Better hearing may be priceless, but why do hearing aids have to cost thousands of pounds each? Here's why it all adds up
You can’t put a price on good hearing. For people whose hearing has deteriorated suddenly or over the years, it’s surely priceless to be able to hear well again and communicate comfortably with friends, family and colleagues. Even so, the current average cost of £2,500 for a pair of hearing aids seems eye-wateringly expensive.
These tiny devices are mass produced and widely available, and they’re often suceeded by new, improved versions after a few years. So why do hearing aids cost so much? We weren’t surprised to find critics, mainly in the US, claiming that it’s down to scurrilous price-fixing by a global “monopoly” of around six manufacturers, in cahoots with audiologists.
The hearing aid industry does want to make a profit, of course. But the high cost of these devices has more to do with the difficulty and expense of making them. Read on to find out why hearing aids cost so much to develop and manufacture – and why, in real terms, they’re getting more affordable every year.
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How expensive are hearing aids?
As we explain in our in-depth guide to hearing aid prices, you can buy a pair of own-brand Specsavers digital hearing aids for as little as £495 per pair, but at this price you won’t get much much power or many features. If you need a hearing aid that efficiently helps you hear better in social situations, and has features such as rechargeability, you’re looking at around £2,500/pair.
Specsavers hearing aid prices are a decent guide to the market as a whole. The Specsavers Advance Elite offers good sound enhancement and advanced features for £1,9995/pair, while the powerful earbud-style Signia Active Pro costs £2,795/pair. Retailers such as Hearing Direct, Boots and Philips charge an average £2,500/pair, with supremely powerful models such as the Phonak Audeo Life Lumity (£3,645/pair from Boots, pictured below) costing more.
The price is even higher for hearing aids that bypass the ear canal completely. Bone-anchored hearing aids are the ideal choice if you suffer from regular infections or other problems in your ear canal, or if you are profoundly deaf in one ear, but these systems cost from around £4,000.
Why do hearing aids cost so much?
Do hearing aid manufacturers fix prices?
The small size of the hearing aid manufacturing market has been touted as a reason for the high price of hearing aids, with critics pointing to the fact that it’s dominated globally by six companies: Oticon, ReSound, Phonak, Starkey, Widex and Signia. As well as making their own hearing aids, these companies also make own-brand hearing aids sold by retailers including Specsavers and Amplifon.
These companies may be powerful, but they don’t club together to artificially inflate hearing aid prices. US critics predicted that hearing aid prices would fall when Donald Trump, a lover of the free market, passed the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 to open up the hearing aid market, but they didn’t. Hearing aids are just too difficult and expensive to make for the market to be flooded by newcomers, and regulation is vital to ensure quality and safety.
Are hearing aids expensive to make?
Yes, and this is the number one reason for their high price. Hearing aids are made up of several electronic components, including a chip, microphone, amplifier, receiver, battery and control switches, and that’s before you even get to optional extras such as a telecoil. All these parts have to fit into a lightweight device which, in the case of invisible or completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aids, has to be small enough to fit right inside your ear canal. Safe to say they’re a lot more sophisticated than, say, a pair of earbuds.
It’s mot just the need to pack all those components into a tiny device, but also the bespoke nature of the components that adds to their cost. Hearing aid chips are specialist elements that can’t be reused in other types of hearing aid, let alone in other types of device such as headphones or speakers. They’re custom-made by the hearing aid manufacturer specifically for that line of hearing aids.
As well as hardware costs, the manufacturer also has to pay for research and development to constantly refine their hearing aids’ software-based features. This is the main area of competition between hearing aid manufacturers, who are keen to outdo each other on sound quality, tinnitus masking, AI-powered smart settings, assistive listening apps and other advanced functions.
All of this helps to explain why most hearing aid manufacturers are hearing aid specialists, rather than being general audio manufacturers. They work closely with partner audiologists and retailers, which is why retailers such as Boots only offer a couple of hearing aid brand names.
READ NEXT: Our guide to invisible hearing aids
Are all hearing aids custom-made?
Most hearing aids are custom-moulded to fit the wearer’s ear perfectly, and then custom-configured by the audiologist to suit your level of hearing loss and your needs (for instance mainly at home with the TV, or in a busy workplace). This does add to their cost.
However, there’s a growing choice of ‘instant fit’ hearing aids that are ready to wear, much like earbuds. Some high-end hearing aids fit this description, including the Signia Active Pro, which are relatively affordable at £1,395/pair (pictured below). You can also get much cheaper instant fit hearing aids such as the Signia Silk 1Nx (£498/pair).
Are hearing aids getting cheaper?
The average UK price of hearing aids has remained at around £1,250/aid or £2,500/pair for the last few years, so they haven’t become cheaper per se. However their technology has evolved fast, so you do get a lot more for your money these days, and that trend is set to continue.
Features such as rechargeability and mobile streaming were limited to the most expensive hearing aids until a couple of years ago, but now come as standard. Advanced features such as directional microphones, feedback cancellation and premium noise reduction are now much more affordable than they were.
Are NHS hearing aids still free?
Yes, free NHS hearing aids are still available in the UK, although access is more limited than it used to be. Whether you qualify will depend on many factors including your GP and where you live. You can get some excellent digital hearing aids models on the NHS, including discreet in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids, but you may not get a particularly wide choice of make model or feature set.
If you want the latest sound-enhancing technology and your choice of model, style and functionality, then it pays to buy – after chatting to your audiologist about your needs, your lifestyle and your specific level of hearing loss.