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Posted on Friday, November 30, 2012

Hearing Aid Reviews: Background Noise Features

Orchestra in hall from far away. Large venues create background noise that makes it harder to hear.

People with hearing loss have a harder time understanding speech in a noisy situation--at a restaurant, mall, social or work setting. In fact, a recent People Hearing Better poll showed a majority of people found, "Conversing in a large group" the most challenging aspects of their hearing loss. Today's hearing aids come with features like directional microphones and remote controls to help overcome challenging listening environments, including poor room acoustics, greater distance to the speaker, and background noise. So what are some of the newer and more useful features to combat background noise?

Your brain automatically sifts through noise you want to hear and focuses on it, discarding noises you don't wish to hear. Hearing aids are an advanced technology that seeks to mimic this natural and complex ability to hear in background noise. Even with the intelligent algorithms and supportive features of hearing aids there is no way to exactly match that ability, yet, but there are exciting features now available that go a long way in dealing with background noise. We've reviewed a few of these hearing aid technologies and added an example or two to help make shopping for your hearing aids easier.

Automatic Directional Microphones
A vital function of modern hearing aids is directional microphones—which cancel out ambient noise while zeroing in on significant sounds, like speech. This capacity is in some analog hearing aids, but works best with digital technology. Digital technology is more programmable, allowing the direction of amplification to be both automatic and adaptive—meaning the hearing aid will pick up on where the noise is coming from and focus in on it. Hearing aids with this type of technology can also have the ability to store and learn your preferences, recording them and adjusting automatically when it detects similar noise situations.

Phonak's auto ZoomControl is an example of a directional microphone. It automatically chooses and focuses in on certain sounds, like speech in noise. According to the Phonak website, "When you cannot easily face the speaker, e.g. in a car, auto ZoomControl can zoom to either side and backwards for effortless understanding."

There has been a lot of progress made in hearing aid technology that can preserve and deliver speech, so as to make listening in a noisy background environment less challenging.

Binaural Noise Management and Streaming Technology

One of the reasons that hearing is hard to mimic is because both ears work together to create a complete hearing picture that includes spatial cues and filtering of unwanted noise. Though technology can't exactly imitate this ability, the appearance of binaural, as in both ears, noise management and binaural streaming technologies seems to be going a long way in making up the difference. Binaural noise management and binaural streaming technology works to imitate how both ears work together to help people better understand and grasp speech, comprehend distance, and identify where the sound is coming from. Thus making it easier to hear in a complex listening environment.

Two hearing aid manufacturers that seem to be on the cutting edge of binaural technology are Phonak and Oticon. In a challenging acoustic environment, Phonak's Binaural VoiceStream Technology® in conjunction with auto StreamZoom and auto StereoZoom create a network of multi-channel microphonne technology. This allows for greater understanding of speech in noise.

Binaural noise management in Oticon's Agil works to mimic the way both ears work together to decode and classify sound. Oticon Agil Mini B-T-EOticon Agil Mini B-T-E According to SecondSense Hearing Solutions, "Oticon's Agil Mini BTE and Agil Pro Mini BTE are a unique family of premium hearing instruments suitable for all types of hearing loss from mild to sever to profound."

Audiology Online article, Audiology in Agil, describes the way this technology works as, " Binaural Noise Management provides the full range of binaural cues needed for accurate reconstruction of the listening environment. In addition, when the opportunity exists where the SNR [signal to noise ratio] is significantly better on one side than the other, the set of binaurally interactive hearing aids will focus the response by maximizing audibility on the side with the better SNR and suppress sound levels on the more challenging side."

There is a lot of talk online about all the "bells and whistles" included in the new hearing aid technology. Recognizing the limits of hearing aids--nothing can completely mimic natural hearing, and the challenges using hearing aids might pose in certain listening environments is important when considering what technology is worth paying for and what you can do without.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

References

Donald J. Shcum, PHD, CCC-A, The Audiology in Agil taken from Audiology Online http://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/the-audiology-in-agil-858 November 29, 2012

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