A bit of history and an explanation of how analog devices work vs how digital devices work is necessary to understand the differences between digital and analog hearing aids. Historically, analog technology appeared first, and consequently most hearing aids were analog until digital signal processing (DSP) was developed, at which point digital hearing aids appeared. The majority of (roughly 90%) hearing aids sold in the US today are digital, although you can still get analog hearing aids because some people prefer them, and they’re often cheaper.
Analog hearing aids handle inbound sounds by taking the electrical sound waves as they emerge from a microphone and amplifying them “as is” before sending the sound waves to the speakers in your ears. Digital hearing aids take the sound waves from the microphone and transform them to digital binary code, the “bits and bytes” and “zeros and ones” that all digital devices understand. This digital data can then be manipulated in numerous complex ways by the micro-chip inside the hearing aid, before being transformed back into ordinary analog signals and delivered to the speakers.
Analog and digital hearing aids perform the same function – they take sounds and boost them to enable you to hear better. Both varieties of hearing aids can be programmed by the dispensers of the hearing aids to produce the sound quality that each user desires, and to create settings ideal for different listening environments. As an example, there can be distinct settings for quiet locations like libraries, for noisy restaurants, and for large areas such as stadiums.
Digital hearing aids, due to their ability to manipulate the sounds in digital form, often have more features and flexibility, and are often user-configurable. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, permitting them to store more location-specific profiles. Other features of digital hearing aids include the ability to automatically minimize background noise and eliminate feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of voices over other sounds.
As far as pricing is concerned, analog hearing aids are generally cheaper, although some digital hearing aids are nearing the price of analog devices by eliminating the more state-of-the-art features. Some users notice a difference in the sound quality generated by analog vs digital hearing aids, although that is largely a matter of personal preference, not really a matter of whether analog or digital is “better.”