You’ve probably heard 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 present day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be achieved in the past?
The short answer is, as with the majority of electronics, 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 understand why the shift from analog to digital was such an upgrade.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the most basic level, all hearing aids do the job the same way. Each hearing aid contains a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone detects 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 complex, 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 relatively straightforward manner. 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. To phrase it 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, apply a fourth step to the processing of sound: transformation 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 transform the sound into digital form (saved as 0s and 1s) that can then be modified. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by changing the information stored as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this seems like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are effectively miniature computers that run one customized application that manipulates and enhances the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
A large number of modern hearing aids are digital, and for good reason. Seeing that analog hearing aids can only amplify inbound sound, and cannot adjust it, analog hearing aids tend to amplify disruptive background noise, making it hard to hear in noisy environments and nearly impossible to talk on the phone.
Digital hearing aids, in contrast, have the flexibility to amplify select sound frequencies. When sound is converted into a digital signal, the computer chip can recognize, distinguish, and store specific frequencies. For example, the higher frequency speech sounds can be classified 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 areas.
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 eye-catching designs and colors.
- Digital hearing aids can be programmed by a hearing specialist to process sound in various ways depending on the environment. By changing settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for varied 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 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 set of hearing aids, you need 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 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!