You’ve probably been told that today’s hearing aids are “not your grandfather’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 technologies so much better? And what exactly can modern day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The quick answer is, as with virtually all consumer electronics, hearing aids have benefited significantly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have developed into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming adaptability you would expect to see 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 most basic 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 delivers the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very sophisticated. Where is does get complicated, though, is in the particulars of how the hearing aids process sound, which digital hearing aids accomplish far differently than their analog counterparts.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a fairly uncomplicated manner. In three basic steps, sound is detected by the microphone, amplified, and sent 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 properly. 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, on the other hand, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound by itself is an analog signal, but instead of simply making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first transform the sound into digital configuration (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be altered. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by modifying the information saved as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this sounds like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are effectively miniature computers that run one specialized program that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A good number of today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Seeing that analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot adjust it, analog hearing aids will usually amplify disruptive background noise, making it challenging to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, have the flexibility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can detect, mark, and store specific frequencies. For example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be marked 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 easy to follow conversations even in noisy surroundings.
Here are some of the other advantages of digital hearing aids:
- Miniaturized computer technology means smaller, more discreet hearing aids, with some models that fit entirely in the ear canal, making them virtually 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 depending on the environment. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for various scenarios, from a silent room to a noisy restaurant to talking on the phone.
- Digital hearing aids can be fine-tuned for every patient. Each person hears different sound frequencies at different decibel levels. Digital hearing aids permit the hearing specialist to modify amplification for each sound frequency based on the properties of each person’s unique hearing loss.
Try digital hearing aids out for yourself
Reading about digital hearing aids is one thing, trying them out is another. But keep in mind, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you require both the technology and the programming mastery from an experienced, licensed hearing specialist.
And that’s where we come in. We’ve programmed and fine-tuned countless hearing aids for individuals with all varieties 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!