PSAPs and Music

I just returned from the American Academy of Audiology’s annual conference in Anaheim, CA, called AudiologyNOW.  It’s really half “conference” with presented papers, half “trade show” where the newest products are unveiled, and half “networking” with old and new friends and colleagues.  And like all large conferences, I always learn quite a bit, despite my old lazy self.

One thing that struck me was the availability of low-cost Personal Sound Amplification Products (or PSAPs).  This is a relatively new idea in the hearing health care field and is the result of the 2009 FDA “guidance document” for possible users of PSAPs.  This is actually the terminology that the FDA uses.  The distinguishing feature of a PSAP is that no audiologist or other hearing health care professional is required in the purchasing and fitting of such devices and they are not supposed to be intended for people with hearing loss (although they can be…).

My first kneejerk reaction (and probably that of most of my colleagues) is that there should be a warning note in the packaging that PSAPs are not as good as conventional hearing aids.  While this is generally true and there are many inexpensive PSAPs out there that are downright useless, from time to time one comes along that meets a need in a certain branch of audiology.  It’s no surprise, given the name of this sub-blog of HearingHealthMatters.org, that this sub-branch is about music and hearing aids.

I can’t tell you how often I get an email or a phone call from foreign lands from hard of hearing people who love their hearing aids for speech but find them useless for listening to or playing music.  It almost seems that a person would need one hearing aid for speech, and another for music.  And this is essentially true.

The hearing aid industry has made some amazing strides over the last year in improving a hearing aid’s ability to handle the more intense inputs of music.  Most audiologists are quite aware of these recent innovations and I am sure that they have been contacted by representatives of those companies.  I won’t name names, but this is where the non-audiologist reader should contact their local hearing health care professional for more information.

For those people who have hearing aids that are optimal for speech but lacking in their capability to handle music, or for those who simply cannot afford the cost of a “properly” fitted hearing aid, a PSAP may be the way to go–at least as an alternative, and less expensive route to initially enter the hearing aid market.

At AudiologyNOW, the Quiet Sound Amplifier (nicknamed the Bean) was demonstrated to me, and, of course, the thing that impressed me most was that it uses an analog K-AMP circuit.  Regular readers of this blog will remember that in the past I have waxed on about this amazing circuit, first designed in 1988, that outperformed many of the newer digital technologies.  Actually, the K-AMP is still available in the hearing aid industry, and if it were available in Canada, all my musician clients (and those who just love to listen to music) would have been fit with it.

So, what makes this particular PSAP so neat?  Like the K-AMP of old, the Bean amplifies soft sounds in the higher frequency region but becomes “acoustically transparent” for louder sounds.  It’s as if the PSAP pops out of your ear when not needed, and then pops back in only when needed for the softer sounds and harmonics.

I am not writing here to advertise this product and anyone can easily get more information from the www.etymotic.com website.  I am writing to alert people that now there is one more tool in the kit to improve one’s enjoyment of music.

Since the advent of digital technology (with its associated less-than-optimal analog-to-digital converter), the hearing aid industry has been playing catch-up to 1988 technology, at least for music.  Today we have four hearing aid manufacturers who have effectively addressed the issue of music as an input, and now we have a PSAP that also fills the bill.

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.

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Bruce

Would you mind naming the four companies that have addressed the issues of live music input. I know from experience that Bernafon’s “Live Music Plus” works pretty well but unfortunately I have had constant issues with their speakers failing. Audiologists out here in northern California don’t seem interested in the subject of hearing aids with live music capability thus info is harder to get. I have e-mailed/written many companies and seldom get a reply but when I do they say they still use ADC’s that only process from 90-96dB.

As always thank you for writing on the subject of live music and hearing aids.

Harry Teder

Marshall – do you really mean it that K-amp is not available in Canada? How come? Certainly news to me. Regards Harry