Hearing aids buying guide
Hearing aids cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Hearing aids have gone hi-tech. They can alert emergency services if you have a fall, be controlled through your phone, or even hook up to Bluetooth. But is it worth forking out for these features? We walk you through the need-to-knows of buying hearing aids.
What you pay
Prices for hearing aids range widely. Without any funding or subsidies, a basic pair of aids usually starts at about $1500 while top-of-the-line models can cost more than $10,000.
The higher the price, the more bells and whistles. But don’t assume you need all the extras. The type of aid that’s best for you depends on your level of hearing and your day-to-day life (see “Types of hearing aid”).
If you’re often out and about talking to lots of people in noisy venues, some aids are so sophisticated they attempt to separate speech and ease background noise.
If you’re a homebody and generally attend small social gatherings, a basic model may be all you need.
Regardless of the type of aid, you can get a subsidy to help with costs. Kiwis and permanent residents 16 years and over are eligible for a subsidy of $511.11 (per aid). You can apply for this subsidy every six years to purchase new aids.
Other financial support is available if you’re on a low income or have high needs (see “Funding available”).
As well as the aids, you’ll likely need to foot the bill for other costs. The government subsidy will only cover the cost of the aids themselves.
Some clinics offer a free hearing check. However, you’ll likely pay for a full diagnostic hearing test to assess your level of hearing loss (see our Table). Prices at the nine hearing clinics we reviewed ranged from $59 (Specsavers) to $120 (Dilworth Hearing).
Other costs you may need to factor in are fitting fees. Hearing clinics may include these fees in the price of the hearing aid or charge separately.
Fitting fees cover the device being fitted and programmed and can add up to $1400. If the aid isn’t right for you, you might have to pay a failed fitting fee.
If your hearing aid uses disposable batteries or domes, that’s another cost to consider.
What’s in a hearing aid?
Most hearing aids are made up of a few different components:
- A microphone that picks up sound from your surroundings;
- An amplifier that makes the sound louder;
- A receiver that directs the amplified sound into the ear canal;
- Batteries that provide power to the different components;
- Some styles have moulded components that fit to the shape of your ear and help direct sound into the ear canal.
Types of hearing aids
Modern hearing aids are a far cry from the bulky aids of old. They’re discrete and can even be colour matched to blend in with your hair or skin. What will suit you depends on your hearing loss, the size of your ear canal and how fiddly the aids are to look after.
If you have limited dexterity in your hands or poor vision, an aid with a rechargeable battery may be easier than one that uses replaceable batteries. You’ll be shown how to use the aid and how to maintain it at your fitting appointment.
Behind the ear (BTE) with earmould for mild to severe hearing loss
- Fits widest range of hearing loss
- Earmould fits snugly while the rest of the aid sits behind the ear
- Most versatile and reliable type of hearing aid.
- Can come in “power” varieties for profound hearing loss.
- Most visible type of hearing aid
- Ear might feel plugged-up but vents in mould can relieve this and are fitted when appropriate
- Can be vulnerable to sweat, so they’ll need to be stored accordingly.
Behind the ear (BTE) open-fit for mild to moderate hearing loss
- Has a small, soft earpiece at the tip of the tubing instead of an earmould, which will make you feel less plugged-up
- Comfortable, not too heavy on the ear and less visible than an earmould
- It can give you a very natural sound.
- Needs to be inserted correctly otherwise can become loose
- It can also be susceptible to feedback.
Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) digital aids for mild to severe hearing loss
- All the benefits of an open-fit hearing aid but can be fitted with more amplification
- Often smaller than BTE aids because some parts sit inside the ear.
- Vulnerable to wax and sweat, which can affect the sound in the receiver.
In-the-canal (ITC) and in-the-ear (ITE) digital aids for mild to some severe hearing loss
- Both have working parts in the earmould, or a small compartment clipped to it, so the whole aid fits in the ear
- ITC aids are less visible than ITEs but neither has parts behind the ear.
- ITE aids can come with different earmould styles, half or full “shells”.
- Tend to need repairing more often than behind-the-ear aids.
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or “invisible” hearings aids for mild to moderate hearing loss
- Smallest type of hearing aid
- Almost invisible as working parts are in the earmould
- It fits further into the ear canal than ITE/ITC aids.
