You’ve without doubt heard 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 technology so much better? And what exactly can modern hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, like virtually all consumer electronics, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have emerged as miniaturized computers, with all of the programming adaptability you would anticipate 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 enhancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids do the job 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 supplies the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very complicated. Where is does get complex, 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 fairly uncomplicated way. In three basic steps, sound is picked up 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. Put 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, alternatively, apply 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 just making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital form (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be changed. 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 in essence miniature computers that run one specific application that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A large number of modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Because analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot alter it, analog hearing aids very often amplify distracting background noise, making it hard to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, have the versatility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, label, and store specific frequencies. For instance, the higher frequency speech sounds can be classified 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 settings.
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 entirely 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 differently according to the setting. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for diverse 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 permit the hearing 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 that, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you need both the technology and the programming proficiency 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 types 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!