I had little interest in the Alexa-enabled Echo FramesRemove non-product link until Amazon loaned me a pair for review. After all, does anyone really need Alexa in their glasses? But while I’m still mulling the merits of all-day Alexa, I’ve found at least one compelling use for Amazon’s smart glasses: as a surprisingly effective tinnitus aid.
First, a little background: I’ve been dealing with mild-to-moderate tinnitus—or ringing in the ears, for those fortunate enough not to know—for about six months now. Basically, it’s a high-pitched “eeeeee” with varying degrees of pitch and loudness. On good days, I barely notice the sound; on bad days, it’s pretty much in my face.
Tinnitus is a distressingly common ailment, and it’s typically a symptom of hearing loss, either natural (due to advancing age—I’m 52) or otherwise (such as long exposure cranked-up headphones). Other causes run the gamut from ear infections and certain medications (including NSAIDs, like aspirin) to high blood pressure and even (eek!) brain tumors. While some bouts of tinnitus are temporary, others are permanent.
There is no cure for tinnitus (at least, not yet), but there are treatments, and among the most common are in-ear devices, akin to hearing aids, that emit specially tuned sounds that mask the ringing in your ears.
Besides an in-ear device (which is generally prescribed by an audiologist), you could also just use a headset or even a speaker to produce the soothing sounds. But walking around day with a chirping Bluetooth speaker (cricket sounds work best for me) or AirPods stuck in your ears can be tricky to manage, not to mention distracting to others.
Enter Amazon’s Echo FramesRemove non-product link, which—besides coming with onboard Alexa—also boast four “microspeakers” built into the arms (a.k.a. “temples”) of the glasses, two for each ear. These open-air speakers are designed to direct sound into your ears (using a technology called “beamforming”), and if you set the volume properly, you’ll be the only one who hears the sound.
When connected to your phone via Bluetooth, the Echo Frames ($250) act very much like a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and it’s easy enough to dial up your favorite tinnitus-masking sound and stream them through the Frame’s microspeakers.
Even better, the Frames are unobtrusive; I don’t feel self-conscious when I’m wearing them in front of my family or out on the street. To the outside world, I’m simply wearing glasses (and you can order prescription lenses for them, too).
Now, the Echo Frames can’t duplicate the sonics of a decent Bluetooth headset (they’re somewhat bass-deprived, for starters), but they’re just fine for a playlist of tinnitus-masking tracks, delivering just enough volume to give me some peace.
Of course, battery life is an issue. I’ve found that the Echo Frames’ batteries check out after about four hours of continuous playback (matching up with Amazon’s estimates). Luckily, the Frames that I’ve been testing have charged pretty quickly, generally jumping back to 80-percent charged within an hour or so, and the four-hour runtime is generally sufficient for dealing with the worst tinnitus flare-ups.
I’ve yet to finish my full Amazon Echo Frames review (stay tuned), but as a tinnitus aid, they’re getting an early thumbs-up from me; indeed, I’ve already ordered my own pair.
Note: While Echo Frames helped me with my tinnitus, they are no substitute for seeking medical help. If you’ve experienced ringing, buzzing, or “whooshing” in your ears for more than a few days, call your doctor.
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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.