The Digital Advantage: Analog Vs. Digital Hearing Aids
You’ve without doubt heard 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-day hearing aids achieve that couldn’t be accomplished in the past?
The abbreviated answer is, as with the majority of electronics, hearing aids have benefited greatly from the digital revolution. Hearing aids have emerged as miniaturized computers, with all of the programming adaptability you would expect from a modern computer.
But before hearing aids became digital, they were analog. Let’s see if we can determine why the shift from analog to digital was such an advancement.
Digital vs analog hearing aids
At the simplest level, all hearing aids work the same way. Each hearing aid is equipped with a microphone, amplifier, speaker, and battery. The microphone detects 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, however, is in the details 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 fairly 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 another way, 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: transformation of sound waves to digital information. Sound itself is an analog signal, but instead of only making this analog signal louder, digital hearing aids first transform the sound into digital form (stored as 0s and 1s) that can then be altered. Digital hearing aids, therefore, can CHANGE the sound before amplification by modifying the information saved as a series of 0s and 1s.
If this seems like we’re talking about a computer, we are. Digital hearing aids are essentially miniature computers that run one specialized program that manipulates and improves the quality of sound.
Advantages of digital hearing aids
Nearly all 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 distracting background noise, making it frustrating 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 recognize, mark, 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 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 entirely in the ear canal, making them nearly 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 differently depending on the location. By switching settings, users can achieve ideal hearing for numerous 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, to get the most out of any set of hearing aids, you will need both the technology and the programming capability 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 types 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!