You’ve more than likely 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 today’s technology so much better? And what exactly can modern hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, as with virtually all electronics, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have evolved into miniaturized computers, with all of the programming versatility 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 upgrade.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids function the same way. Each hearing aid includes a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone picks up sound in the environment, the amplifier strengthens the signal, and the speaker delivers 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 way. 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 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, in contrast, add a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but instead of just making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first convert the sound into digital format (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be changed. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by adjusting 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 essentially miniature computers that run one customized program that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Nearly all today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Because analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot adjust it, analog hearing aids are liable to amplify distracting background noise, making it stressful to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, however, 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. As an example, 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 settings.
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 totally in the ear canal, making them practically undetectable.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more attractive designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways depending on the location. By changing settings, users can attain ideal hearing for diverse scenarios, from a quiet 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 bear in mind that, to get the most out of any pair of hearing aids, you need both the technology and the programming proficiency 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 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!