Hearing aids are marvels of advanced technology, and they keep getting better. Each technological innovation offers more features in a more compact space. One such technology is the directional microphone. This device allows its users to have a more natural listening experience, making it a popular addition to many modern hearing aids.
Older hearing aids relied on omnidirectional microphones to amplify sound. When this style of microphone is in use, sound is amplified from all directions in equal measure. While this method works well in a quiet setting such as a living room, it is not conducive to noisier environments (such as a restaurant). In order to compensate for this, directional microphones focus closely on sounds emanating from the front. Users can focus more clearly on what the people in front of them are saying, rather than being distracted by background noise.
Because both types of microphones have their own advantages, many hearing aid designers will incorporate both into their devices. Directional microphone usage varies from hearing aid to hearing aid. Some devices utilize a small switch that allows the user to manually flip between microphones. Other devices can pick up on which microphone is most useful in a given situation and will automatically switch back and forth.
Adaptive directional microphones are a third type of microphone. Instead of focusing in the front or all around, this type of microphone can pick up on the direction that speech signals are coming from and focus its amplification accordingly. If the wearer is in an environment where many people are speaking, adaptive microphones can be troublesome, but they are usually accompanied by a switch that allows the user to access a “forward only” listening mode.
Hearing aids designed for kids sometimes utilize directional microphones, but caution is needed when using these devices. Because kids develop much of their language skills from listening to the people around them, a directional microphone may cause them to miss out on an important developmental experience. It may also reduce a child’s ability to hear traffic while playing. Parents should make sure that their child’s hearing aid has an on/off switch for the directional microphone and make sure it is only turned on when appropriate.
The advantages of the directional microphone outweigh its flaws, allowing it to dramatically increase its wearer’s ability to hear.