When RITE may be WRONG and RIC may be RIGHT

Measurements: RIC, RITE, and Thin Tube BTE (RIA) Hearing Aids

RIC (receiver-in-the-canal, or what some call RITE: receiver in the ear) hearing aids are major products in a dispenser’s hearing aid sales.  This article will use the term RIC because it is thought to be a more accurate description when properly fitted, and some of the advantages identified as being associated with a RITE hearing aid are achieved primarily in a RIC configuration.  In essence, a RITE hearing aid could have the speaker fit in the concha, and as a result, would not be able to provide the same acoustic benefits as would a RIC, where the hearing aid is positioned more deeply in the ear canal, and not in the concha.

RIA (receiver-in-the-aid) hearing aids contain all electronics in the hearing aid processor itself, and do not separate the speaker from the hearing aid.  An RIA hearing aid could be either a conventional BTE or a thin tube BTE.  RIC, RITE, and Thin Tube RIA category hearing aids are generally readily fit with patient acceptance and satisfaction high.  However, a few hints/suggestions may assist in some problem solving or provide assistance in how to fit and test them more easily.  For this discussion, the RIC and RITE hearing aids are considered to be closed coupled to the ear, rather than having vents.

When RITE may be WRONG and RIC may be Right – Speaker insertion depth

Manufacturers of all three of these hearing aid types generally offer a selection of speaker links to be able to appropriately fit different top-of-auricle-to-ear-canal lengths.  Along with these dimensions, the speaker link insertion depth into the ear canal is directly related to its overall length as well.  For example, a long speaker link inserts further into the ear canal than does a short speaker length (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Speaker link design, showing three different sizes: large, medium, and small (left to right). The lengths (red lines) show the general differences in link length from top of auricle to bottom of speaker angle into the ear. The green lines below the speakers are the same length, showing that the distance into the ear canal is shorter as the speaker links move downward in size, and the parallel blue lines show that the changes in length relate to the length from the top of the auricle to the entrance of the ear canal, and not to changes in the length connected from the hearing aid processor to the turn on top of the auricle.

The following discussion relates to the speaker insertion depths with RIC and RITE closed coupler hearing aids, and not to RIAs.  Is this length, and subsequent insertion depth, critical to a successful fitting?  The answer is that the depth that the speaker is inserted into the ear canal has a direct effect on the overall response of the instrument.

A casual observation of RIC and RITE hearing aids worn by individuals seen in daily life often reveals that many seem to be barely “sticking” into the ear canal.  This provides ample armchair evidence that these individuals may not be obtaining as much satisfaction from the hearing aids as they should. Figure 2 shows REAR (Real-Ear Aided Responses) of different depths of insertions into the ear canal.  In these measurements, the green-colored curve resulted from the proper fit and insertion.  However, as can be seen, significant high-frequency amplification, as much as 8 dB or so, can be lost when the instrument is not fit as deeply into the ear canal.  The shallower, and hence looser fit, is then also more prone to acoustic feedback because a good seal is less likely, even though feedback cancellation may have been activated in the hearing aid.  With most RIC instruments, the proper depth of insertion occurs when the speaker and tip appear to slide around the turn in the ear canal.  This position also provides for the best security of the device.

Figure 2. REAR (Real-Ear Aided Response) of RIC speaker lengths in the ear canal. Significant high-frequency amplification can be lost using a speaker link that is fitted too shallow in the ear canal.

RITE hearing aids, where the speaker is positioned in the concha or just into the opening of the ear canal, are more likely to mimic the results of shallower ear canal insertion in Figure 2.

RIC and RITE Coupler Attachments

The standard method for electroacoustical measurements of RIC and RITE hearing instruments, especially those that are fitted occluded, is to use an HA-1 2cc coupler.  Methods normally used are to seal the tip, either with the tip attached or with the tip unattached, using Funtak (Figure 3), to the coupler to prevent acoustic feedback and to hold the speaker in proper position for the sound bore to be directed into the coupler opening.

Figure 3. Standard method for electroacoustical measurement of RIC and RITE hearing instruments, especially for those fitted in an occluded procedure. The speaker, either with or without the tip attached, is sealed to the HA-1 2cc coupler with the use of Funtack.
Modified HA-1 2cc SB Coupler

This method seems to work well, but when making measurements on multiple instruments, or even measuring over time, a visualization check would show that the sound bore may no longer be positioned properly with the entrance opening of the coupler.  In other cases, the speaker tip may be extended downward into the coupler, thus reducing the distance from the speaker sound bore to the measurement microphone, or may have been displaced due to movement.  A newly modified HA-1 2cc coupler seems to help resolve this problem, and at the same time, speeds up measurement.  The modification is illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Modified HA-1 2cc SB coupler. A 9mm diameter permanent “nest” has been attached to the top of the coupler. The nest is designed to accept an ear tip with its bullet-shaped end and directs the sound from the speaker directly into the coupler input opening. A 9mm tip provides a friction fit, thereby eliminating the need for Funtack. Additionally, the speaker link cannot be inserted down into the coupler as often occurs. This arrangement allows for consistent measurements, and with ease.
 

 

The SB coupler comes with 9mm diameter tips that can slip easily onto essentially any speaker used with RIC or RITE hearing instruments (Figure 5), regardless of the diameter or design of the speaker.  The author has been using this coupler for hundreds of RIC and RITE measurements over the past two years.  Until now, it has not been commercially available.  However, the coupler is now available from Frye Electronics Inc. of Tigard, OR, developer and supplier.

Figure 5. A 9mm diameter tip is supplied with the coupler to fit into the speaker tip nest. The tip is able to fit essentially all traditional RIC speaker links because of its ability to expand in the stem portion.

 

 

Response Comparisons – Putty Seal vs SB Seal

A comparison of measurement results from the SB coupler versus the HA-1 2cc coupler with Funtack shows that they are comparable (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Response comparison of HA-1 coupler (red) with HA-1 SB-1 coupler (blue).

 

 

 

 

About Wayne Staab

Dr. Wayne Staab is an internationally recognized authority on hearing aids. As President of Dr. Wayne J. Staab and Associates, he is engaged in consulting, research, development, manufacturing, education, and marketing projects related to hearing. Interests away from business include fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, golf, travel, tennis, softball, lecturing, sporting clays, 4-wheeling, archery, swimming, guitar, computers, and photography. Among other pursuits.

2 Comments

  1. This is essentially an “artificial ear” device for measuring hearing aid electroacoustical performance. It has a volume of 2 cubic centimeters that is intended to replicate the volume between the earpiece and the tympanic membrane. It is a standard measurement method for hearing aids.

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