by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained,
I have hearing loss in the severe/profound range and use very powerful Phonak hearing aids. They have excellent t-coils and I get the best sound quality whenever I’m able to use them.
What I’d like to find is a portable loop system that I can use when traveling to visit family this Christmas. Group situations are currently impossible for me. I would like to be able to loop whatever room we are in and be able to hear multiple people (perhaps up to 7-8 seated around the room at varying distances from me).
My son had the idea that it might work well if each person wore a microphone. I don’t know if this is even possible, but it sounds like it might be a better idea than an omnidirectional mic.
Do you sell a system that would work in this situation, or would you be able to put a kit together for me?
I’m glad you have hearing aids with great T-coils in them. That gives you the option for connecting various assistive hearing devices to your hearing aids.
There are several kinds of assistive devices available including loop systems. However, in a group situation, all will suffer from the same problem, and that is clearly capturing the sound from the various people talking into a microphone.
The very best way is to have a microphone at each person’s lips. Then you’d understand each person clearly. However, in typical family settings this is not really feasible. Basically, you only want one microphone on at a time so they don’t interfere with each other. You’d need a full-time person running your “mic mixer” in order to do this and you’d have wires running all over the place. You could do this wirelessly too, but that becomes very expensive.
Let’s look at some choices.
1. If everyone is sitting around the perimeter of the room and you put a good omnidirectional microphone in the center of the room, it should pick up everyone’s voices—but there are two downsides. First, it would pick up all the other sounds in the room too. Second, no one voice would be really clear since really clear sound only occurs when you have the microphone close to the speaker’s lips. It would be about the same as if you sat in the center of the room and let the microphones on your hearing aids pick up all the sounds. If you were going to choose this option, I’d use the Conference Table Microphone.
2. An alternative would be to hold a super directional microphone and aim it at whomever is speaking at the time. This should give clearer sound that an omnidirectional microphone—but as the distance from the speaker to the microphone increases, the sound quality decreases. Also, you’d be busy doing two things—always keeping alert to aim the microphone at whomever is speaking and quickly aiming it at the next person as they interject something—and with the other hand you’d have to be constantly changing the volume as some people are louder than others, and some are closer to the microphone than others. You can do this (I’ve done it), but it is a bit of a pain. But it is better than an omnidirectional microphone in the center of the room. If you were going to choose this option, I’d use the Super-directional Hand Held microphone.
3. An alternative to this is to use a “Voice Tracker” microphone that electronically “aims” itself at whomever is talking. This works quite well in a quiet room (just people talking), but if there is other noise around, it will “aim” at the loudest sounds which could be noise. I compared the Voice Tracker microphone to my super-directional handheld microphone and I was quite impressed with the Voice Tracker microphone. Unfortunately, the Voice Tracker is quite a big beam microphone (about 17″ wide) and it needs to be plugged into a power plug. It is not compact, but it is not heavy either. You could use it placed near a wall anywhere in the room and aimed into the center of the room.
4. Use one microphone but pass it around and whomever is talking has to wait until they have the microphone in hand before they are allowed to talk. This would work very well as far as you are concerned—you’d hear beautiful clear sound—but hearing people will soon tire of passing the mic around so ultimately it will fail. If you were going to do this, I’d use an FM system and you plug a neckloop into the FM receiver. In this case, I’d use the Comfort Contego FM system.
Rather than using a portable loop system, what I’d suggest (and what I do) is use a PockeTalker with a neckloop. You’d plug the microphone of your choice into the PockeTalker and hear that way. For example, you could plug the Voice Tracker microphone into the PockeTalker. If you need a longer cord, the PockeTalker comes with a 12′ extension cord so you can get the distance you need. Then you’d set the Voice Tracker in the most advantageous place to pick up the conversations in the room and sit anywhere you think is the best (within about 15′ of the Voice Tracker—since that would be the limits of the microphone cords) and listen via your hearing aids, t-coils and neckloop.
What you’d need for this is the PockeTalker, the Voice Tracker microphone, and a neckloop.
So there are some choices to give you something to think about. No one system is perfect, but each are good in certain specific situations. I have used all of the above, depending on the situation.