Budget “Hearing Aids” with Budget Performance – Review Geek


Rating:
7/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: 299

A set of white earbuds next to a case
Justin Duino

In the U.S., basic hearing aids can cost up to $5,000 and are seldom covered by insurance. The $299 Olive Pro earbuds are true wireless earbuds that are actually hearing aids for a fraction of the price. But like a lot of “it’s both!” products, what you get is a jack of all trades and master of none.

Here’s What We Like

  • More affordable than traditional hearing aids
  • Comfortable enough for extended use
  • Five sets of eartips

And What We Don’t

  • No great sounding for true wireless earbuds
  • No nuance to the hearing assistance

Much like Nuheara’s IQbuds, Olive Union’s “Olive Pro” promises affordable hearing enhancement that looks and acts like true wireless earbuds. But this entry deviates in two notable areas: price and promise. Nuheara’s offering is $500, and the company does specify that its products are not hearing aid and only offer “personal sound amplification.”

A set of Olive Pro earbuds, on the other hand, cost $300, and they are FDA certified as hearing aids. If you’re looking for a true hearing aid replacement, these could serve that function. But you’ll need to make a few compromises.

You Test Your Own Hearing

White earbuds in the palm of a hand
Left: Olive Pro; Right: AirPod Pro Justin Duino

The first thing you do with a set of Olive Pro earbuds is test your hearing. But rather than go to a specialist, which is part of why hearing aids are so expensive, you use the My Olive app (for iOS and Android). The app plays a series of tones at low, medium, and high pitches in each ear. It repeats those pitches at varying volumes, from very loud to incredibly soft. When you hear the tone, you tap a button.

That works a lot like standard hearing tests, but it’s most likely not as accurate. For one, I accidentally tapped the button a couple of times during the test. In a standard hearing test, you raise your hand or audibly confirm you heard the noise—not something you’ll accidentally do. The other problem is background noise. If you get your hearing professionally tested, it will be in a soundproof room to prevent issues with background noise.

That’s probably not an option at home, though, so you’ll need to find a quiet a space as possible. The Olive Pro app does give you feedback on what background noise it detects and if you should move to a quieter space, so that helped. But in my home, there’s no such thing as “perfectly silent” between other occupants, electronics, and even neighbors with noisy lawnmowers.

I did the test twice in a row on two different devices and got different results each time. That matters because the promise here is that Olive will finetune its hearing assistance based on your results. Without an accurate test, that promise becomes a little questionable, but more on that later.

As True Wireless Earbuds They’re Just OK

White earbuds in a case
Justin Duino

The Olive Pro hearing aids look like and function as true wireless earbuds. In theory, that should bypass any stigmata surrounding being seen wearing hearing aids. As a “bonus,” you get a pair of true wireless earbuds that will sync with your phone or tablet. At $299, you might expect something special in terms of sound quality and features, and I’m sorry to say that’s not the case.

That’s not to say the Olive Pro earbuds are bad or sound awful. They don’t sound great. I’ve used $100 earbuds that sound better. Overall it’s a very flat sound without any exceptional quality and a complete lack of bass. If you’re watching a show, you’ll probably miss out on all the ambient noises that make the show sound real. That same flatness translates to music, so don’t expect any pounding bass or subtle details.

The My Olive app has an EQ option and quick settings for bass boost, treble boost, and vocal boost, but they don’t do much. It’s better than nothing, but there’s only so much you can do when the hardware isn’t great to begin with.

An earbud inside an ear
Justin Duino

As for the earbuds, they’re actually very comfortable. Olive Union packs five sets of tips, which is more generous than most companies. That’s pretty important because the hearing aid parts need a good fit, so Olive made the right choice there. I’ve worn the earbuds for hours without any complaints, despite having ears on the small side. I often find true wireless earbuds are just “too big” for me, but that wasn’t the case here.

Olive Union promises these earbuds can last up to seven hours, and the case will provide two additional charges. In my experience, it was closer to six hours, but that’s still pretty respectable. Recharging was quick, too, thanks to the USB-C port. I didn’t care for the touch controls, but I’m pretty sure I’ll write that sentence in every true wireless earbuds review that includes touch controls.

