My First Week with Bose Hearphones
After a half-funded GoFundMe, I decided to take the plunge and put the remaining balance for the Bose Hearphones on my credit card so that I could purchase them ahead of all the #gatherings I’ll be attending between now and Christmas.
And now that I’ve spent a week with the Hearphones, I can honestly say I’m not sure how I lived without them.
Backstory: I suffer from Meniere’s disease — an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo, pressure in the ear, and intermittent hearing loss. This post isn’t here to be a substitute for the many resources available through a quick Google search, so I’ll spare you. But the relevant information for the sake of this post is this: My right ear has permanent, mild hearing loss due to the disease, and this is most noticeable to me in noisy environments.
Because my hearing in that ear fluctuates depending on fluid buildup (ew, I know), and because my hearing loss is mild enough that it doesn’t super duper interfere with my day-to-day life, I’m not a candidate for hearing aids. This, frankly, is a blessing in disguise because hearing aids are insanely expensive and are not typically covered by insurance. But this fact did leave me wondering if there were any solutions out there.
I went on a long vacation with a friend over the summer, and I quickly realized that my hearing loss was more prominent than I thought it was. Because my life usually falls into a routine of familiar places and faces, being out of my comfort zone suddenly meant I was finding myself in situations where I couldn’t hear my travel companion — and he was noticing all my “what?”s and “huh?”s and my defeated “I’m just going to smile and nod and hope that wasn’t a question” moments. When I got home, I made an appointment with my ENT to have my hearing checked again. It was within the same range as it was before, but I was asking for a solution.
My ENT told me about these new headphones from Bose, called Hearphones, that are marketed as “Conversation Enhancing Headphones.” He hadn’t used them, tested them, or known anyone who purchased them (what a singing endorsement, amirite?), but he had heard about them through the grapevine, and since I was in his office moaning about how I can’t hear people in crowded environments, and these toted the ability to enhance those voices, he said it might be worth looking into.
I admit that I balked at the price tag on these things, but when compared to the cost of a pair of hearing aids, they’re a fraction of the price (though Bose is very quick to remind you that these are not a medical device, and that’s also probably why my ENT sent me to the internet for information). The Hearphones had been released late last year in a sort of quiet, soft launch that didn’t seem to have a lot of coverage. I scoured the internet for reviews and found very few from people who openly talked about buying them to assist with a hearing loss. I kept searching, and eventually I realized I’d have to take the plunge and buy them. (The fact that I couldn’t find much information on them is part of the reason why I’ve written this way-too-long post!)
When I first put the Hearphones on, it was in the comfort of my apartment on a Thursday evening. The only sound that immediately came through was the fan I keep on at all times to combat my tinnitus. Then I started typing on my computer, and that sounded clearer. The tags on my dog’s collar clinked as he ran through the apartment–it was a sound I could usually hear, but it somehow sounded less muffled when I hadn’t even considered it muffled before.
I played with the settings, switching between the different directional microphones willy-nilly in a “What does this button do?” kind of way. Did I read the instructions? Nah, I just clicked through the settings until the room sounded what I’d consider “normal” and then saved the settings as “Home.”
Over the course of my first week with the Hearphones, I tested them out in the following situations:
Standing in line & ordering at Starbucks
I went to Starbucks during the morning rush, and I was able to use a few different settings. When I walked in, I had the microphone’s direction set to Everywhere so I could hear what was going on around me. But when I approached the barista, I switched the direction to Front so that it tuned out the noises behind me and let me focus on the people behind the counter. The noises at Starbucks are a prime example of when I’d typically have trouble hearing someone, so being able to order my drink and have the barista’s voice turned up while the rest of the cafe turned down was a pretty profound experience.
Sitting in a meeting at work
Sometimes I end up in group meetings at work (okay, all the time) and I can get lost when people start talking over each other or breaking off into side conversations. “Let’s break out into groups” is one of my least favorite sentences (though maybe this is made up of leftover dread from all those “group” projects I did by myself in my school days). But now that I can adjust the directional microphones to focus them on my group, I feel a lot less existential dread about simultaneous group discussions.
Working at my desk
One feature I didn’t expect to be so magical was the noise canceling. As a long-time user of Bose products (previously having owned two pairs of the QC 20s, one of which was eaten by my dog), I didn’t expect to be wowed by the noise cancellation on these. But there’s a definite improvement in the sound quality between these and the QC 20s, which I guess makes sense, since they’re modeled after the QC 30s, which were launched as a replacement for the QC 20. But whatever, it was still a great discovery. And being able to adjust the noise cancellation with the World Volume buttons is awesome.
Riding the train
Sometimes I ride the train by myself, which is where the noise canceling comes in super handy. But when I’m riding with a coworker, the noise of the train moving on the tracks and the people in the train talking can make it hard for me to understand what they’re saying. In this one-on-one case, using the Focus setting is super helpful for just tuning everything else out.
Talking to a Lyft driver
This one was actually a surprise to me, as I wouldn’t have thought I’d need to use them in a car. But I had a soft-spoken Lyft driver who spoke at the windshield while I was in the backseat. I turned on the Front setting just to see what would happen (even though there was obviously nothing going on behind me)–and suddenly I could hear him. The Hearphones filtered out a lot of street noise and car sounds that I hadn’t even noticed were overpowering my Lyft driver’s voice, and suddenly I could continue the conversation.
Hearing the leaves rustle
This one isn’t something I “tested,” but a somewhat profound moment I had while walking down the street. I was listening to Taylor Swift’s new album (as you do), and I had forgotten to turn down the World volume after leaving Starbucks. As I walked under a tree, the wind picked up and I heard the leaves — a sound that genuinely confused me for a second. I took the earbuds out and watched the leaves rustle above me, suddenly muffled and quiet. Then I put them back in and I understood why some reviews of the Hearphones I’d been able to find referred to them as “glasses for your ears.”
Clearly, my overall verdict is that these things are magic.
There are only a few little downsides that I’ve discovered so far, and those are more like First World Problems than anything else:
The battery life on these things is only eight hours, which is actually pretty good as far as Bluetooth devices go, especially when they’re this portable and on all the time. But compared to other products, the battery life on the Hearphones is stellar.
The Neck Band
Wearing these things around your neck takes some getting used to. It tends to move around a lot when I’m walking, but I don’t know how Bose could fix this. I think it’s just something I’ll have to keep fiddling with and eventually I’ll forget they’re there.
Oh, that’s my voice.
One of the things that has presented itself as a mild annoyance is that I can hear myself better than ever. Thankfully, I’m used to the sound of my own voice because a pretty significant portion of my job requires me to record myself speaking. Plus I’ve been singing my entire life, so. My voice and I are pretty closely acquainted. Being able to hear myself from the outside in real time, though, is a slow adjustment. It also sometimes makes me feel like I’m being really loud, but so far everyone tells me I’m speaking at a normal volume.
No one knows what they are?
I think most people tend to assume I’m listening to music and/or just ignoring them when I walk around with these things in my ears. I usually just start talking to show people I can hear them, but it’s still coming across as a bit weird to people that I’ve got headphones in while I have a conversation. But the fact that they do look like regular headphones is both a blessing and a curse in this regard. I haven’t figured out how to explain them yet–because as Bose and my ENT will remind you, they’re not hearing aids. But they’re also not just headphones.
I guess on that front, I have to give Bose credit: The Hearphones are aptly named, even if they remain an autocorrect nightmare. (No, Google, for the last time: I don’t mean Bose Headphones.)