You’ve more than likely been told 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 accomplish that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The brief answer is, as with virtually all electronics, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have transform into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming flexibility you would expect to see from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can figure out why the move from analog to digital was such an advancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids function the same way. Each hearing aid consists of a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone detects sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker presents the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very sophisticated. Where is does get complex, however, is in the specifics 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 very straightforward way. In three basic steps, sound is recognized 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 differently, 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, on the other hand, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but rather than just making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital configuration (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be changed. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by altering the information saved as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this seems like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are basically miniature computers that run one dedicated program that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Most today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Because analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot alter it, analog hearing aids are liable to amplify disruptive background noise, making it difficult 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, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For instance, 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 easy to follow conversations even in noisy areas.
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 completely in the ear canal, making them basically undetectable.
- 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 differently according to the environment. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for many different situations, from a tranquil 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 allow the hearing specialist to adjust amplification for each sound frequency based on the properties of each person’s distinctive hearing loss.
Try digital hearing aids out for yourself
Reading about digital hearing aids is one thing, trying them out is another. But keep in mind, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you require both the technology and the programming mastery 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 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!