Hearing Aids for Musicians
I received an interesting email from a gentleman the other day who was a musician and audio engineer, so his entire life revolves around music. The gentleman had worn analog hearing aids for over a decade and loved them, but after losing them had tried 4 different digital hearing aids with no success. His problem was (as is the case with many musicians), all the digital hearing aids he tried sounded distorted and just did not replicate musical sounds properly. There are a few reasons why this happens, which we’ll get in to below. As you can imagine, this has been a huge problem for not only his personal enjoyment of music, but his livelihood. For any of our readers that have this same problem, I wanted to share a few of the things that we talked about, as well as mention a particular hearing aid that might be worth trying out if music plays a large role in your life.
How come music sounds distorted through hearing aids?
For many people, music (and live music in particular), does not sound very good when wearing hearing instruments. Hearing aids may sound distorted and unnatural, with certain notes or entire sections of pieces being completely inaudible. Part of the problem here is that traditionally, hearing aids are designed with the goal of accurately processing the acoustic characteristics of speech, not music- and the acoustic characteristics of music and speech are quite different from each other. For example, the usual speech range is between 30 dB and 85 dB, so there is a general range of about 50 dB. Music on the other hand, has a range of about 100 dB, and this wide range is very difficult for hearing aids to efficiently process. In trying to process this loud input, many hearing aids run into problems, and here’s why:
In short, distortion/clarity problems arise because of a change in newer digital technology as compared to older analog aids. This change is related to a device inside the hearing aid called the analog to digital converter. This device is in all digital hearing aids and its job is to turn sounds into digits for the hearing aid to process. When music or other sounds are too loud, this analog to digital converter gets overwhelmed and distortion occurs.
Is there a solution?
Sort of. While many people that wear hearing aids will simply say that music just sounds better when they remove their hearing aids, you may want to consider some of the recommendations below before you give up on listening to music entirely with your hearing aids.
1) Consider trying a different hearing aid.
In the past few years new technology has emerged which aims to address these problems. If you are wearing hearing aids that are more than a few years old you might consider trialing some newer technology. For instance, Widex has a relatively new technology available called True Input™, which is proven to help musicians receive an amplified signal that is effectively distortion free. If this sounds like something you are interested in, you might consider the Widex Dream hearing aid, as it harnesses this technology. Below is a neat video from Widex which may help you get a better idea of what this technology is actually doing. In effect, it is raising the ceiling of sounds that the hearing aid can efficiently process, so loud sound (like music) is not distorted.
2) See if your hearing provider can designate a “music” program on your hearing aid.
If you’re not sure, ask your hearing provider if your hearing aid can be configured with multiple programs or memories. Many hearing aids today come preset from the manufacturer with an optional “music” program, in which certain changes are made to the sound processing which can make music sound better. When you switch your hearing aids to the music program, it will often times disable many of the automatic features of the hearing aids and adjust the feedback reduction. This helps the hearing aid to work in a more “linear” fashion, i.e., what comes in comes out, and the sound is less processed.
3) Try putting a piece of scotch tape over your hearing aid microphones while listening to music.
While this tip is more anecdotal, many people report that putting a small piece of tape over their hearing aid microphones while playing or listening to music can greatly soften the sound and reduce the distortion. Be sure to pull the tape off when you are done!
There is a lot more that can be said about this issue, and if you are interested in further reading I’ve compiled a few helpful links.
- Dr. Marshall Chasin, of the Musician’s Clinics of Canada is the foremost expert on this topic, and you can read some of his published articles on this issue here.
- Here is an interesting article from a musician with a lot of experience wearing hearing aids. Some parts are a bit technical but there is some good information.
- Here is a good place to continue your education, with helpful resources from an Audiologist and several comments from musicians with hearing loss.
If you are a musician and wear hearing aids, please post a comment below and let our readers know how you are doing with your hearing aids in music, and any tips you might suggest!
If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.