How to buy hearing aids

Hearing aids cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.

20sep hearing aids hero

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. A basic pair of aids usually starts at about $450 while a top-of-the-line model can cost more than $8000.

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”).

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. These aids will be pricier than ones that simply amplify sound in quiet situations.

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”).

Other costs: As well as the cost of the aids, you’ll usually need to pay for a hearing test.

Clinics may offer a free hearing check. However, you’ll pay for a diagnostic hearing test to assess your level of hearing loss (see our Table). Prices at the six 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. You’ll also be shown how to use the aid and how to maintain it.

If your hearing aid uses disposable batteries, that’s another cost to consider.

Types of hearing aid

Modern hearing aids are a far cry from the bulky aids of old. 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.

Behind the ear (BTE) with earmould for mild to severe hearing loss

BTE-type hearing aid.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Behind the ear (BTE) open-fit for mild to moderate hearing loss

BTE open-fit hearing aid.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

BTE-type hearing aid.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aid.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Audiometrists v 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.

Trial period

You should be given a trial period so you can find out if the hearing aid is suitable for you.

The ministry recommends trial periods of six to eight weeks. Three clinics we surveyed offered 60 days (Bay Audiology, Dilworth Hearing and Triton Hearing). Specsavers offered 90 days.

Audika and New Zealand Hearing clinics offered just 30 days, although may extend this time depending on the person’s needs.

19mar hearingclinics test

Subsidised hearing aids must be on the ministry’s list of approved aids. There are currently more than 1800 aids on the list. However, most clinics prescribe aids from just a couple of manufacturers. Of the 34,810 subsidised aids dispensed last year, the most common were GN Hearing brands (10,688) followed by Oticon (9910) and Bernafon (4026).

If the hearing aids don’t work for you during the trial period, they may need to be adjusted by the clinic. However, if you’re not happy with the aids during the trial, you can return them for a refund (fitting fees may not be refundable).

Your rights

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.

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 115 stores. It’s owned by Italian hearing aid retailer Amplifon, which also owns Dilworth Hearing.

Triton Hearing, owned by hearing aid manufacturer Sonova, has 70 stores. Audika is the third largest, with 30 stores. It’s owned by manufacturer Demant.

Specsavers, known for its cut-price glasses, entered the hearing aid market in 2019 and has eight clinics. Specsavers has its own brand of aids called Advance, although sells other brands. Other audiologists can’t adjust Advance aids without getting software from Specsavers.

Outside the overseas-owned chains, there are smaller audiology clinics. New Zealand Hearing, included in our survey, are owner-operated clinics.

Some smaller retailers belong to the Independent Audiologists of New Zealand Association. It currently has about 10 members.

If you just want to get your hearing checked, free tests are available from Life Unlimited. It’s a publicly funded service that provides hearing evaluations for people 16 years and over.

Life Unlimited doesn’t sell hearing aids but its hearing therapists can advise on living with hearing loss and whether an aid will help. They can also give guidance on using hearing aids and other hearing technology, such as portable microphones.

To make an appointment, go to lifeunlimited.net.nz 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.

Fees compared


Tinnitus

About 200,000 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 percent 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.

Grant Searchfield, University of Auckland associate professor in audiology, recommends those experiencing the condition see an audiologist.

You can also get free help managing the condition with Life Unlimited.

“Although there are no cures, the treatment and therapies are effective in helping most people,” Mr Searchfield said.

Funding available

If you’ve had significant hearing loss since childhood, 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 $1500.

Other subsidies are available if:

  • you’ve served in the armed forces and your hearing was damaged during your service

  • your hearing loss is the result of an injury: ACC may contribute up to $1527 per aid and $1120 for fitting fees.

Member comments

Get access to comment

Kaye C.
23 Sep 2020
Specsavers Botany bring some reality to pricing and give great service

I recently went for a follow up hearing test at Dilworth after being floored by the quoted cost of hearing aids 2 years ago (and consequently doing nothing about getting them). That was 2 years of constantly asking people to repeat what they said, and often switching off in noisy social situations.
Again, I thought the price quoted in July was high, although unlike 2 years ago a range of options and prices was available, and to be fair the highest priced and speced was not recommended as most suitable for me. So I was looking at almost $7000. The extra cost of rechargeable aids was quoted at $1000. The highest spec model was almost $9000.
In the meantime while searching (almost completely in vain) for prices to compare, I came across Specsavers, now with some audiology branches, and prices listed on line. I had to wait a couple of weeks for an appointment but once underway the experience was very positive. I went to the Botany branch where I got the highest spec aids with rechargeable batteries (you just sit them overnight in slots in a charging box) for $3575. These are unbranded aids made by the big name companies (Sonova or GNResound). The extra cost of rechargeables is $500 at Specsavers.
The audiologist followed up with a phone call after 4 days to check how I getting on, and follow ups are included for a year. It's no surprise to me that people are coming from far and wide to deal with Specsavers, it's certainly worth the travel cost.

Maria P.
22 Sep 2020
My Mothers Experience with an Insurance Claim for a lost aid: Beware!