- Unlikely to be suitable if you have discharges from your ears
- Ear might feel plugged-up unless aid is vented
- Are particularly vulnerable to becoming plugged with sweat and wax, which may cause temporary malfunction
- Can be tricky to use if you can’t manage small switches or buttons
- How hidden it is will depend on the shape of your ear canal
- Unlikely to include Bluetooth or streaming technology, and may be more prone to feedback.
Some styles of hearing aids have directional microphones. They can pick up sounds from specific directions and make those sounds louder than others.
Others have noise reduction and feedback suppression capabilities, which can filter out background sounds or reduce any feedback the aid produces.
You can opt for a T-coil (telephone switch) on some styles of aids. When switched on, it can help you hear your phone better when you’re on a call. It does this by reducing background noises and picks up sound from your phone instead.
Higher end features
Some higher end hearing aids can use wireless functionality to connect to other devices or to each other if you have two. You can also buy aids that offer direct audio input. Direct audio input means you can connect your aids to a television or other electronic device. Bluetooth offers similar functionality, but you can stream music and answer calls from computers, smartphones, and TVs directly through your hearing aid.
These extras may be handy, but they can be expensive. If you don’t need them, ask for other options.
Audiometrists vs audiologists
Audiometrists and audiologists can both carry out hearing tests. An audiologist has a Master of Audiology degree while audiometrists have a Diploma of Audiometry and are supervised by an audiologist.
Only audiologists and audiometrists who are members of the New Zealand Audiological Society can access hearing-aid subsidies on your behalf.
What clinics must tell you
Hearing clinics need to be upfront with you about costs.
If you’re applying for the subsidy, before you trial or buy a hearing aid the clinic must give you:
- the retail cost of the hearing aid
- the amount of the subsidy
- an itemised list of charges you have to pay
- a quote for the total amount payable
- a copy of the Ministry of Health’s Guide to Getting Hearing Aids.
You’re also entitled to a copy of your test results so you can shop around.
If you want to keep costs down, make this clear to the clinic. Ask to be shown cheaper options if you think the aid recommended is too pricey or has features you don’t need. Your audiologist is required to recommend the most appropriate and cost-effective hearing aids to meet your needs.
We recommend asking your audiologist to disclose if they receive any commissions or sales incentives.
Telehealth or virtual appointments are more convenient than ever in our post-covid world, but are they as good as an in-person visit?
Our verdict is that it depends. We recommend going into the clinic for fittings, rather than relying on teleaudiology. However, teleaudiology and mobile clinics can be helpful services for those that live far away from their nearest physical clinic. If you think teleaudiology might be right for you, ask a clinic to see if they offer the service.
You should be given a trial period so you can find out if the hearing aid is suitable for you.
Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People says the standard trial period is six to eight weeks, but that a trial of two to three weeks is also common. Four clinics we surveyed offered 60 days (Audika, Bloom, Dilworth, and New Zealand Hearing) while two clinics offered 90 days (Bay Audiology and Specsavers). Resonate Health, a newer player in the market offered an unlimited return period.
How long you need to figure out if a hearing aid is right for you will vary, but we think the longer the better.
Make sure to ask your audiologist for a copy of the contract or the terms and conditions so you know your rights and obligations during the trial period.
Subsidised hearing aids must be on the Ministry’s list of approved aids. There are currently more than 1500 aids on the list. However, most of the aids are from only a handful of different manufacturers or companies. Manufacturers WS Audiology, Starkey, Sonova, GN and Demant produce more than 95% of hearing instruments on the list.
If the hearing aids don’t work for you during the trial period, you can either have them adjusted by the clinic, or return them for a refund. Fitting fees may not be refundable.
Clinic fees compared
What funding is available?
If you’ve had significant hearing loss since childhood, a combination of hearing loss and another disability, or have a Community Services Card and hearing aids are essential, you may be eligible for extra support from the Ministry of Health through the Hearing Aid Funding scheme.
In 2019, the average wholesale cost of aids funded under the scheme was $1364. However, you may have to pay other costs, such as fitting fees. These can be as much as $1400.
Other subsidies are available if:
- you’ve served in the armed forces and your hearing was damaged during your service; or
- your hearing loss is the result of an injury or accident – ACC may contribute up to $1593.50 per aid and $832.73 for fitting fees for one aid or $1142.96 for two aids.
