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-day hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The short answer is, like nearly all electronics, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have developed into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming flexibility you would expect from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can figure out why the shift from analog to digital was such an improvement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids function the same way. Each hearing aid comprises a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone picks up sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker presents 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 much differently than their analog counterparts.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a fairly straightforward manner. 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 well. 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, in contrast, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation 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 convert the sound into digital format (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be changed. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by adjusting 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 effectively miniature computers that run one customized application that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Most modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Seeing that analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot change it, analog hearing aids very often amplify disruptive background noise, making it challenging 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 select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, distinguish, 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 locations.
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 nearly undetectable.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more appealing designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways according to the environment. By changing settings, users can attain ideal hearing for a number of scenarios, from a quiet room to a noisy restaurant to talking on the phone.
- Digital hearing aids can be fine-tuned for every 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 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 remember, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you require both the technology and the programming expertise 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 forms 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!