Suspect that your hearing isn't as sharp as it used to be?

Determining when you might benefit from a hearing aid, choosing among the available devices and features, and even deciding which retailer to use can be an overwhelming process. But Consumer Reports’ survey of 131,686 subscribers, who weighed in on their hearing challenges and rated 20,563 hearing aids across 15 brands and 10 retailers, may help clear up some of that confusion.

Here’s a rundown of what we found. 

Which Brand Is Best?

Our subscribers gave us their opinions on major brands of hearing aids: Audibel, Beltone, Bernafon, Miracle Ear, NuEar, Oticon, Phonak, ReSound, Rexton, Siemens, Sonic Innovations, Starkey, Unitron, Widex, and Zounds.

No one brand was ranked best or worst, and all were about equal in reliability and durability. But if you’re looking for a hearing aid with a battery that lasts longer than average and is easy to change, you may want to consider Zounds. Our subscribers gave it high marks for long battery life.  

How Retailers Stack Up

When looking at general types of hearing-aid vendors, wholesale clubs such as Costco topped the chart.

The Veterans Administration, otolaryngology (ENT) practices (which may have hearing-aid experts known as audiologists on staff), and hospitals and clinics were also highly rated by subscribers.

Overall, online retailers and name-brand hearing-aid stores (which sell aids from one manufacturer and bear that manufacturer’s name) were rated lowest for customer satisfaction.

Respondents also rated 10 specific retailers.

Connect Hearing, a nationwide network of stores that sell hearing aids, and Costco received high marks for hearing evaluations, discussion of options, staff courtesy, and follow-up adjustment availability.

Many Opt to Go Without Aids

Less than half of the survey respondents who said they thought or knew they had hearing loss ended up purchasing hearing aids. And of those who do use hearing aids, more than two-thirds said they waited two or more years after noticing they were experiencing hearing loss to purchase the prescription devices.

Additionally, 45 percent of our survey respondents reported difficulty hearing in noisy environments, yet just one-quarter had their hearing checked in the previous year.

Those with suspected or diagnosed hearing loss who opted not to buy hearing aids had a range of reasons. Two were by far the most common. First on the list was the feeling by many of the subscribers that their hearing loss was too minor to warrant the use of hearing aids.

The second most common reason cited by subscribers was that they experienced hearing difficulties only in certain situations, making aids unnecessary.

Cost Considerations

Of those who waited to buy aids, cost was often a deterrent. Almost 50 percent of those subscribers blamed high prices. That’s understandable; subscribers paid an average of $2,710 for an individual or pair of hearing aids, which included follow-up fittings and maintenance and repair for 90 percent of consumers.

About 60 percent of respondents reported that none of the initial hearing-aid costs were covered by health insurance. But some survey respondents found ways to cut their costs. Though only 16 percent of hearing-aid users surveyed tried to negotiate a lower price, almost half were successful.

And while the most common complaints about hearing aids in general related to poor performance and battery life, almost half of the respondents who chose to use hearing aids said they were very or completely satisfied.

For those who have given up on hearing aids, just 3 percent did so because they found them ineffective.

If you are considering buying a hearing aid, check our buying guide and ratings of brands and retailers.