Olive Smart Ear$299
- Works well at amplifying sound
- Much more affordable than traditional hearing aids
- Looks great
- Works with or without app
- Customizable, various hearing modes
- Touchpad could be improved
- Hearing test results timeline would be nice
Everything these days is smart, a trend that is only going to intensify. We’ve reviewed many health and fitness gadgets but never a smart hearing aid.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
This one is called Olive Smart Ear and it comes from an outfit called Olive Union. At the start of this year it won the “Best Innovation Award” by CES 2020 USA and “Best Wearable” by Engadget. The criteria for selection was based on innovation, quality of design, overall efficiency and market demand.
The gizmo has its origins in an Indiegogo campaign from 2017 that raised over $900,000. The Japanese-based company has since received angel investment that enabled it to grow. This is now the second generation product, an improved version of the crowdfunded device.
Statistics show that nearly 50 million Americans have trouble hearing yet only 1 in 5 of these use a hearing aid. Often, hearing loss beings only in one ear but is not yet at a stage where shelling out for an expensive hearing aid is necessary.
This is where Olive Smart Ear steps in. It s not a fully fledged hearing aid and is meant, instead, for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. If you find yourself asking “what did you say?” a few too many times, it might be time to look for a solution – the more affordable the better.
I’ve been testing Olive Smart Ear for the past few weeks. Here’s what I made of it.
Olive Smart Ear arrives in a smart looking box the size of an iPhone case. Inside you’ll find a single ear bud, portable storage that doubles up as a charging base, a bunch of sizing tips, a USB connector cable, AC wall adapter and a user guide/instruction manual.
This is a hearing aid that looks nothing like the traditional thing. Instead of being worn around the ear it fits snugly inside the ear. This type of design was chosen to remove the stigma of wearing hearing aids.
The thing weights only 7 grams and measures 23 mm (depth) x 20 mm (width) x 22m (height). In terms of looks, it reminds very much of a high-end earbud. So if you’re self-conscious about wearing a hearing aid, this one it has such a nice design that no one will even notice.
The extra ear grips are provided for different ear sizes. A medium ear tip is already mounted, and it will fit most people just fine. But there are also small and large ear tips in silicon and urethane. The first is made of a thin material, the second adds a sponge for a tighter fit. You will need to try them out for yourself to find which feels best. I stuck with the default option.
To secure, you need to twist and lock Olive in your ear while avoiding from pressing the touchpad on the top. This is most easily done by moving your head to ensure a tight fit. Once in place, I found that it stays in quite comfortably and was not in danger of falling out.
The touchpad on the top of the bud is used to control Olive. Press it for 2 seconds and it will switch on, a total of 5 seconds will enter pairing mode and 7 seconds will power it off. You can also use the touch pad to control volume and answer or reject calls. It never makes any clicking noise so takes some getting used to as far as how hard you need to tap in order for the command to register.
Olive Union says their hearable uses AI to capture 99.8% of the sounds within your hearing range without distortion. With 16 channels / 16 bands, it cancels out background noise and feedback. There are three mics onboard that capture high-frequency sounds to enhance listening. All it takes is a quick 5 minute hearing test to fully personalize everything.
The hearable comes with a little case where you can store the bud so that it doesn’t get lost. A you’d expect, this also acts like a portable charger which can be plugged into an electricity outlet or directly into a USB port.
I would say Olive Smart Ear works for occasional use, not all day. This is reflected in the battery life. The bud itself is able to keep working for about 7 hours when the battery is full, with an additional 14 available from the case.
The charging dock is magnetic. Olive easily snaps onto the two pins to refuel. The white LED on the top blinks when charging and the green LED on the side is on; both turn off when fully charged. Gently push it out of the dock with one finger from underneath to get the bud out.
It was extremely easy to follow the instructions to pair and calibrate the device. Download the iOS or Android smartphone app and this will take you through the short set-up process.
It starts with pairing Olive to your smartphone. This needs to be done via the app and not the bluetooth settings. It might take a few tries until you get the hang of entering the pairing mode.
As mentioned above, all you need to do is to tap the touchpad and hold your finger there for five seconds until the female voice in your ear says that you are in pairing mode. The light on Olive will begin the flash and the smartphone app will find the device and conclude the pairing process. Job done.
This only needs to be performed once. The Bluetooth connection is very stable – once connected it stays connected.
If you notice that Olive Smart Ear is not powering on put it back on the charger for 30 minutes. This happened to me the first time and this action resolved the issue. It’s most likely because I had not charged it properly.
The auto calibration of the sound amplifier is the next step. It’s a process that takes 4-5 minutes and you’ll definitely want to find a quiet place to perform this. The good thing is – if you’re not happy with the results you can redo it at any time.
