While some consumer electronics companies, like Sony, have jumped directly into the burgeoning over-the-counter hearing aid market, others are getting there through partnerships. The latest of these is veteran audio manufacturer Bose, which is “powering” hearing aids from a manufacturer called Lexie. Recently I took its latest model, the Lexie B2 “Powered by Bose,” out for a spin through my auditory meatus.
Like the rest of the industry of late, Lexie’s B2s are self-fitting, over-the-counter hearing aids, which means you can buy them anywhere (not just from a licensed hearing aid retailer) and adjust them yourself, without the involvement of a doctor or audiologist.
But unlike the other OTC hearing aids I’ve tried of late, which are designed to fit completely within the ear canal, Lexie’s use a more traditional design, with the electronics fitting behind the ear and a small wire connecting to a receiver which fits in the ear canal. While technically known as receiver-in-the-ear (RITE), the design has an appearance much like that of an old-school behind-the-ear unit.
Having hardware external to the ear canal is problematic, foremost because of the way it looks. While new-school in-the-ear hearing aids are virtually invisible, the RITE design telegraphs “I’m losing my hearing” from across the room, which probably isn’t the aesthetic that most users are looking for. While Lexie’s B2 is certainly svelte—each aid weighs just over 3 grams—they’re far from invisible, and the effect on one’s appearance is decidedly aging. There’s simply no way you can pretend these are earbuds.
Getting started with Lexie was a bit comical, involving text verification codes that went nowhere and endless pages of terms and conditions to scroll through before I could start using the units. Fortunately, the main portion of the app is much better designed, featuring an intuitive interface that lets you adjust “world volume,” the overall amplification level, on one side of the screen and set your preference for bass or treble on the other. Additional functions let you adjust the balance between your right and left ears—or mute an ear individually—and choose among preconfigured environments (noise indoor, outdoors, music, or everyday). You can set up to 10 personal environmental settings and choose between two directional modes, whether you want to amplify audio from everywhere or just in front of you.
As is the case with most hearing aids, these more refined settings can be hit-or-miss on the Lexie B2, as the master volume setting is by far the most impactful. However, I found that they can be worth toying with if you really want to get nuanced about your audio experience. Unfortunately, the Lexie B2 has no training feature that lets you measure your hearing loss or fine-tune your hearing, equalizer-style, which makes it all the more surprising that a 124-page manual is required to explain how all of this works.
Putting the aids on is also something of a challenge, and while there’s clearly a learning curve that can be overcome by the persistent, I never got to the point where it was easy to slip a unit on with just one hand. Most problematic, though, is that I just didn’t find the units comfortable. Although the device includes tips (Lexie calls them domes) in three sizes and two styles—open or closed—I never found any that both fit well and didn’t eventually start to itch, though the smaller ones were less irritating. The silicone domes feel soft to the touch of a finger, but they unfortunately feel a bit rougher in the ear.