Hearing Test Shoot-Out
Choosing the best on-line hearing test was easier than expected. Most use some variation of the “If you hear the beep, raise your hand” style of test. Unfortunately, a tone test doesn’t perform well when done on the web. There are too many variables involved, so test results are rarely better than a wild guess. Even worse, regardless of results there will often be a plug for you to go see an audiologist. More than a bit cheesy!
I did, however, find a couple sites using what is called “speech-in-noise” testing. This type is better because it removes the worst variables that lead to questionable results. The fact that this method reasonably replicates real world situations that can make hearing difficulties apparent is, well, more than just icing on the cake.
How accurate are the recomended tests? If you follow the directions (not hard to do, mostly) and are honest with yourself (a biggie!) I would consider them to be pretty good. Just keep in mind your results will not indicate if one ear is worse than the other, but instead represents the sum of the hearing you have. Yes, I am aware that point makes me sound like I am a nit-picky audiologist. Humor me, it is an important point to consider.
So now that you know my hearing test biases, onward to the results….
Here’s an interesting tidbit. A few people called shortly after we posted this page and asked if headphones are necessary for these tests. The quick answer is no. It is better to use headphones if you have them, but a set of speakers hooked to your computer will work nearly as well. It is more important that you make sure “distractions” are minimized. Turn off TV’s or radios that you can hear. Wait until the heater or air conditioning has done its thing and is silent. Stuff noisy animals in the closet and tie the kids to a chimney on your neighbor’s house. Just kidding about the animals and kids. The point is, do these tests when the room you are in is really quiet.
Rated best: Hear-It.org
This site is run by an international, non-profit and non-commercial group that is based in Brussels, Belgium. They get their funding from a wide range of industry groups but in a refreshingly nice twist, they make it a point not to endorse any manufacturers or dispensers. In addition to having the most accurate and easy to use hearing screening, you will find an impressive range of useful information about hearing. What’s best, they don’t encourage you to hand over your identity, or urge you to immediately run out and buy something hearing related. in short, they treat you like you are an adult and have a brain. How refreshing.
Hearing test link: http://hear-it.org/page.dsp?forside=yes&area=1185
Web Site link: http://hear-it.org/index.dsp
Second Place: Hear-The-World.com
This site is run by a Swiss manufacturer of hearing aids, called Phonak. You may recognize the name if you watched the Tour de France. Until the recent economic meltdown, they sponsored a race team. Without the sponsorship to pay for, maybe hearing aid prices will drop soon. Don’t hold your breath.
Like Hear-It.org, the test they offer is speech in noise. The test procedure is prettier to look at than Hear-It’s, but is slightly more clumsy to use. Not hard to get through, though. This site, too, has a wealth of information about hearing but it leans more towards corporate-speak in presentation. Apparently Phonak has been invaded by the “You gotta go social!” crowd, as this site is set up to encourage interactive discourse (for lack of a better term) with Phonak, the company. The hearing test doesn’t require a sign up process, but other sections do and that will likely lead to your getting mail from Phonak. As always, your choice. Forewarned is forearmed.
Web Site link: http://www.hear-the-world.com/
Interesting Alternative: University of New South Wales, School of Physics
If you want to discover your inner geek, this test is right up your alley. It’s a tone test. A BIG tone test. A COMPLICATED tone test. It’s a freaking MONSTER. Got you scared yet? I know that I panned this type of test, but this one from the University of New South Wales School of Physics caught my eye for some reason and is best of breed. Worth doing if you can muck your way through it. I suspect that’s a big if for many people.
What doesn’t it do? It has the same shortcomings all tone tests have – a lousy baseline that makes it of limited value. But here is what it HAS that the others don’t: Loudness Contouring. That’s a fancy way of saying the test goes through discrete frequencies from 30Hz to 16,000Hz! So while you won’t get a good baseline (always important in tone testing) you will be able to see which frequencies you hear better than others. Speech tests don’t touch on this aspect, so there is merit to trying this one. (Don’t worry if you decide to give up part way through, your computer won’t explode and your dog will still love you.)
Quick start hint (for this test only): Turn up your speakers. Way up. Then start clicking the boxes at the bottom of the graph in the 1K column and work your way up until you barely hear the tone. Then do each adjacent column the same way. You should start on the lower side of the scale in each column, because if you have a hearing loss (especially at 1K) you could give yourself an unexpected jolt at other frequencies. The warnings on the page are there for good reason. Once you are done, and if you wish, save a copy of the graph and email it to me (the link is below). We can discuss what the results mean. (P.S. I’ll lose your email address once we are done, unless you ask othewise.)
Hearing test link: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/hearing.html