In the last two hundred years, many advancements have been made in the realm of personal sound amplification. Digital hearing aids, which allow audiologists to program each device according to the user’s specific degree of hearing loss, can now be adjusted for volume accordingly. Today’s hearing aids are unique in that they can remove distracting background noise for a clearer listening experience. This isn’t the only advancement that’s come along, though. While some are available with remote controls that allow the user to adjust various settings, others come with omnidirectional microphones to detect sound from multiple directions. Hearing aids have progressed a lot since the 1800s, which is when the first ear trumpets arrived on the scene. Since then, the advancements have come fast one after another, going from analog to digital in the present day. You’ll find that most hearing aids made today are digital, in fact.
These days, hearing aids feature amazing self-learning or regulating tendencies. These are truly “smart” hearing aids that adjust settings like volume automatically after a period of time according to how the user likes it.
Older hearing aids amplified all sound, which was great for hearing words but this also presented an added challenge of filtering out the background noise that was also amplified. Today’s hearing aids can easily filter out that noise so that the user can hear words but not all the other stuff. Improvements in wireless technology have allowed for improved speech recognition and SNR, which stands for signal-to-noise ratio. Recent advancements mean hearing aids can actually communicate with each other as in the case of left and right ear instruments. Many manufacturers are allowing the use of digital magnetic wireless communication via chips in the devices that control settings like switch position and microphone modes.
Digital noise reduction technology goes well beyond that of directional microphones because it is based on the physical characteristics of noise and speech rather than the separation of space, taking into account speech modulation.
Technologies like CROS devices and bone conduction devices allow the good ear to receive signals from the bad ear to improve on amplification. Before these big advancements in digital technology, those who suffered from single-sided deafness had to contend with greater background noise and were relegated to using their “good ear” to hear what was being said.
The first digital hearing aids, introduced into the medical community, came out initially in 1996. They utilized DSP, which stands for digital signal processing. Ideal for digital noise reduction, DSPs provided a boost in processing speeds which increased the ability to hear as well as the range of amplification for individuals.
Thanks to increased ease of use and flexibility, the outlook for digital hearing aids looks great. Add to this the fact that technology will only continue to expand through the decades. Now, hearing impaired individuals can continue to rely on digital hearing aids to take advantage of innovative wireless technology and microelectronics.