Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to supply instantaneous and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

Well, you won’t see much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the developers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally mandated to return customers a maximum of $87 million thanks to misleading and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific verification. On the contrary, powerful evidence was there to reveal that the magnetic bracelets had NO impact on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the producer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (beyond the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?

Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the easy reply is that we have a powerful propensity to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that putting on a $50 wristband will take away your pain and that you don’t have to bother with costly medical and surgical procedures.

If, for instance, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which alternative sounds more enticing?

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already wish to trust that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from observing other people using them.

But it is precisely this natural inclination, together with the inclination to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which solution sounds more appealing?

       a. Booking a consultation with a hearing professional and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier over the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetized wristband seems much more desirable than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more attractive than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, as with the magnetic bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t deliver results.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do give good results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Viewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, so does the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

However when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they work?
  2. For which type of individual do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it produced its recommendations on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are classified as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Despite the fact that the difference is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For example, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is unclear enough to avoid the matter entirely without having to specify exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices ideal for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.

If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids offer the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. Here are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have difficulty hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t allow you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with integrated noise reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain numerous features that minimize background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically come with any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are typically one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-priced PSAPs; instead, arrange for a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely appraise your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the most suitable hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So despite the fact that the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well worth the hassle.


  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products
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