Hearing aids: Not only for the near-deaf? We’ve already seen one product in the emerging category of hearing aids designed for users with relatively mild hearing loss—the Olive Union Olive Max. Now there’s Elehear’s Alpha Pro, another affordable over-the-counter product that aims to acclimate users to what hearing aids can do … before things reach crisis mode.

Elehear’s Alpha Pro doesn’t break any new ground in the design department, offering a traditional behind-the-ear design with a receiver connected to the primary device via a thin wire—perhaps just a bit longer than most. The units are available only in a dark gray color, which I find more aesthetically pleasing and unobtrusive than the more common silver or beige (yech).

Photograph: Elehear

The units arrive unconfigured, but new users get a free 30-minute online session with an audiologist if they need help setting things up and getting the lay of the land. If you’re a first-time hearing aid user, this is a good idea, as the audiologist can guide you through which settings and eartips are likely to work best for you, not to mention provide general usage and cleaning tips. The audiologist (there’s just one at Elehear) can also help later, on an ad hoc basis, via phone and email.

The Alpha Pro’s hardware controls are simple, with an individual volume rocker on the back of each unit. They will work out of the box, without Elehear’s app, but you’ll need to delve into said app if you want to get the most out of the hearing aids. While the app is simple on the surface, there’s a lot more to it underneath. Naturally, individual volume controls dominate the main screen, with selections for controlling the amount of ambient noise reduction plus the ability to opt between a forward-facing speech focus or a 360-degree listening mode. I also found the Mute button here handy, which cuts out all amplification and lets you work in silence should you need some peace and quiet.

The Adjust tab lets you drill down further, where you’ll find four presets that correspond to various levels of hearing loss, from Mild to Moderate II. Elehear’s audiologist told me these are all tuned based on common hearing loss patterns—boosting high-level frequencies more than lower ones—but you can tweak them further by tapping the Edit icon, which opens a rudimentary equalizer where you can set levels for Ocean Wave, World Sound, and Birds Chirping (i.e. lows, mids, and highs). All of the settings on this screen can be made globally or per-ear. There are also four environmental modes—General, Restaurant, Outdoor, and TV—which are fairly self-explanatory. Elehear says the only real difference among them is the amount of noise reduction along with the use of the directional focus mode.

Photograph: Elehear

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