by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A mother wrote:
I have some questions about your Music Links. My daughter wears binaural hearing aids that switch to t-coil mode automatically when needed. She would like to listen to her MP3 player with increased ease and clarity. What is the difference between the Music Links and a Neckloop? Which is better? Also, do they both work with MP3 players the same way? Do they both have stereo sound? In your experience, which device works better with digital hearing aids?
That’s a lot of questions to answer. Before I answer them, however, I need to address the automatic t-coils your daughter’s hearing aids sport.
Automatic technology can be wonderful, but it can also be a real pain. Therefore, I don’t recommend that you buy any hearing aids with automatic features unless they also have manual overrides so you can force them to do what you want when it is necessary. This warning particularly applies to automatic volume controls and to automatic t-coils.
In your daughter’s case, if her hearing aids don’t have manual overrides on her t-coils, although they will switch to t-coil mode automatically when she uses a telephone, they won’t switch automatically when she wants to use them with loop systems such as room loops, neckloops, and the Music Links.
All is not lost. Oftentimes there is a workaround. For example, you can put small magnets on the hearing aids to force them to switch to t- coil mode. However, it is much better to take the hearing aids back and ask that manual overrides be installed on each aid. This will make them so much more useful. Typically, digital hearing aids won’t have manual override switches, but the automatic t- coil feature may be able to be turned off, or one of the memories may be able to be programmed for the t-coils to be permanently turned on when using that memory.
Once this is done, she should be able to hear her MP3 player or iPod wonderfully well via her t-coils. etc.
Now to answer your questions. Which is better, the Music Links or a Neckloop?
For starters, the Music Links give true stereo sound. Neckloops by definition are mono devices. With a stereo to mono adapter from Radio Shack you can use a neckloop—but it will give mono sound (same sounds in both ears), not true stereo like the Music Links. Therefore, if you want to listen to true stereo sound, you have to go with the Music Links. If you don’t care about stereo, then a neckloop will work fine too.
Now, as to how well they will work, I’d go with the Music Links for a couple of reasons.
1. T-coils are very directional. Thus if you wear a neckloop and tip your head, the signal strength may vary and can almost fade out. The same thing can happen when using a room loop. The Music Links–since they are on your ears—never change their orientation to the t-coils in your hearing aids, so the sound stays constant no matter what your body position.
2. Since the Music Links are closer to your hearing aids as compared to neckloops, they typically receive a better/stronger signal—especially if the device (MP3 player for example) doesn’t put out a strong signal (because the manufacturer is trying to increase battery life) I’ve seen people wearing their neckloops hooked on their ears in order to increase the signal strength. It looks sort of funny, but it works. Much better to use the Music Links that sit on your ears in the first place if the device doesn’t produce a strong signal.
With devices that put out a good signal, neckloops and Music Links give comparable sound—but remember neckloops give mono sound, Music Links can give stereo sound.
Finally, which device works better with digital hearing aids? In truth, I don’t think there is any difference between the devices on how well they work with digital hearing aids. They both use the same technology. Of more importance is the quality of the t- coils. Not all t-coils are made equal. Some work wonderfully well, and others give just so-so performance. Therefore, it is wise to check out how well the t-coils work before you purchase any given hearing aids.