More and more people have some form of hearing impairment in this increasingly loud day and age. Chances are your hearing also isn't the best if you stumbled upon this guide. You may remember hearing aids as bulky devices sitting behind your ears that are barely good enough to make people hear again, but this is far from the truth today. Most hearing aids support some form of audio streaming. Still, for most of them, you must have a compatible phone.
Google's ASHA protocol
To make hearing aids and smartphones work together, they need to support the same standards. Google created one such Bluetooth-based solution for all Android devices, called ASHA (Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids — not to be confused with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). The open source standard was introduced with a handful of devices on Android 10 in 2019 and has since become available on most of the modern flagship phones with Bluetooth 5.0 and higher.
The Google Pixel 3 pictured here was one of the first Android phones to support ASHA.
In contrast to regular Bluetooth Audio, ASHA is more energy-efficient and offers a few extra features. When your phone and hearing aids support ASHA, you can take advantage of a few advanced features in your phone's settings app or its quick settings toggles.
Here is a list of the most prominent models sold in the U.S. that support ASHA:
- Asus ROG 6 (Pro) and newer
- Asus Zenfone 8 series and newer
- Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL and newer
- Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL and newer
- OnePlus 8 Pro and newer
- OnePlus 8T and newer
- Samsung Galaxy S9 series and newer
- Samsung Galaxy Note10 series and newer
- Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2 and newer
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and newer
- Samsung Galaxy A21s
- Samsung Galaxy A51 and newer
- Samsung Galaxy A71 and newer
- Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 series and newer
Due to the insurmountable number of Android phone models, this list isn't exhaustive, but it's a good starting point. To check for compatibility, make sure the phone you have or want to buy is compatible with ASHA. This should be noted somewhere in its manual or in the specifications you can view before you buy it.
You should also check with your hearing aid specialist or the manufacturer of your hearing aids, no matter what the compatibility in this chart says. Some hearing aid manufacturers individually verify that their products work with each phone, so it might take some time until those hearing aids support the latest smartphones.
Apple's MFi hearing devices program
While matters are complicated in the Android world, Apple makes things easier. That's in part due to the fact that there are only a handful of smartphone models the company and hearing aid manufacturers need to develop their products for, which allows them to reach a significant number of potential users — especially considering that more than half of the U.S. smartphone market is owned by Apple.
Apple offers a similar custom Bluetooth standard as part of the Made for iPhone (MFi) program. It also uses a Bluetooth Low Energy standard that streams audio at a high quality but with less energy consumption.
According to an Apple support page, the following products are compatible with MFi hearing aids:
- iPhone 5 or later
- iPad Pro (all models)
- iPad Air (all models)
- iPad (4th generation) or later
- iPad mini (all models)
- iPod touch (5th generation) or later
The company also has a well-maintained list of supported hearing aids, which you can reference for your hearing aid purchase decision.
When you pair your hearing devices with more than one Apple product, it automatically switches to the device which currently has audio playing, much like it works with AirPods. Changes to your hearing profile you make on one device will be respected by your other Apple devices, too.
Apple also offers a handful of settings for hearing devices. You can pick if you'd always like audio to play through your hearing aids or if you prefer the last used audio source. When you pair hearing aids, you can also use the Hearing Devices settings page to its full extent. In it, you'll find options to control audio routing and where ringtones should play, if you can control your hearing devices via nearby Apple devices, whether audio should be automatically handed off, and if you can control the hearing aids on your lock screen without unlocking.
Hearing aids with regular Bluetooth Audio support
If none of the phones on this list intrigue you, you may have to switch your strategy. Most hearing aids only support the custom BLE protocols for energy-saving reasons, but a few manufacturers offer hearing devices that can connect to any Bluetooth source. This gives you the most flexibility, though the downside is that the experience may not be as optimized as the one for hearing aid-specific standards.
You will miss out on the integrated hearing devices settings provided by Apple and Android when you go this route, though most of the time, you'll still be able to tweak options in an app provided by the manufacturer. The other downside is, naturally, worse battery life when compared to BLE hearing aids, which use a standard that is less power-hungry than Bluetooth Audio. Many manufacturers combat this issue by opting for single-use, replaceable batteries, which offer longer battery life than rechargeable models.
Some hearing aid manufacturers also offer extra devices that offer regular Bluetooth connectivity for phones and other devices and connect to your hearing aids via T-Coil, allowing you to connect to anything that can stream Bluetooth.
Phonak is one brand that offers hearing aids with standard Bluetooth connectivity.
Picking out good hearing devices and smartphone combos might get easier in the future. The Bluetooth SIG developed a new Low Energy Audio standard (LE Audio) that is supposed to bring all audio devices under one roof, whether they're only used for entertainment purposes or also to improve hearing. This new standard is about as energy efficient as the one that hearing aids are using right now without a perceivable loss in quality. If you have hearing devices and want to upgrade, consider holding out for one or two more years. On the smartphone side of things, most of the phones released in 2023 support Bluetooth LE Audio.
The new standard will also enable improved assistive technology like Auracast, which allows venues to broadcast a Bluetooth signal to multiple recipients, all but replacing T-Coil and making such a system accessible to any Bluetooth device. Speaking of T-Coil, we can only recommend using this feature if your hearing aids offer it. It allows you to hear better in public spaces that have the appropriate wiring in place for this, and you can also turn it on in your phone's settings to hear better on phone calls when you're not connected via Bluetooth. More information on the technology can be found in Healthy Hearing's telecoils guide.
Don't worry if your phone is not compatible
If your phone isn't compatible with your hearing aids, it doesn't necessarily have to stay that way. Hearing aid manufacturers and smartphone makers are constantly updating their software, so your devices may be compatible somewhere down the line.
You must also remember that you're gaining much with hearing aids, even if you can't stream audio to them. Your quality of life will greatly improve in any case, with you finally being able to hear your surroundings and peers better. In a sense, the exact opposite of what you would want to achieve with the best noise-canceling Bluetooth earbuds out there, which you can still use as a stopgap solution when you need to stream audio.