Olive Union Olive Pro review

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Hearing aids are prohibitively expensive. If you have mild to moderate hearing loss, you might rejoice at cheaper over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids like the Olive Union Olive Pro. But is it wise to be an early adopter?

With affordable hearing aid alternatives only just coming to market, you’ll want to make sure you pick a device that really delivers on its promises. You might want to wait until the FDA passes official guidelines for OTC hearing aids—the market will soon be flooded with options, and that competition will likely produce quality products.

Meanwhile, we’ve put the Olive Pro to the test to find out whether it can really help you hear better.

Who is the Olive Pro for?

The Olive Pro is a set of true wireless earbuds designed to help you hear better.

Hearing loss is a widespread issue affecting all age groups. The most common cause among young people is irreversible noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The Olive Pro draws attention to this issue and addresses it in two ways:

  1. The earbuds measure your noise exposure and document it in the hearing report within the My Olive app.
  2. After taking the in-app hearing test and applying it to your earbuds, it can amplify external sounds (hear-thru mode) based on your personal hearing profile.

The first feature makes the Olive Pro a great tool for those regularly exposed to loud noises, whether external or through streaming audio. Nearly half of people aged 12-35 choose unsafe levels of sound when using headphones. Building an awareness of your noise exposure and the associated risk might help you avoid hearing loss.

Speedometer-style noise level depiction and how different volumes correspond to everyday noise sources.

World Health Organization Unsafe noise levels start at 85dB, when exposure exceeds the safe listening time.

Those already living with mild or moderate hearing loss might find the Olive Pro useful in everyday situations, while avoiding the stigma of wearing a hearing aid. This feature only applies to external noise, meaning it won’t help you hear audio like music, podcasts, or calls any better. However, you can save custom music EQ settings in the My Olive app.

What is the Olive Union Olive Pro like?

The Olive Pro mimics the shape of the Apple AirPods Pro, but it appears a bit bulkier. The long stem fully covers the ear lobe, which makes it inconvenient for those wearing studs or earrings, and it can even hinder one’s ability to remove a facemask. Other than that, the Olive Pro is comfortable—at least for in-ears. It comes with a set of urethane foam ear tips in varying sizes, which ensure a tight fit and good noise isolation.

Olive Union Olive Pro earbuds with charging case and foam ear tips.

The Olive Pro promises better hearing.

The earbuds feature touch controls, which you can customize in the My Olive app. The built-in proximity sensor—designed to pause playback when you take out one of the earbuds—has a two to three-second delay and you can’t turn it off. A multi-directional microphone integrated into the stem picks up external sounds for the hear-thru mode, and doesn’t interfere with the touch control point.

The glossy white charging case completely lacks branding. Only the inside of the lid reveals the manufacturer, Olive Union. A white LED indicates the case’s charging status. Although the status light activates every time you open or close the lid, there’s also a small button inside the case that triggers it.

What does the My Olive app do?

To get the most out of the Olive Pro, you’ll need the My Olive app (Android, iOS).

The home screen features a glance at the hearing report and a link to the hearing test. Switch to the control menu to toggle and customize the hear-thru mode. The settings button in the top right gives you access to touch control settings, music EQ, hearing test and history, a user guide, FAQ, updates, and more details about the device.

The hearing report only works when hear-thru mode is enabled. Tapping on the report will give you a detailed overview of the average exposure to external noise (hear) and streaming audio (music).

The hearing test probes each ear separately. Following a short survey and a trial round, it runs through nine tones at four different volume levels. When you hear a sound, tap the screen. If you don’t hear a tone right away, it’ll pause and play again, before increasing the volume or switching to the next sound. Once it’s completed, you can save the test and apply it to the earbuds. You can save multiple different test results and switch between them under Settings Hearing History.

What is it like to use the Olive Pro and My Olive app?

I had a few odd experiences with the Olive Pro.

  • Wearing it in public: Earbuds aren’t an acceptable accessory you can keep on while talking to people; at least not yet. I frequently get odd looks and have to explain why I’m wearing them.
  • Random cutouts: While listening to music, the right earbud occasionally tunes out for a few seconds, before resuming playback. This doesn’t seem related to interference with other Bluetooth devices.
  • Sudden volume boost: Don’t switch to the hearing test while listening to music! The test has to happen at a predefined volume, so the app will increase the volume when you launch the test. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pause playback until a few seconds after jacking up the volume. Ouch!

Since many people use their earbuds for online meetings or phone calls, we thought boosting frequencies based on a hearing test would be a core feature, but that is not the case. We asked Olive Union why it hasn’t added an option to let users apply their hearing test results to a custom EQ for audio streaming. Here’s how the company responded:

Implementing a custom EQ for audio streaming based on the hearing test results was considered in the development stage of Olive Pro, but it was not chosen as a feature because of the lack of its effectiveness during testing and existing case studies supporting it.

Olive Union plans to add a preset Music EQ in its app, which will be available with an upcoming update.

It could somewhat help people with hearing loss when listening to music by applying a general hearing loss curve up to a point that does not distort the original music. It will cut down bass and highlight treble. There will be three EQs depending on the degree of hearing loss, but mostly covering only mild hearing loss range due to distortion of music sound.

How do you pair the Olive Pro to your smartphone?

You can connect the Olive Pro directly through your device’s Bluetooth menu; just open the lid of the charging case, no need to take the buds out. Alternatively, you can open the My Olive iOS or Android app and follow the on-screen instructions, which will take you through the entire setup process, including Bluetooth pairing, choosing ear tips, and more.

The Olive Pro features Bluetooth 5.1, but multipoint connectivity isn’t included. The earbuds support SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, the latter of which provides high-quality, consistent streaming to iPhones and is variable on Android.

How long is the Olive Pro battery life?

The Olive Pro in their charging case.

The Olive Pro charging case features a button, but it doesn’t seem to matter for pairing.

The advertised battery life is 7 hours per charge, totaling 20 hours with the case. Our casual tests with mixed use of streaming audio and boosting of external audio, came very close to seven hours of battery life per charge. During our controlled battery test, the hearing aids stopped playing after 4 hours and 3 minutes, even though the batteries still had juice. We’ll update this section after re-running the test.

It’s good that the predicted battery life is close to reality, but it doesn’t mean it’s great. On a single charge, the Olive Pro lasts longer than the AirPods Pro. If it was serious about being a hearing aid, however, it should probably last you through an entire day.

Keep in mind that replacing earbuds batteries is nearly impossible. While we don’t have access to a teardown of the Olive Pro, nothing in its design suggests that you can easily…

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