Music easy…Speech difficult/Music difficult…Speech is easy

Marshall Chasin
April 6, 2011

Music and speech have many similarities and many differences. The typical signal to noise ratio of speech can be quite poor- background noises in social situations can be louder than the speech. This makes for a difficult listening situation. In contrast, when listening to music which is more intense than speech, there is an excellent signal to noise ratio such that background noise reduction techniques are not typically required. In this sense, Music is easy to hear while speech may be quite difficult.

In contrast, in most cases modern hearing aids simply cannot transduce the louder components of music without distortion. Hearing aids are wonderful for handling the quieter levels of speech but tend to clip or distort most forms of music. This happens very early in the hearing aid processing (at the level of the analog to digital converter) so that any software changes that are made later on in the circuitry are useless and more often than not, a waste of time. In some sense “old style” analog hearing aids of the early 1990s were better for handling the louder level inputs of music than modern hearing aids. There was no analog to digital converter to be overdriven in the “olden days”.

So, music can be easier to listen to for the hard of hearing, but it may be better without a hearing aid than with many of the modern “sophisticated” hearing aids.

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