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The FDA released its landmark OTC ruling on August 16th.
Less than one month later, Sony made a big announcement.
Sony is the third largest global manufacturer of headphones after Samsung and Apple. That's why the recent news that the Japanese company plans to launch an OTC hearing aid got my attention.
Instead of going it alone, Sony will bring its new product to market in collaboration with hearing health giant WS Audiology.
The partnership could lead both companies to a winning OTC hearing aid.
I was fortunate to talk with Maarten Barmentlo, global CMO and President of OTC at WSA to get some answers on what Sony and WSA have planned.
Sony currently sells two different hearing aids.
Sony’s smaller CRE-C10 devices are nearly invisible but do not offer Bluetooth streaming or rechargeable batteries.
CRE-C10 uses a size 10 disposable battery that offers over 70 hours of continuous wear. Size 10 batteries are widely available and commonly used in small devices.
The only smaller OTC device on the market now is the rechargeable product from Eargo.
According to Sony, the CRE-C10 has prescription-level sound quality, and I tend to believe them since the product looks a whole lot like another proven WSA-owned European device called Vibe.
CRE-C10 hearing aids can be customized using a hearing assessment given through the Sony Hearing Control app. Customers will also use the app to change the volume and make sound quality adjustments.
At the time of this writing, CRE-C10 can be pre-ordered with an estimated arrival of late October.
For anyone looking for a headphone/hearing aid crossover, Sony has CRE-E10.
CRE-E10 is larger and more visible in the ear but comes with rechargeable batteries that allow 26 hours of continuous use and Bluetooth streaming from iOS devices. CRE-E10 does not allow streaming from Android devices at this time. One would hope this feature will come quickly.
CRE-E10 hearing aids come with a recharging case and various domes meant to fit every kind of ear. The larger and more headphone-like CRE-E10 appeals to wearers who want a situational product, and CRE-E10 is an alternative to something like Jabra Enhance Plus.
CRE-E10 is not available for purchase at the time of this writing, but you can enter your email to get an alert when it hits the open market. Sony has indicated that CRE-C10 will be available to the public sometime this winter.
A closer look at the technology inside the new Sony OTC hearing aids.
According to WSA's president of OTC, Sony branded devices will be fully functioning hearing aids that will allow consumers to perform an easy-to-use self-fitting workflow augmented with AI (artificial intelligence). Consumers can also perform fine-tuning to customize personal using the Sony app.
From what I can tell, Sony hearing aids will be customized to a wearer's hearing loss using an assessment in the Sony Hearing Control app. The app will then allow further customization and controls.
It's safe to assume that these products' sound quality and hardware quality will be impressive, given the impressive track record of WSA and Sony.
How does Sony and WSA handle follow up care?
A pressing question for anyone interested in OTC hearing aids is, what happens if something goes wrong? Who picks up the phone if the app stops working or the amplification doesn’t sound right?
I posed this question to Maarten, who told me that Customers will initially contact Sony customer care for troubleshooting, but WSA will provide audiological support when needed.
WSA will also make Sony OTC hearing aids available through its vast network of audiologists and ENT partners.
Where to purchase Sony hearing aids.
Sony hearing aids are available at Sony.com and on Amazon (quick links: CRE-C10, CRE-E10). The devices will also be available in WSA clinics and Sony’s retail ecosystem. Maarten didn’t confirm retail partners, but it’s fair to assume that you might see Sony hearing aids at Best Buy, Walgreens, and Walmart in the future.
Are Sony hearing aids actually good?
One thing is certain, Sony and WSA have an enormous vault of experience behind them and a lot to lose if they get this wrong. For that reason, I think you can expect a good showing. If not, every hearing aid comes with 30-day returns.
I’ll keep this page updated as consumer reviews come in.
If you want to learn more about Sony hearing aids you might enjoy this video from Audiologist Matthew Allsop and Hearing Tracker.