Reviewed: Elehear Alpha Pro – Affordable Multi-Function Hearing Aids
The new Elehear Alpha Pro OTC ($999, now heavily discounted to $499) hearing aids capably amplify and clear up otherwise muddy sounds, especially voices, for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. With its Bluetooth music streaming and hands-free calling capabilities, the Alpha Pros provide a cheaper (if slightly less precise) alternative to the similarly styled and featured Sennheiser All Day Clear, my current pick for the best hearing-first multi-function OTC hearing aid.
As a non-self-fitting device, audio customization with the Alpha Pros is trickier to do on your own. However, the reason the Alpha Pros excel in audio amplification is that you get free – yes, free – post-purchase handholding by an audiologist to help set them up. Eargo, Sennheiser, and Jabra, amongst others, charge extra for an audiologist consultation or include the audiologist cost in the hearing aid price, which jacks up the cost.
While the Elehear audiologist won’t tune your Alpha Pros to match your specific hearing loss, they’ll help correctly set the app’s tuning options so you can get the best hearing enhancement from them. As a result, the Alpha Pros are an exceptional value if you buy them at their $499 discounted price.
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The Elehear Alpha Pros are traditional behind-the-ear hearing aids that hook over your ears. A teardrop-shaped battery/control module sits behind your ear, and the “receiver in canal” (RIC) thin speaker rests on the outer edge of your ear canal. This design makes the Alpha Pros – and similarly styled hearing aids such as the Sennheiser All Day Clear and Lexie B2 – nearly invisible unless viewed from behind. I found the Alpha Pros completely comfortable for all-day wear, and they juggled only occasionally with violent head shakes. However, putting your glasses on might require a bit of adjusting.
On the rear base of each control/battery module is a multi-function toggle button that uses short, multiple, or long presses to raise or lower the volume, power each bud on or off, or switch between the four ambient preset modes – General, Restaurant, Outdoor, and TV.
Included with the Alpha Pros are two sets of small, medium, and large silicone ear caps – one standard and one double-flanged. Also in the box are six pairs of extra wax caps and a cleaning tool.
For some reason, the Alpha Pro’s case is unusually large – at 4 x 2.5 x 1.25 inches, it’s around three times the size of the Lexie B2 case and not really pocketable. But the Alpha Pro’s extra-large case may be justified by its ability to recharge the Alpha Pros up to seven times. Once charged for just 1.5 hours, the Alpha Pros are rated to run for 16 hours, with hands-free phone calls and music streaming slightly shortening overall listening time.
Before you do anything, you should take the Elehear online hearing test. No, the results will NOT be programmed into the Alpha Pros, but will let you know if you need hearing aids to begin with, and, more importantly, how to initially setup the Elehear.
During set-up, you’re asked to select the level of your hearing loss: Mild, Mild-to-Moderate, Moderate I, and Moderate II. Unfortunately, none of these terms are clearly defined, and the odds are you’ll pick the wrong one, which could result in poor Alpha Pro performance or even excessive feedback squealing.
Taking the online hearing test provides a decibel number and hearing level rating, but these results don’t seem to correspond with anything in the app. For instance, my hearing test resulted in a “Moderate” rating, but after suffering excessive feedback squealing and my own audiologist consultation, I switched from my initial Moderate I rating to Mild-to-Moderate, which eliminated all my feedback squealing problems.
Choosing the right-sized tips is also critical. The smaller-sized, single-flanged tips will result in a more natural, open-hearing soundscape. The double-flanged tips created a better canal seal for music listening and hands-free calling, but you get a more enclosed, some would say claustrophobic ambient aural experience. You’ll hear only what the microphones hear, and your own voice will be slightly muffled. If hearing better is your primary goal, choose smaller, single-flanged tips. But be prepared to experiment.
Once you get the initial hearing level set correctly and you’ve picked your tips, the Elehear app gives you control over each bud’s volume from 1-7. You also get two key sound/tone customization options: Speech Focus narrows the microphone to an about 180-degree range in front of you rather than 360 degrees, which muffles some ambient sound, and a Noise Reduction slider that effectively eliminates unwanted ambient sound when slid from “mild” to “strong.” You’ll also see icons for the four ambient presets: General, Restaurant, Outdoor, and TV.
You also can re-adjust your initial hearing level rating, as well as high-low situational effects adjustments: Ocean Wave to adjust for low male voices or engine roar, World Sound to adjust for speaking voices, TV, and radio sounds, and Birds Chirping to adjust for high-pitched melodies or phone ringtones.
