Compatibility with Bluetooth hearing aids which phones have it

Bluetooth hearing aid compatibility: which phones have it

In today's increasingly noisy times, more and more people have some form of hearing loss. If you've come across this guide, chances are that your hearing isn't the best either. You may remember hearing aids as bulky devices placed behind the ears that are barely good enough for people to hear again, but that is far from the truth these days. Most hearing aids support some form of audio streaming. However, for most of them you must have a compatible phone.

Google's ASHA protocol

For hearing aids and smartphones to work together, they must support the same standards. Google has created one such Bluetooth-based solution for all Android devices, called ASHA (Streaming Audio for Hearing Aids - not to be confused with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). The open source standard was introduced in several Android 10 devices in 2019 and has since become available on most modern flagship phones with Bluetooth 5.0 and above.

The man is standing with his back to the camera and has a hearing aid visible on his ear.  He is looking at a phone with the screen on.

The Google Pixel 3 shown here was one of the first Android phones to support ASHA technology.

Unlike regular Bluetooth Audio, ASHA is more energy efficient and offers several additional features. If your phone and hearing aids support ASHA, you can take advantage of several advanced features in your phone's settings app or quick settings switches.

Here is a list of the most popular models sold in the US that support ASHA:

  • Asus ROG 6 (Pro) and above
  • Asus Zenfone 8 series and above
  • Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL and newer
  • Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL and newer
  • OnePlus 8 Pro and above
  • OnePlus 8T and above
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 series and above
  • Samsung Galaxy Note10 series and above
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2 and above
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and above
  • Samsung Galaxy A21s
  • Samsung Galaxy A51 and above
  • Samsung Galaxy A71 and above
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 series and above

Due to the myriad of Android phone models, this list is not exhaustive, but it is a good starting point. To check compatibility, make sure that the phone you have or want to buy is ASHA-compatible. This should be noted somewhere in the user manual or in the specifications that you can consult before buying.

Regardless of the compatibility listed in this table, you should also check with a hearing aid specialist or hearing aid manufacturer. Some hearing aid manufacturers individually verify that their products work with each phone, so it may take some time for these hearing aids to support the latest smartphones.

Apple's MFi hearing aid program

While things are complicated in the Android world, Apple makes things easy. This is partly because there are only a handful of smartphone models for which the company and handset makers have to develop their products, allowing 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 under its Made for iPhone (MFi) program. It also uses the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, which streams audio with high quality but with lower power consumption.

According to Apple Support pageThe 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 aidswhich you can use when deciding whether to purchase a hearing aid.

When you pair your hearing aids with more than one Apple product, it will automatically switch to the device on which the audio is currently playing, similar to AirPods. Changes to your hearing profile made on one device will also be reflected on the other Apple devices.

iPhone held by hand in front of wooden floor showing hearing aid settings screen

Apple also offers several settings for hearing aids. You can choose whether you want the sound to always play through your hearing aids, or whether you prefer the most recently used sound source. When pairing your hearing aids, you can also use features Hearing devices Settings page in full. You'll find options for controlling audio routing and where ringtones should be played, whether you can control hearing aids via nearby Apple devices, whether audio should be automatically forwarded, and whether you can control hearing aids on the lock screen without unlocking.

Hearing aids with standard Bluetooth Audio support

If none of the phones on this list intrigue you, you may need to change your strategy. Most hearing aids only support custom BLE protocols due to power savings, but several manufacturers offer hearing aids that can be paired with any Bluetooth source. This provides the most flexibility, although the drawback is that the experience may not be as optimized as with hearing aid-specific standards.

If you go this route, you'll miss out on the integrated hearing aid settings offered by Apple and Android, although in most cases you'll still be able to customize options in the app provided by the manufacturer. The other downside, of course, is poorer battery life compared to BLE hearing aids, which use a less power-hungry standard than Bluetooth Audio. Many manufacturers are dealing with this problem by opting for disposable, replaceable batteries that provide longer battery life than rechargeable models.

Some hearing aid manufacturers also offer add-on devices that offer standard Bluetooth connectivity for phones and other devices and connect to hearing aids via the T-Coil, allowing connection to anything that can stream Bluetooth.

The man is standing with his back to the camera, and a piece of Phonak hearing aid can be seen behind his ear

Phonak is a brand that offers hearing aids with standard Bluetooth connectivity.

Choosing good hearing aids and smartphone combinations may become easier in the future. The Bluetooth SIG has developed a new Low Energy Audio (LE Audio) standard to provide all audio equipment under one roofwhether used solely for entertainment or to improve hearing. This new standard is about as energy efficient as what hearing aids currently use, with no noticeable loss of quality. If you have hearing aids and want to upgrade, consider buying one or two more years. As for smartphones, most phones released in 2023 support Bluetooth LE Audio.

The new standard will also enable enhancements to assistive technologies such as Auracast, which allows objects to broadcast Bluetooth signals to multiple recipients, almost replacing the T-Coil and making such a system available to any Bluetooth device. And speaking of the T-Coil, we can only recommend using this feature if your hearing aids offer it. It allows you to hear better in public places with proper wiring. You can also enable it in your phone settings to hear phone calls better when you don't have a Bluetooth connection. For more information on the technology, see A guide to healthy hearing telecoils.

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Don't worry if your phone is not compatible

If your phone is not compatible with 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 in the future.

You also need to remember that you gain a lot with hearing aids, even if you can't stream sound to them. In any case, your quality of life will improve significantly, and you will eventually be able to hear your surroundings and peers better. In a way, this is the exact opposite of what you would like to achieve with the best noise-canceling Bluetooth in-ear headphones available on the market, which you can still use as a temporary solution when you want to stream audio.

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