I got a reader question today from a hearing-impaired reader:
I have the iPhone 4S and would like to use the earphones with remote & mic but I wear in-the-ear hearing aids.
Does Apple have an alternate version for folks like me - that would go around the ear or a headset version?
Apple itself doesn't offer alternate versions, they only provide the white earbuds, but luckily plenty of other manufacturers have filled this important gap.
There are four types of solutions I can think of:
- Buy an adapter which offers the inline controls and microphone and lets you plug in whatever headset you like.
- Buy a pair of headphones or a headset which includes the inline remote in a single unit.
- Use bluetooth headphones which have inbuilt controls.
- Use a hearing-aid specific Bluetooth adapter, if your hearing aid supports this.
All these solutions have different plusses and minuses, unsurprisingly.
Buy an Inline Control Adapter
These are some examples of an adapter with the inline controls and microphone which plug into any regular pair of headphones:
In the past I have tried several of these type of "inline" adapters with my existing headphones, including the Belkin and Griffin remotes and several "no-name" brands. In general I found none of them lasted beyond about 6 months of daily use, which disappointed me. The amazon.com reviews seem to suggest that other customers have had a similar experience with the adapters not lasting a huge amount of time. On the other hand they are generally fairly cheap so buying a new one every six months or so isn't a huge hardship, it's just annoying.
The other issue I found is that different types add different amounts of length to your headphones - this can be annoying if your headphone cable is already longer than you want it to be, as long cords get tangled more easily.
If you are an iPhone user you will need to check that the device you purchase puts the microphone where you need. The Apple earbuds (and most others with inbuilt remotes) have the microphone section positioned so it will hang close to your mouth for easy and mostly-hands-free use - but if you purchase an inline remote you'll have to hold the microphone up near your mouth to use it.
Purchase Headphones With An Inbuilt Remote
These are some examples of around-the-ear headphones/headsets which have built in remote controls and microphones:
These headsets have built in controls for iPod and iPhone, which tends to leave the microphone in a more convenient place and saves you from over-long cords.
Since most iPod/iPhone users apparently prefer in-ear headsets, it can be annoyingly tricky to find these over-the-ear type by searching online. I found these by searching on amazon.com for variations on the phrase "wired stereo headphones" and then scrolling through many pages of results to find the ones that weren't in-ear types and did have remotes - a fairly slow process. Another method is to find a dedicated headphone site and search for headphones with apple controls.
Use Bluetooth Headphones
Bluetooth headphones are wireless headphones which are (generally) compatible with the iPhone and iPod's wireless controls. There are tons of them available, just a few include:
Again, I have no specific experience with the headphones in this list - I found them by searching for "Bluetooth stereo headsets" on Amazon and slowly grovelling through the results to find ones that weren't in-ear models.
I've used over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones with my iPhone and I really adored them for listening to music! Not having to worry about a cord is very freeing, but these tend to position the microphone a fair way from your mouth so they're a lot less useful for making phone calls. I found that with the cheap "no name" bluetooth headphones I purchased that people had trouble hearing my voice because the microphone was on the edge of the headphone and consequently a long distance from my mouth. It's something worth checking out if you want to make phone calls with them. For listening to music though, this is definitely my top choice.
Hearing-aid Specific Bluetooth Adapter
While researching for this article I discovered that some hearing aids have specific adapters which make them bluetooth-compatible. This seems to mostly apply to more modern and "up-market" hearing aids, and each type is specific to the hearing-aid manufacturer.
The devices are generally small pendant-type things worn around the neck which connect wirelessly to your existing hearing aids and pipe the sound directly into the aids. For those with compatible hearing aids this is definitely the solution which will give you the clearest sound quality!
One device mentioned to me specifically by a happy user was the Phonak iCom, for those with Phonak hearing aids. Oticon offers the Oticon ConnectLine Mobile. There are even Bluetooth options for Cochlear Implant users. I'm sure that most other hearing aid manufacturers have their own bluetooth adapters too - check the website for your hearing aid manufacturer, and have a chat to your audiologist if you aren't sure.
Caveats 'n Other Things
Some of these remote controls offer one button control only, which lets you play/pause audio but doesn't let you change the volume, others have the full 3-button controls which lets you change the volume. Also, different controls will have buttons of different sizes and shapes and sensitivities, and placed in different places, so make sure the buttons are usable to you before you purchase them.
When you are buying anything, most importantly make sure to check that they are compatible with the device that you want to use them with - not all of the controls work with all Apple devices! The description for each item should clearly state which device they work with. I suggest also reading reviews for each device on Amazon.com or similar, as there is a lot of really useful user feedback there which can help you choose the best device for your needs.
My current earphones of choice are an in-ear model, the Etymotic Research MC3 noise-cancelling earbuds which have in-line iPhone controls and a microphone. The regular Apple earbuds don't fit in my tiny ears but these ones fit just right and I'm really happy with them.
Which headphones, earphones, or audio adapter do you use and does it meet your needs well? Leave a comment below!
- Ricky Buchanan