You’ve without doubt 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 technologies so much better? And what exactly can modern-day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The brief answer is, like most consumer electronics, hearing aids have benefited greatly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have evolved into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming versatility you would expect from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can find out why the move from analog to digital was such an advancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest level, all hearing aids work the same way. Each hearing aid is made up of a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone detects sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker delivers the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very complex. Where is does get complicated, though, is in the details 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 relatively uncomplicated way. In three basic steps, sound is picked up 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, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but rather than simply making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital configuration (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be modified. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by modifying the information stored 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 application that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Nearly all today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Given that analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot change it, analog hearing aids have a tendency to amplify distracting background noise, making it stressful to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, have the versatility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, label, and store specific frequencies. For example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be labeled and stored separately from the lower frequency background noise. A hearing instrument 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 circumstances.
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 totally in the ear canal, making them basically undetectable.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more attractive designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing instrument specialist to process sound in various ways depending on the setting. By switching settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for varied scenarios, from a quiet room to a noisy restaurant to talking on the phone.
- Digital hearing aids can be fine-tuned for each client. Each person hears different sound frequencies at different decibel levels. Digital hearing aids permit the hearing instrument specialist to adjust amplification for each sound frequency based on the attributes 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 bear in mind, to get the most out of any pair of hearing aids, you will need both the technology and the programming proficiency from an seasoned, licensed hearing instrument specialist.
And that’s where we come in. We’ve programmed and fine-tuned countless hearing aids for individuals 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!