Hearing aids are a valuable tool when addressing hearing loss and are constantly getting better. Every single year hearing aids become more sophisticated and offer new features and functions that were not formerly available. The directional microphone is one of these new features. Many of today’s hearing aids incorporate this device, allowing the wearer to enjoy a more natural hearing experience.
Older hearing aids relied on omnidirectional microphones to amplify sound. When this style of microphone is in use, sound is amplified from all directions in equal measure. When used in a quiet setting (such as in the home), an omnidirectional microphone works quite well, but it is not as effective in noisy environments. 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. How you use these microphones varies from device to device. In some cases users can manually switch back and forth between microphones, usually through a small switch. Other devices can pick up on which microphone is most useful in a given situation and will automatically switch back and forth.
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.
Directional microphones are included in hearing aids for all ages, but caution must be applied when this feature is used by children. Children learn language by hearing the people around them speaking, but a directional microphone can limit a child’s exposure to this incidental speech. It may also reduce a child’s ability to hear traffic while playing. Parents should be sure that their child’s directional microphone is only turned on in appropriate situations.
The advantages of the directional microphone outweigh its flaws, allowing it to dramatically increase its wearer’s ability to hear.