Music and Hearing Aids: Some Clinical Strategies – Part 2 of 7

Last week, in the first of a seven-part series, the problems associated with listening to and playing music with many modern digital hearing aids were discussed.  This week’s post discusses some clinical strategies that can improve a hearing aid’s usability with music.  It is a common clinical complaint that a person loves their hearing aids for speech (especially in quiet), but have a less-than-stellar view of the sound quality of music.

Here are four things that can be tried or suggested clinically to improve a hearing aid’s function for music.  None of these four things are issues of software manipulation- once a music signal is distorted by the front end and A/D technology, nothing, including software manipulation, can improve things. But these four strategies have been shown themselves to be useful.

1. Turn down the volume and increase the hearing aid volume, if necessary:

This strategy derives directly from part 1 of the blog series- simply duck under the doorway.  Lower level inputs from a reduced volume on the car radio, an MP3 player attached through the hearing aid, or a home stereo will present the A/D converter with a signal that is within its optimal operating characteristic.  Once digitized, the volume (which occurs after the A/D conversion process) may be increased if required.  The opposite- turn up the stereo volume- will result in unresolvable distortion.

2. Use (Scotch) tape over the hearing aid microphone(s):

This low-tech approach works wonderfully well.  Simply place several layers of tape over the hearing aid microphones and this will reduce the microphone sensitivity to a point where the higher sound level components of music will be within the limited capability of the A/D converter.  It’s as if the hearing aid thinks that the input is 10-12 dB lower sound level.  If the volume needs to be increased as a result of these layers of tape, this can easily be done, as the volume control is after the A/D conversion process.  Some experimentation may be required, as this depends on the gauge of the tape.  I find that three to five layers are typically sufficient.  The hearing aid user places the tape over their microphone when using it for music and then removes it when listening to speech.

 

3. Use an assistive listening device (ALD) with its own volume control:

The use of an ALD, such as a microphone plugged into the direct audio input port or coupled inductively, an FM, or an infra-red system can be quite useful, as long as there is a volume control on these devices.  In the easiest scenario, plug in an external microphone that disables the hearing aid microphone.  Turn down the volume of the ALD microphone (and, if necessary, increase the hearing aid volume to compensate).  This, like the above two other strategies, “fools” the hearing aid’s A/D conversion process into thinking that the input is 10-12 dB lower level than the source really is.

 

4. Remove the hearing aids:

Loud speech can be on the order of 80 dB SPL, but music is inherently higher in sound level than speech.  Even quiet music can be on the order of 80-90 dB SPL, with peaks in excess of 110 dB SPL.  Because of equal loudness contours, a person with a moderate sensorineural hearing loss may require only several decibels of amplification (if that) even while needing 20-25 dB for speech.  Removing the hearing aids will have no deleterious effect for people who have only a mild to moderate sensori-neural hearing loss. And there is no A/D converter to be overdriven!

In next week’s post, we will discuss the first of four hearing aid technologies that the hearing aid industry has provided to resolve this front-end A/D converter-related problem.

 

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.

3 Comments

  1. What about jacking up the entrance? The dynamic range is small because of the value placed upon small size of hearing aids. This constraint results in further requirements for small batteries and therefore low power consumption.
    Small size is less important in these days of wearable technology. With mics pinned to shoulders, wired directly to the module (smart phone???), and on-the-ear headset also wired directly to the module, the gateway would be large enough to admit the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra.
    As a professional engineer and professional musician, this solution simply delights me.
    Uncompromising audio for music performing, music listening, and speach. Inexpensive. I would keep a set of customary hearing aids on hand for occasions when appearance trumps hearing.

    1. Microphone diaphragm size tends to be an internal noise issue- also called microphone noise. It is true that the larger diaphragm microphones used in different industries can be differentiated based on noise floor, but this is not the case with conventional hearing aid microphones.

      The noise floor can be reduced with expansion which all modern hearing aids have. There is nothing (to my knowledge) about a larger diaphragm microphone that will improve the front end analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion issue- this is an issue that arises “after” the hearing aid microphone, and is a direct result of the front end processing and the characteristics of the A/D conversion.

  2. Dear Mr Chasin

    I am wishful to read the remaining 5-part of yours “Music and Hearing Aids” editorial article
    My duty is assigned to design aids and ALD at best Brazilian University (University of São Paulo)
    One of the private patent I earned is a Sound System for the Deaf – patent PI0802732-3 A2 – a system device to allow hard-of-hearing people to hear music without wearing aids (your step #4 fore-cited)
    Aids were primarily designed to help people to talk not to hear the music
    Music is ubiquitous but hard-of-hearing people can not take the most of such experience, even if one possess those smartphones, MP3 players, smart TVs, et cetera.
    I look after to share my patent and experience to investors in order to churn out music players to hard-of-hearing people

    Any comments from your side is considerably appreciated and will encourage myself

    Kind Regards, Silvio Penteado.E.E., PhD

Comments are closed.