In the settings menu (those three parallel horizontal lines), you’ll find an adjustable bass/middle/treble music EQ for each bud. There’s also a unique “real-time listening” mode that, when activated, funnels sound from a distant source through the buds to supplement the actual sound. However, the “real-time” sound lagged around a half second behind the actual real-life sound and created more of an annoying echo effect than improving the sound.
Collectively, all of these options offer a higher level of granular hearing adjustments than any other OTC hearing app I’ve used.
You can use the Alpha Pros sans Bluetooth or smartphone and simply use the multi-function toggle on each bud to change volume or switch between the pre-sets.
Each time you insert the Alpha Pros into your ears, you’ll hear a short activation tone consisting of a synthesizer version of “Deck the Halls” – why this Christmas chestnut, I have no idea – before a female voice informs you that “you’re connected” to Bluetooth. If you wander too far from your phone, you’ll be told you’re “disconnected.” You may have to return the buds to the case for a few seconds, then re-insert them to reconnect them to Bluetooth successfully.
How well the Alpha Pros perform for you will depend on the initial hearing level settings, along with the size of your ear canal, and what ear tips you choose.
If the Alpha Pros aren’t initially set correctly, feedback, as it is with many hearing aids, becomes a problem. But no hearing aid maker really warns you against potential feedback squeal – until Elehear. A third of the included Alpha Pro Quick Start Guide is devoted to ways of reducing feedback squeal. However, once the Elehear audiologist helped me correctly set my hearing level, feedback squeal ceased to be a problem.
Without the buds being precisely self-tuned with the results of the hearing test, you will have to futz with the varying and sundry settings a bit until you’re happy with the overall sound, and you may need additional minor tweaking or to choose a different preset depending on your aural situation.
For instance, the Speech Focus feature cut out some sound to my sides and behind me, and the presets did provide some minor changes, especially Restaurant and TV, which slightly emphasized voices.
Sliding the World Sound control up a notch improved my ability to hear talking heads when watching TV clearly.
Adjusting the Noise Reduction, which I assume is what the company refers to as its AI Noise Cancellation, dramatically lowered the volume for unwanted ambient sounds such as floor creaks, flowing water, and air conditioning or fans, and was the most effective way to heighten voices. The Noise Reduction also allowed me to clearly hear folks around me at public events while minimizing more distant conversation buzz.
In often deafening movie theaters, I could easily turn down or even mute the Alpha Pros volume. I just ended up leaving the settings on TV mode with “strong” noise reduction.
Not only was the sound clear and natural, I got plenty of volume. I didn’t have to turn the Alpha Pros up any higher than 2 or 3 for most situations – any higher volume resulted in distortion or feedback squeal.
Thanks to their multitude of adjustments and despite their lack of self-tuning, I was pleasantly surprised at the amplified aural improvement and volume the Alpha Pros provided.
As a product primarily designed for amplified hearing, the Alpha Pros are surprisingly serviceable as headphones, though the music sounds a bit thin. They’re not quite as good as the Sennheiser All Day Clear and certainly not anywhere near the sound quality from pure Bluetooth buds. But they’ll do in a pinch. For phone calls, I could clearly hear my end of the conversation, but my co-conversationalist complained of garble reception at their end, which is a major drawback. Elehear admitted to me that, for phone calls, the Pros perform better in quieter situations, a bit of an understatement.
Battery life is rated at 16 hours if you’re just amplifying your hearing. Elehear reps told me that just 20 minutes of listening to music shortens hearing aid listening battery life by a whopping two hours. So, a late-day recharge will likely be required if you listen to music.
The bottom line
Elehear’s Alpha Pro OTC hearing aids provide surprisingly effective sound amplification, abundant aural adjustments and volume, and hands-free calling for a non-self-fitting OTC hearing aid. For most folks with mild to moderate hearing loss, the Alpha Pros, at their discounted $499 price (usually $999), represent a great value.
They’re slightly less customized and precise, but the Alpha Pros are also less expensive than pricier self-fitting Bluetooth-enabled OTC hearing aids, such as the Lexie B2 ($999, discounted to $899) and the Sennheiser All Day Clear ($1,399.95). However, if the Alpha Pros are only available at their full $999 price, the Sennheiser All Day Clear (with optional tuning) would be my recommendation.
[Image credit: Stewart Wolpin/Techlicious]