A question I get often is “what makes digital hearing aids so good?” Oh boy, where do I begin?
All hearing aids have four parts or components: a microphone, an amplifier, a receiver and a battery. When we talk about “digital” we are talking about the amplifier. The amplifier is what makes the sound louder. In previous technologies, referred to as “analog”, that was about all an amplifier could do — make sounds louder.
With digital hearing aids, the amplifier is basically a small computer. A really powerful, really small computer. This small computer can do much more than just amplify sounds, which, in turn, enables many more features in a very small hearing aid! A lot of these features can be confusing, so let me explain each of them.
Feedback Cancellation: Many people are familiar with hearing aids that whistle all by themselves. This whistling is called feedback. Analog hearing aids could only control this by either plugging up the ear or taking away loudness for soft high frequency speech sounds. Digital hearing aids work to remove the feedback before you hear it, and still make sure as many soft speech sounds are available for you to hear.
Directional Microphones: These are components on the hearing aids that help focus on the voices you want to hear and turn down other sounds around you. With analog hearing aids, you had to push a button on the aid to turn on this feature. Digital hearing aids can read the environment and turn on these microphones automatically. In some cases, the digital aid and the microphones can even tell the direction the noise is coming from.
Music Programs: Speech is very different from music. Analog hearing aids — and some early generation digital aids — treated all sounds the same. New digital hearing aids — like our Muse iQ hearing aids— can tell the difference between speech and music and treat the music differently. For the true audio geek, a custom memory or program designed for the unique aspects of music are available in digital hearing aids.
Noise Management: This is a broad category that is designed to help people be more comfortable in a variety of environments. Noise management is mostly needed in busy environments where we want to understand and follow conversations. Another type of noise that is good to manage is soft, annoying sounds such as the refrigerator running or a computer fan humming.
Analog aids could not do much in either of these areas. Analog aids treated all sounds pretty much the same. Soft, average and loud sounds all got amplified. That is a perception many people have of hearing aids — they making everything louder, even the noise.
That all changed with digital hearing aids. Digital technology offers more control and customization than ever before. By being smart enough to understand what the sound is (thank you small, powerful computer!), your hearing aids can do different things for different sounds. Soft environmental sounds may get little or no amplification; loud noisy environments can be turned down. When conversations are going on, digital hearing aids can make it easier to focus in on the conversation.
Connectivity: This is a word we hear a lot of these days. It is the ability of the hearing aid to connect to other devices. Analog aids had only a couple of ways of connecting to only a few things. The most common way was by a cord that plugged into the hearing aid and a headphone jack on the device. Digital hearing aids can connect to many things wirelessly, without any cords! The most common use is connecting with cell phones. You can hear your phone calls directly through your hearing aids. The ability to listen to TV, music and other media through your hearing aids is another advantage of connectivity.
You have to try them for yourself
Bottom line, digital aids are not your grandfather’s hearing aids. If you’re getting your information about hearing aids from someone with old technology, things have changed significantly. Digital hearing aids sound great and can do a lot more for you without you having to do anything.