(Last updated Oct 8, 2019)

BTE vs RIC Hearing Aids

There are many styles of hearing aids to choose from when deciding on which type of hearing aid might be best for you. The most important things to consider when deciding the appropriate style for is your lifestyle, cosmetic preferences, hearing loss, and hearing aid features desired. For many people, the appropriate style ends up being a BTE (behind-the-ear), or a RIC (receiver-in-canal) style.

Both styles of devices are very popular today, and for a number of reasons. They are however, very different from each other and have their own advantages and disadvantages. Before deciding on one or the other, it’s a good idea to have a handle on why a particular style might be better or worse for you, and that is what this post will attempt to help you learn.

Prefer a video? 14 minute watch time: Hearing Aid Styles Explained

What is a RIC hearing aid?

Photo of a Ric hearing aid

RIC hearing aid

RIC is an acronym used describe a style of hearing aid. It stands for receiver-in-canal. This style of hearing aid is also sometimes referred to as RIE (receiver-in-ear), or RITE (receiver-in-the-ear). RIC hearing aids have a microphone and sound processor housed in a casing which sits behind the ear. This behind the ear portion of the hearing aid has a small wire running around the ear and into ear canal, which is known as the “receiver” and has a speaker on the end of it which sits in the ear canal. RIC hearing aids are the most popular hearing aids on the market, but a long shot- here’s why.

Biggest advantage to RIC hearing aids
RIC hearing aids (often sometimes called open-fit hearing aids), are by far the most comfortable style of hearing aid on the market. After a few minutes wearing them, many people completely forget they are in their ears.

Biggest disadvantage to RIC hearing aids
The receiver (speaker) which sits inside the ear, has to be changed about every year or two. Over time they get brittle or are affected by moisture and quit working entirely. At that point, your hearing provider has to swap out the piece, which only takes a few minutes, but it can be a hassle for some.

What is a BTE hearing aid?

Photo of a BTE hearing aid

BTE hearing aid

BTE stands for (behind-the-ear). While both RIC and BTE hearing aids are technically behind-the-ear, the BTE has more components behind the ear. Recall that RIC hearing aids have a speaker which sits in the ear canal. BTE hearing aids on the other hand, have the microphone, receiver (speaker), and sound processor all behind the ear, with just a thin tube running around the ear and into the ear canal.

Biggest advantage to BTE hearing aids
Because all the receiver is housed behind the ear and is not in the warm, oily environment of the ear canal, BTE hearing aids are more durable over the long term.

Biggest disadvantage to BTE hearing aids
Because the receiver (speaker) is built into the BTE and not simply an exchangeable extension of the hearing aid (like on a RIC), the amount of gain or volume a BTE can provide is fixed. If your hearing loss gets worse and you need a more powerful hearing aid in the future, you will probably have to buy a whole new hearing aid. With RICs, you would simply swap out the exchangeable receiver for a more powerful one and you’d be good to go. In addition, some BTEs do not amplify as wide a range of sounds as RICs do, which means RICs may have a more natural sound quality.

Should I buy a BTE or RIC hearing aid?

The vast majority of people would do better with a RIC hearing aid. They are more comfortable, more discreet, often smaller, and sometimes amplify a wider range of sounds than BTE hearing aids. For more than 90% of our customers, the RIC is the right choice.

However, if you have a profound hearing loss, work outdoors, get ear infections often, sweat a lot, or want the most durable hearing aid possible, the BTE is probably a better choice.

What are the best BTE and RIC hearing aids on the market?

What’s best for one person is not right for the next. All hearing aids vary in terms of features, accessories, power, etc, so you’ll need to sort through all the hearing aids on the market, and take the advice of a local hearing provider to answer that question.

But to get you started, we would highly recommend reading customer reviews of hearing aids.

If you’d like some help determining which hearing aid might be right for you, you might also want to check out our 3 part guide to buying hearing aids.

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and young daughter. You can learn more about hearing aids and watch Jeff on ZipHearing's Youtube channel.

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