Williams Pocketalker 2.0 personal amplifier to help hear TV and conversations (AV review)

The Williams Pocketalker 2.0 personal amplifier takes external sound from its internal or external mono microphone, amplifies the 5kHz range, and cuts the lower 400Hz range.

It is for those who need help hearing the television or general conversations over a meal. It is not a hearing aid customised to reinforce your hearing frequency weaknesses. We almost did not review this, except that a) Williams makes it very clear it is not a medical device, a.k.a. hearing aid, b) it is a reputable company, and c) we try to cover devices that can assist the hearing-impaired.

Australian review: Williams Pocketalker 2.0 personal amplifier

WebsiteWilliams US and Australian Distributor
Price$469 includes an external mic, extension cable, cabled headset/earbuds, and a lanyard.
Warranty5-years ACL
WilliamsWilliams is a US company. For over 50 years, it has made assistive listening products.
MoreCyberShack hearing impairment guides and reviews

We use Fail (below expectations), Passable (meets low expectations), Pass (meets expectations), Pass+ (near Exceed but not class-leading) and Exceed (surpasses expectations or is the class leader) against many of the items below. You can click on most images for an enlargement.

Williams Pocketalker 2.0

What is a Williams Pocketalker 2.0?

The simplest description is a pocketable personal amplifier that runs off two AAA batteries (Alkaline or rechargeable NiMH for up to 105 hours of use). Sound is picked up from the internal mono mic, or you can plug in a 3.5mm external mono mic and place it up to 5.5m away using the 3.5mm male-female extension cable. We make the point about mono because that is all you can hear via a mic.

You hear through the 3.5mm on-the-ear headphones or the 3.5mm in-ear canal earbuds. The supplied headphones (HED 024) and earbuds (EAR 042) are similar to those disposable ones you get on a plane. Despite the claim, they provide only minimal passive noise isolation.

You can use any 3.5mm headphones/buds as long the maximum impedance is <30 ohms. I recommend an over-the-ear style (ear cups fit over the ear and provide good passive noise isolation).

Or if you don’t want to use a 3.5mm cabled head/earphone, you can use an $89.95 Airfly Pro 3.5mm to Bluetooth 5.0 (BT) Audio transmitter and attach up to two sets of BT head/earphones. The internal battery lasts up to 16 hours and is USB-C charged.

Tests (on volume level 4 and high tone)

Battery Life – Pass

On 2 x AAA Alkaline, we got 75 hours. The claim is 105, but we suspect it is at a lower volume and low tone).  Still, that is very good.

You can use AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries (not tested). Our experience with these is that they average about 70% of the Alkaline time. Recharge is via micro-USB 5V/.5A/2.5W and can take 16 hours (or more). Williams recommends their batteries. If I were using AAA NiMH, I would buy a plug-in charger and spare batteries to avoid the inconvenience of a 16-hour charge when you run out. Any AAA NiMH over 800mAh is fine.

Frequency control – Passable

Volume is not how to address hearing impairment issues – frequency reinforcement or shaping is. The Tone Control can:

  • High – 2.7dB 5kHz boost (dialogue) and 6.7dB 400Hz cut.
  • Mid – 0.6dB cut at 5 kHz, 2.9dB cut at 400Hz.
  • Low – 2.0dB cut at 5 kHz, 3.0dB boost at 400Hz.

Clear dialogue comes from reinforcing the critical 1-4kHz range, so we cannot understand why it boosts 5kHz. Noise cancellation for low noise is typically from 50 Hz to 500 Hz. We can appreciate the cut on High, but we don’t understand the lower levels of cut on Mid and the boost on Low.

We don’t have the measuring equipment to subjectively high setting kind of works for our ears, but the low and mid do not.

Volume/Distortion – Pass

Volume depends on the Ohms of the cabled headset. It is rated at 52mW (maximum) gain at 32 Ohms. That is not much volume, especially with 1% THD (total harmonic distortion) at that level and feedback if you use the high level at maximum volume.

I advise using the Airfly Pro, and BT amplified headphones with more granular volume control. You will still get mono sound in each ear.

Balance – Pass

If the sound appears louder in one ear, you can adjust the balance. There is no left/right separation or soundstage.

How does it sound? Passable

We tested with a normal-hearing person (35Hz to 14kHz) and one with impairment (35Hz to 8kHz).

The normal-hearing person found the mono sound tinny and hollow. Indeed, it did not appear to be providing 20Hz to 20kHz because she found TV sound and music via the microphone MIC 014-R (20Hz to 16kHz – you can use any 2.2 kΩ mic) lacking in bass and treble. But this is not for normal hearing people.

The hearing-impaired person noticed a slight TV improvement, but music was also tinny and hollow. It did not improve sibilance but helped with dialogue, and noise isolation was minimal.

This person uses Sennheiser TV Clear – crystal clear TV sound for the hearing impaired, which gives a better sound range and stereo sound.

Read How to tell if you have good music.

T-Coil (not tested)

If you have seen the signs T-Coil, Telecoil or T-Loop at theatres and public buildings, the Pocketalker 2.0 can be switched to take sound electronically (no mic). This could be handy for movies but remember that you are getting relatively low-fi mono sound at best.

CyberShack’s view – Williams Pocketalker 2.0 personal amplifier could work, but it is not a hearing aid

We can be accused of being perfectionists and being too critical of products that are not perfect.

This product delivers personal amplified mono sound. If that works for your specific hearing impairment, then great. We spoke to an audiologist before commenting on the tone controls, and her opinion was that at least it had some frequency reinforcement. Again, if it works for your specific hearing impairment, then great.

The biggest drawback is that while it amplifies, you lose the glorious stereo, 5.1, DTS:X or Dolby Atmos sound stage. If your hearing is that bad, see an audiologist today and spend several thousand dollars to radically improve your hearing and life.

Rating Explanation

We will not formally rate it out of 100 because we have no benchmarks. We hope that the explanation below helps in your purchase decision.

  • Features: It is a battery-powered personal amplifier with a mic and head/earphones. T-Coil may be beneficial.
  • Value: $469 seems reasonable for a product with a 5-year warranty and pedigree. But there are pocket personal amplifiers from $10 that are absolutely useless. Maybe try one of these first to see if you want to invest more.
  • Performance: While these improve the volume and focus on clear dialogue, they are not for music listening unless you are happy with crappy low-res MP3 (are we being picky again?). Using the AirFly Pro and amplified head/earphones improved my listening pleasure and cut the cable. It is still low-res mono, but you get more of a sound stage outside your ears.
  • Ease of use: It is pretty easy to use, but batteries must be changed, and you must play with tone and volume. The supplied head/earphones could be better. However, a 5-year warranty is excellent.
  • Design: A little old-fashioned with micro-USB but fit for purpose. It is neither discrete nor makes a fashion statement.