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 short answer is, like virtually all electronic devices, hearing aids have benefited considerably from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have become miniaturized computers, with all of the programming flexibility 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 shift 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 includes 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 complex. Where is does get complicated, though, is in the particulars of how the hearing aids process sound, which digital hearing aids accomplish far differently than their analog counterparts.
Analog hearing aids process sound in a fairly straightforward manner. In three basic steps, sound is recognized by the microphone, amplified, and sent 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, conversely, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: conversion 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 (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be manipulated. 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 effectively miniature computers that run one specific program that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Nearly all today’s hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Considering that analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot alter it, analog hearing aids will usually 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 versatility to amplify specific sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can identify, label, and store specific frequencies. As an example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be labeled 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 effortless to follow conversations even in noisy situations.
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 entirely in the ear canal, making them mostly undetectable.
- Digital hearing aids tend to have more appealing designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound differently based on the location. By changing settings, users can attain ideal hearing for a number of situations, from a silent 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 vary 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 bear in mind that, to get the most out of any pair of hearing aids, you will need both the technology and the programming mastery 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!