Hearing aids are a useful tool when dealing with hearing loss and are constantly getting better. As hearing aid technology improves, new features provide better hearing. 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. This type of microphone picks up on sounds from all directions equally. 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. In some cases users can manually switch back and forth between microphones, usually through a small switch. Other hearing aids can automatically determine which method is most effective and switch itself to the optimum microphone.
A third type of hearing aid microphone is the adaptive directional 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 children 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. Children may also have difficulty hearing traffic with this type of microphone. 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.