The pairing process is one of the better experiences I’ve seen—mostly. You open the case, then press and hold a button in the case, which puts the earbuds into pairing mode. You don’t even take those out of the case. However, the buds will only pair with two devices; I ran into issues after that. And I couldn’t get them to pair with my Chromebook, despite the My Olive app installing on Chrome OS. Not a big loss considering their intended use, but odd.

Alas, you won’t get wireless charging, a feature you’d expect to see at this price point in other true wireless earbuds. But you do get ANC and HearThru (transparency mode). Those two features play into the hearing aid aspect of the Olive Pro.

A Big Boost to Hearing But No Nuance

A white earbud case on a desk
Justin Duino

While the Olive Pro buds do serve as earbuds, that’s not their primary purpose. These are meant to serve as affordable hearing aids. I don’t have significant hearing loss, just a slight drop in the upper frequencies you’d usually expect for someone approaching their 40s. But while I test as “average” in any of the usual hearing tone tests, I do experience hearing issues.

I can’t understand anyone who whispers next to me, ever. Likewise, I have trouble understanding people with very low-toned voices or conversations in a noisy environment like a busy restaurant. So while I don’t require traditional hearing aids, I often need an assist. Some more expensive hearing aids do that by using multiple sets of microphones to isolate voices and cut background noises. Less expensive hearing aids boost the volume of everything in the room.

Olive Pro earbuds act more like the latter and make everything in the room louder. The app lets you adjust how much it bumps up the volume with Quiet, Clear, and Boost settings. Think of those as loud, louder, and loudest in terms of what they do for the noise around you. And you can turn up noise canceling to fight background noise at the same time. I’m not sure what the hearing test did because all the buds seem to do is make everything louder.

An empty white earbud case
Justin Duino

And unlike competitor Neheara, you can’t adjust to the environment you’re in or focus on just the person in front of you. It’s a boost to all or nothing. In “boost” mode with noise canceling off, it sounds like you’re in space. Every ambient noise is overwhelming. Turning on noise canceling helps, but not much. It also distorted voices. On the other end, I couldn’t tell what Quiet mode did at all. At best, it’s like AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode, but much worse.

Clear with noise-canceling set halfway up was the happy medium that enhanced all the sound around me without distorting anything. But that left me still struggling to understand people because other enhanced noises still made it through. Ultimately I didn’t feel any better off than just not using the hearing aids, which is a failure for me. I’m not the right demographic for the product, as it turns out.

Good for the Right Person

Two sets of wireless earbuds cases that are similar sized.
The case is similar in size to AirPods Pro Justin Duino

Ultimately, that’s the main issue with Olive Pro earbuds. They’re made for a very specific person. If you want help with your hearing, especially focusing on boosting just voices, I can’t recommend Olive Pro. You’d be better off spending $200 more on Nuheara’s IQbuds2 MAX earbuds . The IQbuds are better at being true wireless earbuds and enhancing just the people you want to hear.

If you want true wireless earbuds, you should buy nearly anything else. You’d spend less on AirPods Pro and still get wireless charging, transparency mode, and ANC, and they’d sound a lot better. But if you are losing you’re hearing, and you can’t afford traditional hearing aids, then these could be a game-changer.

After all, if you were going to spend $1,000 or more to get a basic set of hearing aids that work by increasing the volume of everything around you to overcome your loss, these do that for a fraction of the price. That’s who the Olive Pro earbuds are meant for: someone with a mild to moderate amount of hearing loss but not severe hearing loss.  Double that if you can’t afford hearing aids. You should always talk with a doctor about hearing loss, of course, but if your choice is between no hearing aids because of super high prices or the Olive Pro earbuds: Get the earbuds.

Here’s What We Like

  • More affordable than traditional hearing aids
  • Comfortable enough for extended use
  • Five sets of eartips

And What We Don’t

  • No great sounding for true wireless earbuds
  • No nuance to the hearing assistance





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