form factor.

It’s that form factor that is both beneficial and binding. To be clear, “invisible in canal” (IIC) hearing aids are not unique to Eargo, but they do tend to come with tradeoffs such as no Bluetooth connectivity, reduced battery life and, of course, a lack of on-device controls (such as volume). To Eargo’s credit, it has found ways to sidestep most of these challenges with each new product, and this time it’s automatic profile switching – dubbed “Sound Adjust” — that gets crossed off the list of things that an Eargo can’t do.

First, a reminder of some of the things previous models could already do. Despite their size you can configure Eargos via the companion app. Initially, this was limited to placing them in the (Bluetooth-enabled) charging case, but newer models can be adjusted while wearing them thanks to the clever use of ultrasonic commands. You can also switch preset profiles using a gesture (double-tapping your tragus). All Eargos are also rechargeable with a charging case so you don’t need to fiddle with batteries.

More recently, since last year’s model, you’ve been able to customize the audio profile of the hearing aids to match your own unique hearing needs, which is perhaps the most significant update for most people. As a direct-to-customer product there’s usually no audiologist fitting these for you, so the app-based process goes a long way to eliminating that rather obvious negative and probably also does a good job of convincing fence-sitters that these are serious hearing aids and not fancy personal amplifiers (all Eargo products have been FDA approved hearing aids).

Eargo 6 hearing aids with Sound Adjust shown on their packaging with the portable charger.
James Trew / Engadget

When it comes to testing out the new Sound Adjust feature it’s not quite as simple as monitoring the companion app and watching it update as a profile changes. Thanks to how the Eargos communicate with the app (via the aforementioned ultrasound) the phone needs to be very close to the hearing aids with the volume up (above 75 percent) for it to make changes. Of course, that’s just one way. Right now, there’s no real way for the buds themselves to communicate back to the app. So how do we know when the hearing aids change modes?

As a crude test I left the Eargos on the “Normal” preset and then simulated a noisy room by playing some restaurant sounds over a nearby speaker. I can’t be certain what changes the device made, but compared to the same test wearing the previous model (without Sound Adjust) the noise did seem less jarring. The sharp sound of cutlery against plate was more pronounced in the older model than it was in the Eargo 6.

There is another, perhaps more immediately observable difference this time around and that’s the noise reduction, which seems much improved. As before you can decide how much noise reduction to apply from three different settings (low to high) or disable it if you prefer. It’s not obvious how much this feature impacts the battery life. I was able to get a full day’s use out of them with it activated and room to spare, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t use it — it really does make the hearing experience more natural.

These new features definitely add some finesse to the whole experience. They're also more practical updates, too. There’s a new “mask mode” which, and I mean this optimistically, I hope doesn’t remain useful for much longer but it’s there nonetheless. Another practicality is that the Eargo 6 is rated IPX7 for water resistance: finally, you can take a shower with these things in. With water-resistant earbuds/headphones, stepping into the shower with them on is a novelty, but with a hearing device you want to put on forget about, not having to remove them for a shower just gives you one less thing to worry about.

All these new changes increase the viability of the Eargo 6 as a replacement for whatever legacy device you might be using currently. Or, if you sense you could benefit from hearing assistance but the thought of a trip to the audiologist or haggling with insurance has been putting you off, these are about as easy an option you can find.

Eargo's mobile app running on the iPhone 12.
James Trew / Engadget

I do wish they were a little more comfortable for extended use. In general, they are fine – even for all-day wearing. But some days, my ears can feel a little more blocked than others and when this happens, I can sense some fatigue after a couple of hours with the Eargo inside. This can be further aggravated by eating, which reminds you how connected many of the muscles in our jaw and ear are.

It would also be nice to know when the Eargo have reached their maximum or minimum volume. There are controls in the app for adjusting them together and separately (perfect for my unilateral hearing loss) but I never know when it’s at maximum, so I end up either over pressing the “+” sign to make sure I must be at max when some simple feedback could just solve the mystery. This is obviously a minor nitpick, though it can be useful for helping to get the balance right to avoid going so loud as to create feedback, which does occur at higher volumes (on most hearing aids).

As always, if these sound like they might be helpful to you, you can buy them directly from the Eargo website for $2,950 (financing is available). As to whether this could be covered by your insurance, that’s less clear/something you’ll need to confirm with your provider.

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