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 modern technology so much better? And what exactly can modern hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The quick answer is, like most electronic devices, hearing aids have benefited greatly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have developed into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming versatility you would expect from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can understand why the shift from analog to digital was such an enhancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids function 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 presents the louder sound to your ear.
Fundamentally, it’s not very sophisticated. Where is does get complicated, though, is in the specifics 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 very uncomplicated 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 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, 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 only making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital configuration (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be altered. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by modifying the information stored 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 dedicated application that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
The majority of modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Because analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot modify it, analog hearing aids will usually amplify disruptive background noise, making it hard to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, in contrast, have the versatility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. As an example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be labeled 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 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 based on the environment. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for diverse 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 permit the hearing specialist to vary amplification for each sound frequency based on the characteristics 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 remember, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you require both the technology and the programming mastery 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!