Analog or Digital Hearing Aids?

It is a contentious one. This is going to be very biased, coming from a pre-lingually, profoundly-deaf musician. And I’m not going to apologize for it. It is a very personal thing for me, and what applies to me may not apply to others.

Where to start… I have used analog hearing aids for a very long time. With digital hearing aids, I lost a substantial amount of clarity in speech reception and listening to music. I had trouble understanding even my coworkers whom I’ve worked with for over 5 years at the time! Never have I experienced anything like this when I went from old analogs to new analogs years ago. It was always clearer and better frequency response, like hearing the water splash up into the wheel wells of the car and hearing the difference between a dry paper towel wiping the countertop and a wet one. Or hearing parts of songs that I didn’t know were there before.

I can understand people with the analogs, to the point that I can tell you 1) if that is a man or a woman making the intercom page, 2) who is speaking (if the voice is distinct enough for me), and 3) what is being said if it is a simple page like “Camping line one, camping line one” or “Action sports, you have a call on line two, line two.”

With the digitals, I cannot make sense of any of this. In FACT, the power digitals I wore for a while had even narrower frequency ranges (At work in a retail store, I could not hear the bicycle sensors (no more than 8 feet away), the cash register tag sensors and security chains (no more than five feet away) for expensive clothing). I gave up wearing the digitals after two months. With the analogs, I can hear the bicycle sensors at the door more than 50 feet away, clearly, the tag sensors at the registers about 30 feet away, and the security chains about 10-15 feet away (these are higher frequency than the others). Another example is attack envelopes of different sounds. The spoon hitting a stone bowl is supposed to have a different sound from hitting a countertop and hitting a metal stove. I could not hear that at all with the digital aids. In fact, the different sounds sounded nearly the SAME. The overtones that define the ring of glass, the sharp, short tone of stone, the soft sound of wood, and the clanging resonance of metal were gone.

This is what I suspect… Digitals in the power aid category have been foisted upon the unsuspecting public, who have no idea of what things are supposed to sound like across the air, for money and because the makers simply want to play with digital technology for the sake of digital technology without regard for sound quality. Can several audiologists be so bad with adjusting digitals that they have NO IDEA how to work with them and have no business selling them? How much training did they get from the manufacturers in adjusting every single thing that can be adjusted?

I know so because while I am in the profoundly deaf category, and have been since a baby, my auditory cortex is very highly developed. I am a musician. I know what a bass guitar amplifier and the lower two-thirds of a guitar’s pitch-range is supposed to sound like because I can hear it unaided at rock concerts (this is the part of my hearing curve that is least affected by my loss, testing about 75 dB at 125 Hz and possibly down to 65-70 dB at 60 and 32 Hz (we would be feeling the fundamentals at this point)). I have stood in front of amps at these concerts loud enough to hear the cabinets to the point that I can confirm that yes, the analogs are pretty much playing back what I hear coming through the amps unaided, and what I hear coming out of the digital hearing aids does not match the unaided experience.

The question becomes, “Why would anyone buy for example, a PA system that makes the speaker’s voice unrecognizable and hard to understand?” And yet that what it has come down to in the hearing aid industry. Two audiologists I have used in the past do NOT connect a listening tube from the hearing aid to their ear to check for sound quality anymore. They use a box that works like a frequency spectrum checker to check its performance instead, and that creates the blind spot that the industry has now. They have no idea how bad the digitals I have tried are, including the Phonak Naida series and the Resound Sparx series as well. I returned the former and put away the latter after two months of wearing them, and they couldn’t be used for music AT ALL. GN ReSound responded to my request one day, noting that these hearing aids were designed for speech reception optimization and not suited for musical environments. Period. End of Story. I got the story from the source, the maker of hearing aids.

5 Responses to Analog or Digital Hearing Aids?

  1. Beleigh January 15, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    I think with most things in life each hearing aid quality and experience varies by each person. I know a lot of people who prefer digital over analog and vice versa. Think it just all depends. 🙂

    Beleigh @ CS Hearing | Hearing Aids Colorado

  2. Elizabeth January 16, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    hi this is Elizabeth, I am deaf so I need a new hearing aid but I have my Medicaid card what do u think?? Let me know ASAP thanks

  3. banjo bruce September 16, 2013 at 4:08 am #

    I did not come across your comments on the differences between analog and digital aids until now. I have had some similar experiences. I have tried 5 brands of digital aids and none of them really worked very well. I recently bought a 90 dollar Chinese made analog aid as an experiment. I could hear the telephone ring really well and the banjo sounds fairly good; at least there are no sound artifacts like pops and static sounds like with the digitals. I also wore analog aids(Langs-no longer manufactured) for a very long time until they finally gave out.

    I just wish I knew more about the reason why the analogs sound so much better. Many hearing impaired musicians prefer them over digital aids.

  4. Burke October 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    I am amazed at your statements regarding digital technology.
    I have to lay blame on your programmer for not being able to get things “comfortable” for you.
    All the issues you listed that your analogs took care of, are some of the most optimized features in digital hearing aids..
    I can only assume that your “trial” of the digital hearing aids was not a top of the line 17 channel hearing aid. Had it been one, getting things to sound close to your analog would not be too hard to replicate, and by changing the fitting formulas (NAL1 etc.) and trying different strategies and probably would have done very well.
    I have fit many profound people with digital after years of use of an analog product..They all did very well, but then again..I made sure that they knew that buying a hearing aid with as many channels as possible would give them the best chance of making the switch..
    You are spot on about AuD’s having no clue on how to program, and yes through my personal experience with ENT and AuD groups..they are cluless, and NO training is given as they pursue their “Doctor Degree” as to how to fix the most basic of sound issues that most people have..
    The power product you used had “Static” ?..once again the programmer.
    I wear hearing aids, have for quite a while (Profound HF loss) theory is..If you have never tried or worn or don’t need hearing aids you shouldn’t be programming them.
    I wish I could fit you for another 2 months..I’d get you pretty close..

  5. Andrew@EmergencyAlertingDevicesDeaf May 9, 2015 at 2:05 am #

    Analog hearing aids let you adjust the sound amplification and the frequency response to a limited extent.

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