3 Free iPhone Apps that Help You Hear

Hello. My name is Vern Seward, and I'm going deaf.

Ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but my hearing is not what it use to be. More often I'm finding I have to have others repeat themselves, I miss significant bits of conversations, and generally my world is quieter, but in a good way.

Free on iTunes

Hearing loss, as with decreased visual acuity, for most folks anyway, happens gradually as we age. Some of us, including yours truly, have unwittingly helped the process by letting the sounds we love assault and ultimately destroy the ever-so-delicate hairs in our inner ears. With each dead follicle we lose a bit more of the aural world until the landscape of our inner ear, once lush with tiny sound-converting hairs, look like a deforested hillside.

Again, I'm taking writer's license in my description, but the image is close to what happens.

As our eyesight deteriorates we can turn to glasses or contacts sight aid. Hearing loss is a bit trickier and far more expensive to help.

Though millions of Americans suffer from some level of hearing loss, few medical plans cover the purchase of devices that might alleviate the problem, but they will offer help with eyeglass purchases. It's easy to see why. A modern set of hearing aids can cost US$2,000 to $7,000. Even relatively inexpensive aids can cost several hundred dollars, but a decent pair of prescription specs might set you back a few hundred bucks at most.

Most folks don't need prescription glasses, however, all they need is a bit of visual amplification (magnification). That's what a pair of reading glasses provide, and they can cost less than ten bucks.

What we need is an inexpensive set of reading glasses for our ears. Not the tiny, tuned technical marvels hearing aid makers wants us to buy, but a device that just pumps up the volume across the sound spectrum, and does it cheaply.

Well, your iPhone isn't cheap, but you have it already. Finding an app that can act as reading glasses for your ears by taking advantage of your phone's audio features—and do it for free—becomes icing on your gadget cake. I've found three apps that fit this profile, so lets get to it.

i-Hear Free [2.3 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: Idan Sheetrit]

iHear Super simple i-Hear Free is...simple, and it works!

Being in a conversation when your ears aren't picking up everything being said can be more than a little frustrating for you and the speaker. i-Hear Free might solve that problem.

It's a very simple app. Put on a set of earphones and fire it up and you get instant sound amplification. There's a volume (Gain) control and a mute button, a gain level indicator, and a sound meter. That's it, and really, that's all you need. If you want to upgrade to get other features like frequency filters, there's a button to upgrade.

Does it work? Yes!

With the app running you can hear all sort of sounds even people with normal hearing miss. Adjust the volume to fit the situation and your tolerance for pain and you are good to go. No ads mar the spartan control screen.

The only downside to i-Hear Free is that it won't work in the background.

If you just need something basic then i-Hear Free is as basic as it gets. So get it.

Kikitori [1.1 MB, all iOS devices iOS 4.1 or later, Maker: Grace Company Ltd.]

KikitoriAd supported Kikitori can do in a pinch

Amplification across the sound spectrum works, but sometimes, especially in challenging situations like crowded rooms, bars, and restaurants, it would be nice if you could amplify just voices and not the clanging of silverware or clinking of wine glasses. Try Kikitori.

This app suppresses loud, popping and droning background sounds, so what sound you do get is noticeably clearer.

Kikitori's interface couldn't be simpler. There's a volume control, and that's it. The free version is add supported and does not include a "tone control" or the ability to run the app in the background. But as with reading glasses, you may not need amplification all the time. When you do give Kikitori a whirl.

BioAid (Beta) [5.7 MB, all iOS devices iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: Nicholas Clark]

BioAidVery capable and very free BioAid (Beta)

Of the three apps mentioned here BioAid is likely the most capable and complex. But don't let that throw you.

Developed by hearing researchers over in the U.K., BioAid is a serious attempt at making a user friendly hearing aid based of devices a user may already own, in this instance, the iPhone.

BioAid advises that you read through the very brief Help Guide so that you'll understand what all the buttons do. I'd recommend it too, but essentially, all you need to do is:

1. Plug in and put on a set of in-ear headphones. The kind that form a seal in your ears is recommended.
2. Turn on the app. It runs in the background, but doing so does drain you battery faster.
3. Listen. Use the hardware volume buttons to control loudness. Select one of six tuned presets designed to help in different sound circumstances.

The algorithms used to process sound are freely available in the public domain. The app has no ads. And it just plain works.

BioAid come as close as possible to being "reading glasses" for your ears. This one is a definite keeper. At least until the come up with a better beta or final release. Get this.Especially if you know someone with mild to medium hearing loss.

Ok, that's a wrap.

If you have wee ones who love playing with your iPhone or iPad (what wee one doesn't?) then grab Sago Mini Forrest Flyer. It's poking and swiping fun for kids 4 and up and it's this week's Free App of the Week.