Do you prefer automatic or manual hearing aid controls?
Just like people have preferences for automatic or manual transmissions on their cars; hearing aid wearers also have preferences on how they want to interact with their hearing aids. This article looks at the automatic and manual control options available on modern hearing aids.
The idea of an automatic hearing aid is that its “wear and forget”; the wearer simply puts it in their ear, turns it on and then the hearing aid does all the hard work, ensuring good speech clarity and natural sound in every situation the wearer encounters (whether its watching television, talking to a friend in a noisy restaurant, enjoying music or even talking on the phone).
Almost all hearing aids have technologies that to some degree make them “automatic”. However there is a wide range of technologies available from very basic (meaning that you probably need to manually adjust the hearing aids regularly) to highly sophisticated (meaning that you rarely need to manually adjust the hearing aids). The two main core technologies that support this are:
1/ Multi-channel Compression – standard on all hearing aids these days, compression adjusts the amount of volume (or as audiologists call it “gain”) of the hearing aid, depending on the environmental sound level.
The impact of compression is that for soft sounds, like soft speech, the hearing aid increases its volume. For loud sounds, like loud speech, it decreases volume. Compression acts like an “automatic volume control” adaptively adjusting the volume of the hearing aid depending on the loudness of the situation.
Multi-channel compression means the compression is acting independently in multiple frequency areas (known as channels or frequency bands). More channels generally mean a more natural listening experience. Basic hearing aids will use only 4-6 channels, while the most advanced will use over 20 channels.
2/ Automatic situation classification – it is one thing to adapt to the loudness of the sound in the environment, it’s another thing to adapt to the specific type of acoustic environment the wearer is in. Most hearing aids these days will classify the situation the wearer is in and turn different hearing aid features on and off to improve speech clarity and sound quality. For example, if a noisy situation is detected the hearing may turn on automatically noise reduction processing and the directional microphone system.
Basic hearing aids with automatic classification will be able to automatically detect basic situations such as “quiet”, “noise”, “speech in quiet” and “speech in noise”. More advanced hearing aids will be able to detect more complex situations such as “music” and “in the car”. In addition, more advanced hearing aids will have access to higher performance features for better speech clarity and sound quality.
A good automatic classification system will not only be able to accurately detect specific situations but be able to activate beneficial features as fast and as smooth as possible to ensure a natural listening experience.
Manual (over-ride) control:
Although good quality modern hearing aids are designed to work automatically, research indicates that approximately 50% of hearing aid wearers still want to possess control over their hearing aids via manual controls. Wearers have access to manually controlling a wide range of features in many different ways.
Most hearing aids will provide the wearer with the ability to manually adjust volume and programs (different settings the audiologist has programmed into the hearing aids). More advanced hearing aids will provide wearers manual access to a whole lot of additional features such as muting, treble, bass and different types of directionality. These features can be accessed in a wide variety of ways including physical controls on the hearing aids, dedicated remote controls and even via smart phone apps.
One emerging hearing aid technology that is increasing in popularity is “learning” technology. The hearing aid learns the wearer’s individual preferences for settings and features based on their manual adjustments over time. Learning technology combines the benefits of both automatic and manual controls to achieve a highly personalised setting. Learning technology is available in more advanced hearing aids.
About Sounds of Life
Sounds of Life Audiology is a leading, independent hearing aid specialist. We offer affordable hearing aid pricing on quality hearing aids (including virtually invisible hearing aid technology) from the world’s leading brands including Siemens, Signia, Phonak, Starkey, Unitron, Resound, Bernafon, Oticon and Sonic Innovations.
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