You’ve likely been told 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 hearing aids accomplish that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, like nearly all electronics, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have become 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 improvement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids do the job 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 complex. Where is does get complicated, however, 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 straightforward way. In three basic steps, sound is picked up 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: conversion of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but rather than merely making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first transform 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 adjusting the information saved as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this sounds like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are basically miniature computers that run one specific program that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Most today’s 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 will usually amplify distracting background noise, making it difficult to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, on the other hand, have the flexibility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For instance, the higher frequency speech sounds can be marked 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 environments.
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 nearly 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 in various ways based on the setting. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for various scenarios, from a tranquil room to a noisy restaurant to talking 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 adjust 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 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!