Does insurance cover hearing aids?
Your hearing aids will likely be covered under your contents insurance policy if you have one. If your aids are more expensive, some insurers might require you to list your aids on the schedule as an individual item. Ask your insurer if you’re unsure if your aids are covered.
If you need to make a claim, your insurer might have preferred supplier agreements in place with certain clinics. Some consumers have felt pressured to get replacement aids with preferred suppliers instead of their usual audiologist or clinic. You don’t have to go with a preferred supplier unless it’s stated in your policy document. Ask your insurer if they have an agreement in place.
If you’re trialling a pair of aids but haven’t bought them yet, you’re responsible for taking care of them and will likely be liable for any damage or loss done to the aids over the duration of the trial.
Hearing aids normally have a manufacturer’s warranty. However, they’re also covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. So if your aid is faulty, and you haven’t caused the problem, the clinic must put things right.
The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights also applies to you when you’re receiving audiology services. If you feel your rights may have been breached, you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner.
You can complain about an audiologist’s or audiometrist’s conduct to the New Zealand Audiological Society (NZAS) via their complaints mechanism here.
Some clinics offer after-sales perks, such as free batteries and cleaning. When you’re shopping, ask the clinic what after-sales service it provides.
Hearing aid clinics: who’s who?
Most hearing aid clinics are part of international chains.
Bay Audiology is the largest player with 120 clinics in New Zealand. It’s owned by Italian hearing aid retailer Amplifon, which also owns Dilworth Hearing.
Triton Hearing, owned by Swiss hearing aid manufacturer Sonova, has 63 clinics nationwide. Audika is the third largest, with 29 clinics. It’s owned by manufacturer Demant, based in Denmark.
Bloom, owned by Singapore and Denmark based manufacturer WS Audiology, has 18.
Specsavers, known for its cut-price glasses, entered the hearing aid market in 2019 and has 35 clinics. Specsavers has its own brand of aids called Advance. They’re manufactured by Sonova and WS Audiology. Other audiologists can’t adjust Advance aids without getting software from Specsavers. Other brands of aids are also available, however.
Outside the overseas-owned chains, there are smaller audiology clinics. New Zealand Hearing, included in our survey, is owner-operated, and has 16 clinics.
Resonate Health, a newer player in the market, has three clinics. It runs a subscription model.
Some smaller retailers belong to the Independent Audiologists of New Zealand Association. It currently has about 22 members.
If you just want to get your hearing checked, free tests are available from Your Way | Kia Roha; an independent, publicly funded service that provides hearing evaluations for people 16 years and over.
Your Way | Kia Roha doesn’t sell hearing aids but its hearing therapists can give you independent advice on living with hearing loss, whether an aid will help, and different hearing aid types. They can also give guidance on using hearing aids and other hearing technology, such as portable microphones.
To make an appointment, [visit the Your Way | Kia Roha website] or call 0800 008 011.
If you live in Auckland or Canterbury you can also visit the university hearing clinics run as part of the audiology teaching programme.
About 250,000 people experience tinnitus. The condition is a perception of sound in the ears, which may sound like ringing, buzzing, or cicadas in your ears. The condition increases with age, with 14% of people over 65 affected.
For some, it may develop because of long-term exposure to loud noises. For others, it’s linked to hearing loss. Although people can hear the tinnitus, it may be overshadowing an undiagnosed hearing loss.
Professor Grant Searchfield, Head of Audiology at the University of Auckland, recommends those experiencing the condition see an audiologist. “Although there are no cures, the treatment and therapies are effective in helping most people,” Searchfield said.
You can also get free help managing the condition with Your Way | Kia Roha.
Be careful with masks and glasses
If you opt for RITE or BTE styles, be careful when using face masks or wearing glasses. The part that goes around the ear can get caught in your aid and when removing masks or glasses. They may cause the aid to become dislodged and get lost or damaged. Instead of a facemask that has individual straps for each ear, opt for one that secures fully around the back of the head.
You can also purchase clips for your hearing aid that attach them to your clothing or hair, or even to your glasses themselves. They might make your hearing aids more visible or noticeable, however.
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