by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
For the last number of years, we have been bombarded with hype from the hearing aid manufacturers extolling the virtues of digital hearing aids and how much better they are than analog hearing aids. Thus, I was surprised to see some very interesting information showing that analog technology is actually superior to digital technology under certain conditions.
Let me quote the pertinent part of this article. “Data…have shown that an analog single-microphone single-channel hearing aid can outperform today’s most expensive fully digital hearing aids with a myriad of noise reduction features, provided the analog hearing aids are set to real-ear verified NAL-R [National Acoustic Laboratories—Revised—a linear analog hearing aid fitting protocol] and the digital hearing aids are set according to the manufacturers ‘best fit’ algorithm.
This finding suggests that real-ear programming and aided speech audibility are more important than today’s state-of-the-art hearing aid noise-reduction features when those hearing aids are set using only the manufacturers best-fit algorithms.” (1)
What this really means is that digital hearing aids set according to the manufacturer’s suggested fitting for your hearing loss are not superior to the older linear analog hearing aids that have been set using real-ear measurements and then tweaked by a skilled audiologist that knows how to adjust them for your particular hearing loss.
Note: The NAL-R fitting is aimed at maximizing speech intelligibility, rather than restoring loudness at each frequency to normal. The former is what we desperately want—to understand more of speech, not just hear more sound.
Here’s another interesting piece of information from the same article regarding the differences between a manufacturer’s top line of hearing aids vs. their entry level (read cheap) line of hearing aids. Knowing this can save you a bunch of bucks.
“Further, it has not been demonstrated in double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled studies that today’s most expensive contemporary digital hearing aids provide better speech recognition in noise than each company’s least expensive hearing aid models. Until these studies are forthcoming, we cannot assume significantly better hearing aid performance will be obtained with today’s most expensive hearing aids.” (1)
Again, what they are saying here is that you can save yourself a bundle of money by buying the cheapest hearing aid in a given manufacturer’s line rather than buying their most expensive hearing aid in that line line because there is no proven difference in how well you will hear in noise.
The bottom line is that you need the services of a skilled audiologist or hearing aid dispenser rather than expensive hearing aids in order to get the most benefit from your hearing aids. All things being equal, a cheaper hearing aid in the hands of a skilled dispenser will easily outperform expensive hearing aids that were just set to the manufacturer’s “best fit” algorithm.
(1) Leavitt, Ron. Cost-effective Pricing for Hearing Aids and Related Audiological Services. The Hearing Review. Vol. 18, No. 12. November, 2011. p. 32.