You’ve probably heard 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 modern-day hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, like most electronics, hearing aids have benefited significantly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have emerged as 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 move from analog to digital was such an enhancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest level, all hearing aids function the same way. Each hearing aid comprises 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, though, is in the particulars 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 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, conversely, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but instead of simply making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital format (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be altered. 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 effectively miniature computers that run one customized application that manipulates and improves 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 modify it, analog hearing aids tend to amplify disruptive background noise, making it frustrating to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, have the versatility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For example, 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 easy to follow conversations even in noisy surroundings.
Here are some of the other advantages of digital hearing aids:
- Miniaturized computer technology means smaller sized, more discreet hearing aids, with some models that fit completely in the ear canal, making them mostly invisible.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more attractive designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound differently depending on the setting. By switching settings, users can attain ideal hearing for a range of scenarios, from a silent room to a noisy restaurant to speaking on the phone.
- Digital hearing aids can be fine-tuned for each patient. Each person hears different sound frequencies at different decibel levels. Digital hearing aids allow the hearing specialist to modify amplification for each sound frequency based on the properties 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 pair 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 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!