Music brings audiologists and engineers together

Music brings audiologists and engineers together… Actually, music brings all people together, but that’s another blog.  In my travels I attend many national and international audiology conferences and the topic of music and hearing aids is a great opening line. (That’s how I met my fiancée, but that’s another blog as well).

The engineers that are associated with the hearing aid industry are perhaps the best and brightest that you will ever meet.  They need to be grounded in science at a time when the ground beneath their feet is constantly shifting.  An approach (or even a way of thinking about a problem) from 2 years ago may no longer make sense in light of new research and new technology.  So, if you run into an engineer at a conference, buy him or her a beer to say “thanks.”   I think that most engineers drink beer- I’m pretty sure that it’s part of their accreditation process.

The topic of music and hearing aids is one where there is both common ground between audiologists and engineers, and one where the ground is constantly shifting.  When you walk into a hospitality suite at any large conference (large enough to have a hospitality suite), just yell out the word “music” and all of the engineers in attendance will gradually congregate around you.  This would be an excellent time to treat them to a beer since usually hospitality suites have an open bar (but that’s another blog).

I was in Zurich, Switzerland,  several weeks ago at an amazing meeting put on by a local hearing health care professional to celebrate the opening of his new musicians’ clinic, and there were many engineers from different manufacturers in attendance.  The discussions at the breaks and at the closing party between the audiologists and the engineers should have been recorded and transcribed for future publication- It would have been a best seller.

I was talking about the fact that the 96-dB input “limit” with modern 16-bit digital hearing aids was not 96 dB SPL but that the dynamic range was constrained to 96 dB (between the least intense and the most intense sound).  This 96-dB range could be shifted upwards by 15 dB to also be 15 dB SPL- 111 dB SPL which is a range that is better suited to music. Bernafon uses this approach.  One engineer said that he would love to do that but he felt that the internal noise floor would increase.  An engineer from another company looked at him (over his beer) and said “not if you put it into a dedicated music program.”  And indeed, a solution (and possibly a proprietary solution?) was suggested that would minimize the internal noise and optimize the input range for hearing aids with music.  As the audiologist, I just stood there, sipping a wonderful Tuscany red wine.

At another conference the week before in San Diego (sponsored by the Rady Children’s Hospital) someone asked about frequency transposition with music (and there were some engineers in the audience- they weren’t drinking beer, but I think they were engineers because they were wearing glasses).  My typically thoughtless immediate answer was “frequency transposition and music don’t mix.”  This is undoubtedly true with adult onset hearing loss (… perhaps a great Capstone project waiting to be done) but a discussion ensued about children with congenital hearing loss.  The consensus among those who were there (audiologists and engineers) was that “if frequency transposition was optimal for a speech program, then it should also be optimal for a music program”… again, another great Capstone project waiting to happen.

I must admit that I probably learned more from this discussion than I imparted to the group.  (I didn’t admit this until after I received my honorarium, of course).

So, what can be done in our fields to optimize this interaction?  I would love to see sessions at large audiology conventions where engineers and front line clinicians can volley ideas back and forth.  Conventions do already have “exhibitor forums” and although these can be interesting, “engineer forums” would be fascinating.

Years ago (in the early 1980s when π had only 3 decimal places) I attended one of the summer meetings sponsored by the Wasiman Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and since then I have tried to model all of the conferences that I helped to coordinate after that one.  I truly learned as much from the person sitting next to me as I did from the speaker.  It was an amazing meeting and I encourage any future conference planners to have a broad perspective- an audiology conference does not mean just audiology.  It is the other “stuff” that can define the success of a conference.


About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.


  1. Did I hear someone say there was an Open bar, with a band playing… excellent, now we can run some headroom experiments!…. said the engineer

    1. Actually its neat that Steve Armstrong has responded. I guess he reads my blog 🙂

      Steve is perhaps the model of all engineers and probably knows more about audiology than audiologists do.

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