You’ve most likely 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 technologies so much better? And what exactly can modern day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The short answer is, like almost all electronic devices, hearing aids have benefited significantly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have transform into 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 move from analog to digital was such an improvement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest 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 picks up sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker supplies the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very complex. Where is does get complex, however, is in the details of how the hearing aids process sound, which digital hearing aids accomplish much differently than their analog alternatives.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a fairly straightforward manner. In three basic steps, sound is detected by the microphone, amplified, and delivered 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. In other words, 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, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but instead of only making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first transform the sound into digital form (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be altered. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by altering the information stored as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this seems like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are essentially miniature computers that run one specialized application that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A good number of today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Considering that analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot alter it, analog hearing aids are liable to amplify distracting background noise, making it frustrating to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, have the flexibility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, label, 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 surroundings.
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 totally in the ear canal, making them virtually invisible.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more eye-catching designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways based on the environment. By changing settings, users can attain ideal hearing for various situations, from a quiet room to a noisy restaurant to speaking 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 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 remember, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you will need both the technology and the programming capability 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!