A hearing aid by any other name.
One of the more difficult areas to navigate when looking at hearing aids is features. The modern assistive hearing aid is a technological marvel, thanks in no small part to the ever shrinking size of electronics. This has allowed manufacturers to pack a laundry list of specifications into their offerings, with the associated complexity. When presented with these features, it can feel almost like shopping for a new computer or phone. Once you strip away the brand name and explain the features simply it’s not complex at all, making your choices more informed.
Let’s start with a basic hearing aid from the early days of technology, one that consisted of three parts:
- microphone, to gather sound
- amplifier, to boost all incoming signals
- speaker, to send the boosted sound into your ear.
These pieces stood between the outside world and your natural hearing or what was left of it. It would help for a short while, but resulted in ever increasing volume adjustments by the user. By today’s therapeutic standards, this configuration would just barely qualify as a personal audio amplifier.
Now, as time progressed the basic amplifier hearing aid of old got smaller and smarter. Gone are the large boxes and batteries, replaced by a tiny package that can barely be noticed. Gone is the simple amplification to tiny signal processing computers filling the gaps and tailored for the individual.
Yet, the more advanced hearing aids can still be broken down into the three basic pieces that stand between the outside world and your hearing:
- The microphone – it has a new name and complexity. The once single element microphone has been replaced with a transducer array which basically means that there are many microphones working together to gather sound from all directions. Why are more microphones important? Simply put, it makes the hearing aid more directionally sensitive to a wider range of sound.
- The amplifier – with electronics components getting smaller and smaller, the simple analog amplifier has been replaced by a digital signal processor. What this means is you have the power of a computer resting behind your ear, with all the capabilities that it can bring. Now, you may be confronted with terms like frequency range, channels, and bandwidth. These are really just statements of sensitivity and indicate how closely they can raise or lower specific frequencies of what you hear. Why is it important? The cornerstone of therapeutic hearing assistance is to fill in or shift only the gaps specific to your loss. So the more capable the processor, the closer to natural hearing you can get.
- The speaker – the size and shape of a speaker directly related to its range of sound but thanks again to miniaturization that is no longer the case. You may be familiar with this due to the amazing replication of sound in the modern earbud and music player. Hearing aids take this a step further going even smaller while maintaining the full frequency range. The different models of hearing aids are receiver in canal (RIC), behind the ear (BTE), and in the ear (ITE). They each reflect a style and fit than capability and sound reproduction. The closer the fit to your ear canal, the less ambient noise you get, and the more processed sound you receive.
So there you have it, even though hearing aid terms have changed the configuration of three basic elements have not. Simply put, hearing aids all had a microphone, amplifier, and speaker years ago and they still do today. It’s the technology and size that have changed.
How do you avoid buying the wrong hearing aid? This is where a hearing aid specialist or audiologist is needed. It all begins with a hearing test.
A hearing aid is a precision instrument customized just for you, and quality specialists are there to answer all questions. They should provide you options based on your audiogram, hearing damage factors, and, of course, most importantly to you.. your budget. So don’t be afraid to ask questions. We are here to help.