You’ve without doubt been told 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-day hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, as with most electronic devices, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have become 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 find out why the move from analog to digital was such an enhancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest level, all hearing aids do the job the same way. Each hearing aid is equipped with 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 complicated. Where is does get complicated, 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 relatively 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. 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, on the other hand, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation 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 transform the sound into digital configuration (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be modified. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by changing 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 essentially miniature computers that run one dedicated application that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A large number of modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Given that analog hearing aids can only amplify incoming sound, and cannot modify it, analog hearing aids very often amplify disruptive background noise, making it challenging to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, in contrast, have the flexibility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, mark, 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 circumstances.
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 totally in the ear canal, making them mostly undetectable.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more stylish designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound differently based on the location. By switching settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for assorted situations, from a silent 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 characteristics 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 keep in mind, to get the most out of any pair of hearing aids, you need both the technology and the programming expertise from an experienced, licensed hearing specialist.
And that’s where we come in. We’ve programmed and fine-tuned countless hearing aids for people with all varieties 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!