My Mum had two aids and lost one and was directed to Bay Audiology for the replacement through insurance , even though she had a different Hearing Clinic she used. Subsequently when she visited her independent clinic they found that the two aids weren't compatible at all as they didn't talk to each other or work in unison. Beware when you have an insurance claim as you have a right to use your own provider when you need a replacement!

Petrus V.
15 Sep 2020
Too Expensive

The costs are way too high. I appreciate the good back-up service I get from Bay Audiology, but to pay nearly $10,000 for top-of-the-line hearing aids which may last no more than seven or eight years is a con. The technology involved is miniscule compared with a $1500 mobile phone! When the money runs out, next time, I may have to settle for a $500 mail-order option.

Ross T.
13 Sep 2020
The Whole Industry Needs a Shakedown!

I wholeheartedly agree with the comments on the exorbitant pricing throughout this greedy industry. I look forward to Specsavers smashing through what I go as far as to call corruption.
Each huge chain currently is basically in the pocket of various massive manufacturers and is essentially a conduit for that brand.
Four years ago, I decided to have none of this and purchased my hearing aids online from overseas. I had to forego the government subsidy and I still saved my self $4000! My aids are topnotch and were tuned overseas to my hearing test. I have received great ongoing answers to questions and have replaced a broken wire through the same company.
The NZ chains soon closed ranks on people like me and price fixed retuning costs etc at $1000. A ridiculous price for what is easy to do with the computer program.
This is what Consumer should be targeting and not beating around the bush with articles like this.

Chris O.
13 Sep 2020
Bluetooth

Hi. I am a seventy six year old male, and getting deafer all the time. My hearing aids have bluetooth, and I use it a lot. There is a gadget attached to the TV, and both my wife and I sit in apparent silence, listening to very good sound from the TV via our hearing aids. And another gadget that lets me hear my cell phone and my laptop through the aids. It sounds like it is inside my head, but you soon get used to that! The quality is brilliant. Definitely recommend. I buy batteries from ebay for about 50 cents each in my letterbox. Rayovac Extra seem to last about a day longer than any other I have tried. Cheers!

Terry
12 Sep 2020
You get what you pay for......

I'm a typical male, first set of basic hearing aids languished at home - too proud to wear 'em.

Second set, five years later seemed much better (I was deafer) and not only had a volume control which was great, because at first everything is just TOO LOUD! but they also had a set of four sound profiles - general, conversation, music, and general with wind noise reduction for outside.....

At first I thought that I'd wasted my money as there appeared to be no audible difference between profiles but after two months wearing they became fantastically useful.
It seems that my brain had become used to the variety of sounds it was now able to "hear" and each profile was so plainly different from the others and really suited to purpose. I switch as needed all the time now via a single press-button.
Music is so "wide-screen" I can identify individual instruments, conversations in groups are no longer a confused jumble. As a frequent walker, wind noise reduction is a necessity.

Hearing aids in my opinion are still extortionately expensive but paying a bit extra for such extra features IS worth it for the benefits you'll gain. But only if you persist in their use and realize that it's your BRAIN that you are training and they become fabulous....

I'm 76 now and went to Bay Audiology and No, I don't work for them!

Ross F.
12 Sep 2020
Hearing Excellence

I have severe hearing loss; I have been under the care of the above clinic for over 20 years. I have always found them very good. I have been in a job that enabled me to recommend hearing assessment for people. I have always recommended Hearing Excellence here in Christchurch and have had no negative feedback.
I understand that some of the bigger companies in the field make their money from the markup on the aid. My suggestion to prospective users is to shop around as the same aid may be 50 - 100% cheaper at some clinics!

M H.
14 Sep 2020
Endorsing the Hearing Excellence.

Over 40 years they have provided me with appropriate hearing aids from a variety of manufacturers. Although my hearing loss is now substantial, my aids fit the need, without unnecessary extras and expense.

Christine W.
21 Sep 2020
Which clinics can someone in chch recommend

We have given up in disgust with our provider. Over 300 documented failings and a year of complaints. They finally replaced the devices with an inferior product, nothing like the technology of the others. We had to get really forceful before they finally agreed to a refund.

Maria P.
22 Sep 2020
Endorsing Hearing Excellence

I have used Hearing Excellence for the last 20 odd years. I have been fitted with a variety of different brands of aids to best suit my hearing loss at the time of fitting.
My last two sets of aids (I need to wear one in each ear) were approx. $5000 although this was largely funded by grants. I am able to receive my Mobile phone calls directly to my aids via Bluetooth which means I can hear people on the phone which is essential in my work.

Hearing Excellence adjusts newly purchased aids for free during their guarantee period. Hearing Excellence also runs daily clinics so that you can have small adjustments and repairs done for minimal costs. Great service all round, thoroughly recommend them!

W R A.
12 Sep 2020
Severe loss

I've had severe hearing loss for over 20 years (I'm now mid 60s) and have had excellent care from Jan Morris from Hearing Consultants. It's an independent company and there are branches is Wellington, the Hutt, and up to the Wairarapa. Because they're independent they will offer aids from all the manufacturers and your choice depends upon "best suited" and unfortunately "cost". The government subsidy doesn't go anywhere near the total cost, and the top models are pricy.