To fully understand the difference between analog and digital hearing aids, you need to first appreciate the history of analog versus digital, and the different ways that they amplify and process sounds. Analog hearing aids came out first, and were the standard in the majority of hearing aids for many years. Then with the arrival of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also started to emerge. Most (roughly 90%) hearing aids purchased in the United States at this point are digital, although you can still find analog hearing aids because some people have a preference for them, and they are typically cheaper.
Analog hearing aids handle inbound sounds by taking the electrical sound waves as they leave a microphone and amplifying them “as is” prior to sending them to the speakers in your ears. On the other hand, digital hearing aids utilize the very same sound waves from the microphone, however before amplifying them they turn the sound waves into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices use. This digital data can then be altered in numerous sophisticated ways by the micro-chip within the hearing aid, before being transformed back into regular analog signals and delivered to the speakers.
Analog and digital hearing aids carry out the same work – they take sounds and amplify 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 desired by the user, and to develop settings ideal for different environments. The programmable hearing aids can, for instance, have one particular setting for listening in quiet rooms, another for listening in noisy restaurants, and still another for listening in large auditoriums.
Digital hearing aids, because of their ability to manipulate the sounds in digital form, often have more features and flexibility, and are commonly user-configurable. For example, digital hearing aids may offer numerous channels and memories, allowing them to save more location-specific profiles. They can also use advanced rules to identify and minimize background noise, to remove feedback and whistling, or to selectively prefer the sound of voices and “follow” them using directional microphones.
Cost-wise, most analog hearing aids are still less expensive than digital hearing aids, but some reduced-feature digital hearing aids fall into a similar general price range. There is often a noticable difference in sound quality, but the question of whether analog or digital is “better” is entirely up to the wearer, and the ways that they are used to hearing sounds.