Apps for the Ears Tablet and smartphone users can choose from a growing number of apps that test hearing sensitivity and amplify sound. App-titude
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App-titude  |   July 01, 2014
Apps for the Ears
Author Notes
  • Amyn M. Amlani, PhD, is an associate professor of audiology in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Texas. amlaniam@unt.edu
    Amyn M. Amlani, PhD, is an associate professor of audiology in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Texas. amlaniam@unt.edu×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Audiologic / Aural Rehabilitation / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / App-titude
App-titude   |   July 01, 2014
Apps for the Ears
The ASHA Leader, July 2014, Vol. 19, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19072014.34
The ASHA Leader, July 2014, Vol. 19, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.APP.19072014.34
As the concept of patient empowerment takes hold in health care, apps are keeping pace, offering blood pressure screeners and spirometers through people’s mobile devices. Supportive apps for hearing loss have also entered the fray: Some provide tests to assess hearing sensitivity. Others provide sound amplification.
Research from our laboratory at the University of North Texas suggests that these apps can be effective. But it’s important to note that these apps—which are limited to pure-tone testing—are not meant to replace professional services.Rather, these apps are intended to help listeners self-monitor their sensitivity to sounds, or to serve as starter or back-up amplification devices, similar to reading glasses.
Sensitivity tests
A major iOS-only offering in hearing sensitivity assessment is EarTrumpet (from Praxis BioSciences, $3.99. This app tests four octave frequencies and is calibrated for use with Apple earbuds. After the user finishes testing, the app explains the findings for each ear and offers rationales for the results. Users can save the findings, compare them over time and send them by e-mail.
For Android users, Hearing Test (from e-audiologia.pl) is a free and comparable app to EarTrumpet. Developed in Poland, it requires the user to calibrate headphones based on the test results of a listener with normal hearing sensitivity. The app then stores these calibration results and uses them during comprehensive testing of seven octave frequencies. The app records the thresholds on an audiogram. Users can save and compare audiograms over time, but there is no means to submit results electronically.
Sound amplification
Do smartphone hearing aid apps really work? Our lab recently demonstrated that the apps have similar electroacoustic characteristics to traditional hearing aids and similar perceived performance. They could be useful as a temporary or starter solution to a hearing deficit, but the amount of amplification they offer is quite minimal.
Ear Machine is a free iOS app developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health. In basic mode, Ear Machine allows users to adjust volume and frequency response for both ears simultaneously. In addition, the app is designed with EarShare, an algorithm that automatically adjusts the loudness and frequency response based on research data. The app also allows users to change the frequency response of the left and right channels independently, and to amplify music stored on the device. The application works only with hardwired in-ear headphones.
In addition to the hearing test mentioned previously, the EarTrumpet app includes a sound amplifier module that allows the listener to adjust volume and frequency response using either preset or customizable equalizer settings. Users can save these equalizer settings for future use. As with Ear Machine, users can adjust the volume and frequency response independently for the right and left ears. The application works only with hardwired in-ear headphones.
Besides allowing the user to modify and store volume and equalizer settings, some hearing aid apps also can record stimuli processed through the device’s microphone or hardwired headphones. Examples of such apps are Hearing Aid with Replay (from Lemberg Solutions, $3.30 on Google Play) and SoundAmp (from Ginger Labs, $4.99 on Apple iTunes). Neither of these apps, however, can process music stored on the device.
Again, it’s important to note that these apps are not meant to replace professional services—they are meant to help listeners self-monitor sound sensitivity or to serve as starter or stopgap amplification.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
July 2014
Volume 19, Issue 7