by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A person proudly explained,

My new behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids do not have the t-Coil option anymore. I hear that t-Coils are a thing of the past and will be phased out soon as new technology is available. I am now using Bluetooth technology.

I can point you to hundreds, if not thousands, of churches and public buildings that have embraced loop system technology. Can you point me to even one such venue that has bluetooth technology installed so hard of hearing people can hear beautiful, clear speech from the speaker?

The reason you can’t is because Bluetooth technology is not set up to work in such places, whereas Loop Technology works wonderfully well.

The hype and misinformation going around on the demise of the t-coil is just that—hype and misinformation. It is not what is really happening. Actually, just the opposite is happening. For example, the major hearing aid manufacturer in the USA—Starkey—two years ago went on record that all of their hearing aids will contain t-coils. Other manufacturers that thought they’d dump their t-coils found that they were losing out to others that have t-coils.

In addition, more and more manufacturers of personal assistive devices are including t-coils in their devices. I understand that Williams Sound’s new PockeTalker will have a t-coil in it. The new Comfort Duett has a t-coil in it. So does Bellman & Symfon’s Maxi and Mino. These manufacturers know that they need to provide t-coils in order to stay competitive. Williams Sound recently came out with a new loop amplifier whereas they had none before. They are betting on loop systems to become even more popular in the future.

Yes, there are outspoken people that think t-coils are a waste of time and that the latest technology is better—but is it really?

Consider the real limitations of bluetooth. For example, you’ll not be able to use bluetooth in church and theatres, etc. because bluetooth has several limitations.

First, bluetooth is not built into hearing aids (it’s in the remote) because it uses too much power and would drain the hearing aid’s batteries too fast. Thus you HAVE to have a remote with you in order to use bluetooth with your hearing aids. In contrast, t-coils don’t use any extra power, and don’t require any extra stuff to be hung around your neck in order to use them either.

Second, bluetooth was designed to be paired with one other device at a time for privacy issues. Thus no one could connect to, and overhear, your phone call for example. But if you were in a church or meeting hall, if bluetooth were provided only one person in the entire church or meeting could pair to the bluetooth system—leaving all the other hard of hearing people without any help. In contrast, as many people with t-coils in their hearing aids as can pack into the looped room can use a loop system at the same time.

Third, bluetooth has a very limited range. The theoretical limit is 33 feet (10 meters), but in actual practice, I’ve not found a bluetooth device that worked reliably at more than 20 feet, if even that much. Thus, in a large room, unless you sat within 20 feet of the bluetooth transmitter, you’d not be able to hear. In contrast, if you had a loop system installed and t-coils in your hearing aids, you could sit anywhere in the looped room and hear wonderfully well.

I have no problems with the various technologies used in hearing aids today—RF, bluetooth and t-coils, but to throw out the most useful (and cheapest one) is not wise. There is room for all three of these technologies. Each has uses for which it excels, and each has its limitations.

In fact, I am working with a major ALD manufacturer to produce a new device that uses bluetooth and t-coils to make an awesome combination. This device should be in beta testing very soon.

Those that dismiss t-coils out of turn will find that they have just shot themselves in the foot—yet again!

I sure wouldn’t let people talk me out of having t-coils in my hearing aids! Especially since having t-coils in hearing aids doesn’t cost you a penny more than if you purchased hearing aids without t-coils. Why limit the functionality of your hearing aids when you gain so much at no extra cost?