A little bit of background and an explanation of how analog devices work vs how digital devices work is essential to understand the differences between analog and digital hearing aids. Analog technology emerged first, and as a result most hearing aids were analog until digital signal processing (DSP) was developed, at which point digital hearing aids appeared. The majority of (up to 90%) hearing aids sold in the United States at this point are digital, although you can still find analog hearing aids because some people have a preference for them, and they are often less expensive.
The way that analog hearing aids operate is that they take sound waves from the microphone in the form of electricity and then amplify them, delivering louder versions of the sound waves to the speakers in your ears “as is.” On the other hand, digital hearing aids utilize the very same sound waves from the microphone, however before amplifying them they turn them into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices use. This digital data can then be manipulated in numerous sophisticated ways by the micro-chip inside the hearing aid, prior to being converted back into regular analog signals and sent to the speakers.
Analog and digital hearing aids carry out the same work – they take sounds and boost them to enable you to hear better. Both types of hearing aids can be programmed by the dispensers of the hearing aids to produce the sound quality that each user desires, and to create settings ideal for different environments. For example, there might be different settings for low-noise rooms like libraries, for busy restaurants, and for outdoor spaces like sports stadiums.
But beyond programmability, the digital hearing aids often offer more controls to the user, and offer more features because of their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form. They have an array of memories in which to store more location-specific configurations than analog hearing aids. Other features of digital hearing aids include the ability to automatically minimize background noise and eliminate feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of voices over other sounds.
Cost-wise, most analog hearing aids are still less expensive than digital hearing aids, however, some reduced-feature digital hearing aids are now in the same general price range. There is commonly a perceivable difference in sound quality, but the question of whether analog or digital is “better” is up to the individual, and the ways that they are used to hearing sounds.