You’ve more than likely 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 modern technology so much better? And what exactly can present day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The quick answer is, as with nearly all electronics, hearing aids have benefited greatly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have developed into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming flexibility you would anticipate from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can determine why the move from analog to digital was such an upgrade.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids do the job the same way. Each hearing aid comprises 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 complicated. Where is does get complex, however, is in the specifics of how the hearing aids process sound, which digital hearing aids accomplish far differently than their analog alternatives.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a fairly straightforward 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 properly. Put another way, 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, conversely, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound by itself is an analog signal, but instead of merely making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first transform the sound into digital form (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be manipulated. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by changing 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 basically miniature computers that run one specific program that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A good number of modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Considering that analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot modify it, analog hearing aids are liable to amplify distracting background noise, making it hard to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, on the other hand, have the flexibility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be tagged 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 environments.
Here are some of the other advantages of digital hearing aids:
- Miniaturized computer technology means smaller, more discreet hearing aids, with some models that fit entirely in the ear canal, making them basically invisible.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more stylish designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways depending on the environment. By changing settings, users can attain ideal hearing for many different situations, from a quiet 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 allow the hearing specialist to vary amplification for each sound frequency based on the characteristics 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 require both the technology and the programming expertise from an seasoned, 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!