iPhone App of the Week: SoundAMP 2.1

By Tan Truong
Tan Truong
Tan Truong
August 17, 2010 Updated: September 29, 2015

With the iPhone’s built-in microphone and sound reproduction abilities, it was inevitable that someone would create an app that would take advantage of both features to create a sound amplifier. Indeed, now there are at least two dozen such apps. They all try to function as assistive hearing, eavesdropping, or stethoscope-like devices—and frankly, they all give mixed results.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the apps. The iPhone’s tiny microphone was engineered for capturing vocal sounds at close range and doesn’t function very well for purposes beyond that, but developers still try. SoundAmp was built to help people who have hearing loss to hear sounds in their environment.

It functions very similar to the inexpensive assistive hearing devices that are sold in drugstores, except that the quality of the sound from this $2 app is much better than any cheap $30 throw-away piece of plastic.

The difference is due to the superior quality of the iPhone microphone and its superior sound processing. There is an adjustable five-band graphic equalizer to filter out or boost sounds of certain frequencies. That can help when there is ambient noise that you want to reduce, or if you want to emphasize a person’s voice.

There is also a “Zoom” function for listening to sounds that are close to you or further away. That’s basically a gimmicky name for an adjustable high frequency filter.

All things considered, SoundAMP works quite well. There is no discernible delay in the sound processing so it sounds live, and with all the adjustments available the sound amplification is quite clear, without picking up excessive background noise.

Its quality though is nothing near to that of a digital hearing aid, which has the advantage of much better signal processing, an in situ microphone, and providing directional perception, among many other advantages. A good hearing aid starts at around $3,000 though, and many people would rather do without than to spend that much.

SoundAMP would be ideal for people who have mild hearing loss who don’t want to miss out on important information such as in meetings or lectures, but are willing to miss out on more informal conversations. The downside of using any app like SoundAMP is that users will look like they are music addicts tuning out their environment when they are actually doing the exact opposite.

SoundAMP also has a Replay function that plays back the last 30 seconds of what you were listening to, and you can scrub along the wave form that it displays to get to the exact spot that you want to play back.

The R version has a recording function with a very functional interface and would be useful to anyone who needs to record audio. With its ability to display the audio wave form, bookmark points within the audio, and its ability to export via Wi-Fi to a Web browser, it is much more useful than Apple’s own Voice Memos app.

SoundAMP R costs $1.99
SoundAMP costs $0.99
SoundAMP Lite is free.

Tan Truong