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Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Multiple Hearing Aid Channels

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For some people with hearing loss terms like channel and band are exciting discoveries in hearing modification. But for the average person with hearing loss sorting through these terms can be confusing. So if you're having problems figuring out how many channels are optimal in a hearing aid or even what a channel is and how it's different from hearing aid "band" read on because People Hearing Better has your answers!

The first thing you need to understand about a hearing aid channel is that it is NOT a band. Simply put, the band or bands on a hearing aid helps manage the amplification or the highs and lows of sound. Because your hearing is unique, you might need some sounds louder than others for you to hear comfortably. Having more bands means the hearing aid is more efficient at this high-low personalization of hearing aid sound. A channel on the other hand is about identification of a sound.

So let's say a sound, for exaggerated example we'll say a dog barking, falls within a range that you need amplified. In this case your hearing aid band will amplify that sound. But if you're trying to hold a conversation and the barking sound gets amplified that could get annoying. And distracting. Now if your hearing aid has more channels and the dog barks, the multiple channels are better able to determine that the dog bark, even though it might be in the frequency that requires amplification, isn't a sound you need increased. So to recap in a very simplified way, bands higher or amplify the sounds you need to hear and channels decide which sounds are important for you to hear. Now it might seem a no-brainer that more channels are better, but that's not always the case. Below are the Pros and Cons of having multiple channels on your hearing aids.

PROS OF MORE HEARING AID CHANNELS

Adjustments: More channels means that your hearing health professional has more leeway to adjust your hearing aids to accommodate your sound preferences. Because every person has preferences and different needs for the individual hearing more channels makes for a more personalized hearing aid.

Environment: More channels means that your hearing aids can be programmed sort through and recognize more sounds and therefore identify the environment more quickly. Digital hearing aids with multiple channels can thus identify and change settings for different environments making for a more comfortable and organic listening experience.

Features: More channels often coincides with more features. More advanced features and algorithms can make a big difference in the clarity of certain sounds and features. For example a directional microphone might work more accurately with more channels.

Noise vs. Speech: Multiple channels means that the hearing aid is better able to determine which sounds are noise and which sounds are speech, enabling the hearing aid to suppress unwanted noise while increasing noises you want to hear.

CONS OF MORE HEARING AID CHANNELS

Muddying the Waters: Having more channels on your hearing aid is sometimes like having more channels on your television, you get to a point where it's too much. Things become confusing. With too many hearing aid channels their is a potential for sound clarity to be diluted or muddied. It might be loud enough, but that loudness might not matter if you can't clearly hear the crisp difference between the "th" sound and the "z" sound.

Delay: A digital hearing aid takes a very short amount of time to process sounds. With one channel and open fit that sound is processed quickly and goes immediately into the ear. With more channels there might be a delay in the processing of sounds. This delay is usually only milliseconds. But the average person can notice a change of say 5 to 6 milliseconds, and some of the multichannel hearing aids have a difference of up to 12 milliseconds. Ask your hearing health professional what the delay is for your multichannel hearing aid or better yet try it out and see if you notice a delay.

The Law of Diminishing Returns: It's been shown that most people notice little difference in sound quality when a hearing aid gets over 8 channels. But because of features and the way your hearing health professional adjust your aid that might not be true for you. Just as some people have a more refined palate, others have a more finely tuned ear. So while one person might notice a drastic difference between say a 6 and 15 channel hearing aid, another person might not notice the difference at all. So how can you tell if you're someone for whom a higher number of channels might matter? Well you can "test drive" your hearing aid. Your hearing health provider wants to find you the best hearing aid for your unique hearing, so ask about a trial period. This trial period should include an adjustment, because you might notice subtle things while using the hearing aid that you had not considered in the office.

Overload: Hearing aid processors or CPU have to allocate time and power to certain functions. If you have an extraordinary amount of channels then you might be diverting processing power from other features or functions that could help with things like background noise suppression.

If you'd like to learn more about what hearing aids can do for you or even to take the latest hearing aid for a test drive, contact 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

Francis Kuk, PH.D, Listen Now, "MULTI-CHANNEL PROCESSING IN HEARING AIDS: IS MORE BETTER?" http://listennow.widex.com/en-US/Technical/multi-channel-processing.aspx (Accessed on March 29, 2016)

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