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AirPods Pro 3 just got even more appealing for an unexpected reason

Published May 28th, 2024 1:13PM EDT
AirPods Pro 2 next to an iPhone.
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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Apple on Tuesday shared preliminary results from a large-scale Apple Hearing Study conducted with the help of University of Michigan researchers. The research started in 2019 and focused on tinnitus, a hearing condition that many people suffer from.

Tinnitus is a ringing sound that people can experience in one or two ears. It can be temporary or permanent, and it might need treatment so one’s hearing isn’t impacted.

As someone who deals with hearing issues, including tinnitus, Apple’s Hearing Study is exciting, particularly because I’m aware of what AirPods Pro 3 rumors say. Apple might turn the AirPods Pro into better hearing aids. It might be unexpected for some people, but this is something that will make Apple’s next-generation AirPods Pro far more appealing to so many people out there.

On top of that, the iPhone might support more advanced hearing tests that might help users screen for hearing issues before they visit a doctor.

The Apple Hearing Study started in 2019 and is ongoing. Researchers enrolled more than 160,000 participants, who answered surveys and completed app-based assessments to asses their tinnitus.

The researchers found that 15% of participants experience tinnitus on a daily basis. The ringing sound in one’s ears can impact various aspects of life. It’s not just about hearing the other sounds and noises around you more clearly. Constant ringing in your ears can affect sleep quality and concentration.

Some of the early conclusions from the Apple Hearing Study.
Some of the early conclusions from the Apple Hearing Study. Image source: Apple Inc.

The preliminary conclusions offer some insights into tinnitus, which could help researchers discover better treatment options for those experiencing the phenomenon. Hearing ringing in the ears is quite common, though it’ll impact people differently:

The study found that 77.6 percent of participants have experienced tinnitus in their life, with the prevalence of daily tinnitus increasing with age among many. Those ages 55 and up were 3x more likely to hear tinnitus daily compared to those 18-34 years old. Additionally, 2.7 percent more male participants reported experiencing daily tinnitus compared to females. However, 4.8 percent more males stated they had never experienced tinnitus.

As for treatment, there are ways to manage tinnitus, but not a definitive treatment:

In the Apple Hearing Study, participants reported mainly trying three methods to ease their existing tinnitus: using noise machines (28 percent), listening to nature sounds (23.7 percent), and practicing meditation (12.2 percent). Less than 2.1 percent of participants chose cognitive and behavioral therapy to manage their tinnitus.

Given Apple’s interest in this particular condition, I’d expect the company to also consider new ways to address tinnitus with its products. That’s where the AirPods Pro 3 might come in. 

If rumors are accurate, the AirPods might offer better hearing aid modes than their predecessors. Current AirPods Pro models also serve as decent hearing aids, though that’s not their main purpose. Also, I’d love to see a hearing aid test built into the iPhone’s Health app come iOS 18 this summer.

Researchers used an iPhone app and AirPods to perform a tinnitus test.
Researchers used an iPhone app and AirPods to perform a tinnitus test. Image source: Apple Inc.

Apple does have a test for tinnitus, as seen in the screenshot above. Participants in the study used an app to characterize their tinnitus. They had to wear AirPods (Max, Pro, or regular) or EarPods to listen to the sounds the app made.

Thanks to the app, the researchers have an idea of what sort of sounds people suffering from tinnitus are most likely to hear: 

The majority of participants described their tinnitus as either a pure tone (78.5 percent) or white noise (17.4 percent). Among those who described a pure tone, 90.8 percent reported a pitch at 4 kilohertz or above, similar to the tones in a songbird’s call. Additionally, for those who described a pure tone, 83.5 percent identified their tinnitus as a single tone and 16.5 percent identified it as a teakettle tone — a high-pitched, whistling sound.

Apple also says that its current tech can help with tinnitus. For example, enabling the Noise app on the Apple Watch will notify you when environmental levels rise. The Health app also monitors and tracks the sound levels on headphones and AirPods to help you reduce exposure to loud sound.

Wearing AirPods Pro can be beneficial in situations where loud sounds are present. The earbuds play anti-noise to cancel external sounds and reduce exposure to loud sounds.

I expect AirPods Pro 3 to build on these features. Moreover, it’ll be interesting to see Apple bring some of these hearing health features to future versions of regular AirPods. But we’ll have to wait for new hardware announcements for that.

It’s unlikely that Apple will unveil new AirPods models soon. However, Apple could always announce new software features for existing AirPods versions at WWDC 2024 next month, which could explain why Apple shared these preliminary results from the Apple Hearing Study this week.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.