You’ve more than likely heard that today’s hearing aids are “not your father’s hearing aids,” or that hearing aid technology is light-years ahead of where it used to be, even as recently as 5 to 10 years ago. But what makes today’s technology so much better? And what exactly can present day hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The simple answer is, as with nearly all consumer electronics, hearing aids have benefited greatly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have evolved into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming flexibility you would expect from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can understand why the shift from analog to digital was such an advancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest level, all hearing aids do the job the same way. Each hearing aid consists of a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone picks up sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker presents the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very complicated. Where is does get complicated, though, is in the particulars of how the hearing aids process sound, which digital hearing aids accomplish much differently than their analog counterparts.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a very straightforward manner. In three basic steps, sound is detected by the microphone, amplified, and presented to the ear through the speaker. That is… ALL sound is made to be louder, including background noise and the sound frequencies you can already hear well. To phrase it differently, analog hearing aids amplify even the sounds you don’t want to hear — think of the scratching sound you hear from an analog recording on a vinyl record.
Digital hearing aids, in contrast, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound by itself is an analog signal, but rather than simply making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital form (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be modified. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by adjusting the information stored as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this seems like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are essentially miniature computers that run one dedicated application that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Most today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Seeing that analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot change it, analog hearing aids tend to amplify distracting background noise, making it stressful to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, in contrast, have the versatility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For instance, the higher frequency speech sounds can be labeled and stored separately from the lower frequency background noise. A hearing specialist can then program the computer chip to amplify only the high frequency speech sounds while suppressing the background noise — making it effortless to follow conversations even in noisy conditions.
Here are some of the other advantages of digital hearing aids:
- Miniaturized computer technology means smaller sized, more discreet hearing aids, with some models that fit completely in the ear canal, making them mostly invisible.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more appealing designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways according to the setting. By switching settings, users can attain ideal hearing for many different situations, from a silent room to a noisy restaurant to talking on the phone.
- Digital hearing aids can be fine-tuned for each patient. Each person hears different sound frequencies at different decibel levels. Digital hearing aids allow the hearing specialist to adjust amplification for each sound frequency based on the attributes of each person’s distinctive hearing loss.
Try digital hearing aids out for yourself
Reading about digital hearing aids is one thing, trying them out is another. But bear in mind, to get the most out of any pair of hearing aids, you will need both the technology and the programming expertise from an experienced, licensed hearing specialist.
And that’s where we come in. We’ve programmed and fine-tuned countless hearing aids for people with all forms of hearing loss, and are more than happy to do the same for you. Give us a call and experience the digital advantage for yourself!