While hearing aids are very useful for people with hearing loss and technology is constantly evolving and improving, there are still many scenarios where they fall short. The sensitive microphones in hearing aids often pick up ambient noise. Echoes and distortion can make it difficult to hear a TV show or movie. Understanding what is being said often requires concentration, which is tiring, and missing words can be frustrating.
The good news is that you can now stream audio directly to many hearing aids and cochlear implants. We’ve looked at how you can use your smartphone to help cope with hearing loss, and some other devices are starting to add similar features. For example, Amazon just announced audio streaming support from select Fire TV devices to some cochlear implants. Let’s see how you can use audio streaming for hearing aids.
How to stream audio directly from Fire TV to hearing aids
Amazon has added audio streaming for compatible Bluetooth hearing aids such as conventional hearing aids, bone conduction hearing aids, and cochlear implants (with Cochlear Nucleus 8, Nucleus 7, Nucleus Kanso 2, and Baha 6 Max sound processors) to the following Fire TV devices:
Fire TV Cube (2nd and 3rd generation) Fire TV 4 series Fire TV Omni series Fire TV Omni QLED series
Before pairing your hearing aids with your Fire TV, disconnect them from other devices and put them in pairing mode. Here’s how:
Turn off Bluetooth on your other connected devices, turn your hearing aids off and on again, open and close the battery door (or place your hearing aids in the charging case briefly), and then remove them to enter pairing mode. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Hearing Aids and select Add Hearing Aids. Follow the on-screen instructions and tap Next to search for your hearing aids. If you use two hearing aids, you should see both listed. They may have the same name, but you still need to pair them separately. Choose one and wait a moment for pairing. You should see Hearing aids paired successfully on the screen and you can repeat the process for your second hearing aid.
Once paired, you can press and hold the Home button on your Fire TV remote to access Quick Settings and adjust the volume for your hearing aids. You can also do this by going to Settings > Accessibility > Hearing Aids and selecting Volume.
If you need to disconnect your hearing aids from Fire TV (perhaps you want to switch to your phone to answer an incoming call), you can pause whatever you’re watching and then press and hold the Home button to open Quick Settings. You should see hearing aid options below, then you can click Disconnect. You can now connect to your phone to answer the call.
How to stream audio directly from your iPhone to hearing aids
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Apple supports wireless audio streaming from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch for a long list of Made for iPhone (MFi) hearing aids. Connected devices can stream audio for phone and FaceTime calls, music, videos, games, Siri, and all kinds of other content. How to connect:
Make sure Bluetooth is enabled via Settings > Bluetooth. Open the battery compartment of your hearing aid, place it in the charging case or switch it off. On your Apple device, go to Settings > Accessibility > Hearing and select Hearing Aids. Close the battery compartment on your hearing aid, remove it from the charging case or switch it on again. Your Apple device searches for your hearing aids. Under MFi hearing aids, tap the name of your hearing aid. Tap Pair when you see the pairing request on the screen. If you have two hearing aids, you will receive two requests. Pairing can take up to a minute. You can use your hearing aid when you see it ticked under MFi hearing aids.
If your hearing aid manufacturer offers an iOS app, it likely offers additional settings.
People with MFi hearing aids can also use their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch as a remote microphone that sends the sound directly to their connected hearing aid. The Live Listen feature can come in handy in coffee shops or noisy rooms where you are trying to hear a specific person. How to use it:
Go to Settings > Accessibility, then select Hearing Aids. Under MFi hearing aids, tap the name of your hearing aid. Tap Start Live Listening. Place the device in front of the person you want to hear.
If you have AirPods Pro, you can also try Conversation Boost.
How to stream audio directly from your Android device to hearing aids
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Direct audio streaming support varies somewhat with Android devices. With some hearing aids and Android phones, it’s best to connect like you would any other Bluetooth device. Here’s how:
Make sure your hearing aids are not connected to other devices and are in pairing mode. (Turn off Bluetooth on your other connected devices, then cycle your hearing aids, open and close the battery door, or place your hearing aids in the charging case briefly and then remove them.) Go on your Android device Go to Settings > Connected devices and select Pair new device. Select your hearing aids from the list. If you have two, wait for the first hearing aid to connect and then tap the second in the list. It should say active, left and right if successful.
For Android phones that meet the hearing aid compatibility requirements set by the United States Federal Communications Commission, such as the accessibility menu as follows:
On your Android phone, go to Settings > Accessibility > Hearing Aids. Tap Next and select Pair new device. Select your hearing aids from the list. If you have two, wait for the first hearing aid to connect and then tap the second in the list. It should say active, left and right if successful.
If your hearing aid manufacturer offers an Android app, it likely offers additional settings. You can also find a video like this one from Cochlear that will walk you through the best way to connect your specific hearing aids.
A word about Bluetooth
Unfortunately, connecting to other devices with hearing aids, even when Bluetooth is available, is not as easy as it should be. To understand why, we need to look at Bluetooth standards. In 2009, Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) was introduced as part of Bluetooth 4.0 to provide some of the features of Bluetooth but with lower power requirements, making it ideal for small devices with limited battery life like wearables. Unfortunately, among other things, the audio streaming was shortened. Bluetooth LE was also originally developed to transmit data, not receive it.
The full-featured Classic Bluetooth can stream audio, but Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE cannot communicate with each other, and Classic Bluetooth requires more power to function.
To get around this, Apple developed the proprietary Made for iPhone (MFi) hearing aid standard, and the first hearing aids to support it landed in 2014. But for many years there was no Android equivalent. Finally, Google partnered with GN Hearing and Cochlear to develop the open source Android Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA), which was released with Android 10 in 2019. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent to these standards for platforms like Windows, macOS or Chrome OS. but Bluetooth finally has an answer.
Bluetooth LE Audio, a work in progress since 2015, announced in 2020 and finalized in late 2022, finally brings support for hearing aids, among other things, and includes Auracast, a feature that can stream audio to multiple devices such as hearing aids. Auracast offers better sound quality than the telecoils currently used in many public places.
The big catch with LE Audio is that you need devices and hearing aids that support Bluetooth 5.2 to take advantage. It seems likely that LE Audio will become ubiquitous and we’re hoping that it will bring direct audio streaming support to smartphones, laptops, TVs and all sorts of other devices, but it’s hard to predict how long that will be, and for now harder to predict when Auracast will be generally available.
Many hearing aid manufacturers offer devices that act as an intermediary between your hearing aids and the device you want to stream audio from. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People explains alternative options such as hearing loops, TV receivers and Bluetooth streamers. There are also some hearing aids that support Bluetooth Classic for wireless audio streaming from any compatible device.