The test takes you through 8 frequencies: 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000 and 8000 Hz. You’ll need to press a button the moment you begin to hear a sound for each frequency.
The hearing test is a nice bonus. Instead of getting something generic that amplifies sound, you get a truly personalised hearable. Start the calibration by first testing the ear you will be wearing Olive in, and then do the same procedure for the other ear. Olive Union says this is necessary in order to balance the sound level between the two ears.
You can also adjust the equalizer manually afterwards if you wish to do so. For example, if you have trouble hearing deeper sounds, the app allows you to adjust easily just for that. Simply tweak the 500 Hz frequency in the Equaliser tab of the app. The middle frequencies are for human speech so are typically kept at high values, and high frequencies are there to reduce high-pitched noise.
If you find you’ve made the situation worse by playing around with the Equalizer, tap the Ideal button above and it will reset everything to the default values worked out by the calibration test. Whatever you do make sure to press the Sync button afterwards so that the new settings are applied.
All of this functions extremely well and I like the fact that you can do the test as many times as you want. The manual customisation is also a nice add-on.
One thing that I would have liked to see when doing the calibration is a report on the state of your hearing. You get the customisation which is great, but there’s no way to follow trends. It would be very useful to have something quantifying if my hearing is becoming worse over time. This is perhaps something Olive Union could consider for one of the future software updates.
If you’re buying this for an older person, you might need to help them with setup. I think it might be a little difficult for the elderly to do it alone. From there, they should be able to manage just fine.
Now, you’re good to go. The thing will amplify everything, from conversations with friends to the television across the room. You can tweak the volume and equalize the sounds until they sound perfectly natural to you.
There are three sound modes to choose from. The “default” one just applies the calibration settings, the “conversation” mode reduces the surrounding noise and amplifies speech and the TV mode. This last one amplifies the TV sound in an indoor setting.
Most often I would find myself using the conversation mode. I found that this setting most clearly amplified everything and eliminated all interference. In default mode I could hear a slight whooshing sound and the same was the case for the TV mode. But all three modes work well at amplifying sound. You also have a sliding volume scale that you can use for further customization. At very high volumes you might get a bit more interference.
The surrounding noise can further be filtered out by pressing the “Feedback Cancellation” button. You can use this for all three modes. I actually found the sound to be much clearer with this so always kept it on.
At the top of the home tab of the app you can see the battery level. This is also on a sliding scale between zero and 100.
The touch control is a bit finicky but you get the hang of it after a while. It’s very sensitive, and if you’re not careful it will sometimes turn on even when you just brush a finger against it. In addition to tapping the gadget to turn it on and off, you can use the touch control to increase/decrease volume and answer phone calls. But I found it was easier to do this via the app.
The hearbud can be used independently of the smartphone. But Olive Union suggests you carry the phone with you as it provides access to additional call and music functionality. Plus it lets you check the battery level.
It’s worth mentioning, when listening to music the hearing aid function is turned off and Olive works like a regular earbud. This is when I wished I had two buds – it’s a bit of a lopsided experience listening to music only on one ear.
I would say Olive works best for those who can’t hear well when in conversation or struggle with phone calls, watching television and the like. Those who are tired of turning the TV volume up and asking people to repeat what they’ve said. Best of all the thing sells for nowhere near the cost of traditional hearing aids that can run into thousands of dollars.
Having said this, if you require a full-blown hearing aid Olive Smart Ear might not suffice. The product is for those who require up to 50dB of amplification. So if you need something stronger Olive Smart Ear is not for you.
If you’re after a sleek and inexpensive solution to boost your hearing, Olive Smart Ear might fit the bill. It’s super comfy and amplifies sound well. It is best for those whose hearing is diminishing and can use a bit of a boost. Those who are not ready for a full-blown hearing aid and want an amplifier to use occasionally. Perhaps a gift for an ageing parent.
The look is a great perk, as you can wear it without feeling self-conscious. No-one will even notice and if they do they will most probably think its an earbud for listening to music.
Olive Smart Ear works similar to the traditional thing, but offers more than simply turning the volume up or down. I really liked the fact that it customises the sound through the hearing test. That way you get a truly personalised hearable. You might need to play around with the settings a bit to find a combination that best eliminates interference. The touchpad also takes some getting used to.
All things considered, the product offers good value for money. I would recommend Olive to anyone who finds themselves repeating “what did you say” a few too may times.
You can check it out on Olive Union’s website. It retails for $299 in a choice between black and white. The price is considerably less than conventional hearing aids. There’s a 10% discount for US residents that sign-up for the company’s newsletter and various sales offers you can take advantage of at times.
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