What are Directional Microphones in Hearing Aids?

The hearing aids I wear have two microphones each, one on the top of the hearing aid, and one at the bottom. It’s very common for the RIC type (Receiver In the Ear) to have two microphones.

On the silver plate, you can see one mic at the top and one at the bottom.

Why two microphones, you may ask?

The rationale is that two microphones will help the hearing aid processor to compute where the sound comes from. If the hearing aids know where the sound comes from, it can use this information to do some cool things.

For example, if you’re talking to someone who’s facing you, the hearing aid will detect that the speech sounds you want to hear come from in front of you, and will reduce the background noise from behind you.

Does it mean that you’ll have superhuman hearing in bars and restaurant? No. Normal hearing does still a better job than hearing aids in discerning speech from noise. However, hearing aids with directional microphones are definitely better than hearing aids without directionality.

When considering your next set of hearing aids, it’s important that you take directionality into account, as some smaller types like CICs (Completely In the Canal) simply don’t have the space to physically fit two microphones.

Hearing aids with two microphones will adjust to the direction of sound automatically. However, most hearing aids will also let you control the directionality yourself, thanks to a remote control or a smartphone app. You’ll be able to choose which direction you want the hearing aid to focus on. On the remote control of my hearing aids, the functionality looks like this:

The screen in the remote control above shows that the hearing aids directionality is focused on the front. The cross-shaped button on the bottom right will let me change the directionality: I can choose front, right, left or back.

The front directionality is the one I use most often, when I’m speaking in 1-1 or in a small group in a noisy venue. This is useful if you want to ensure your hearing aid microphones are focused on the person in front of you, rather than a noisy coffee machine or crying baby behind you. I use the other directions less often, but there are some use cases where they prove valuable. Imagine you’re driving and need to keep your eyes on the road, whilst also focusing on what your passenger sitting on your right or in the back seat is saying.

Do you have any questions regarding directional microphones? Please let us have them in the comments!

Gianluca Trombetta Gianluca Trombetta Gianluca Trombetta is a hearing aid user and an expert in living well with hearing loss. He teaches hearing aid users how to maximize their communication abilities even in the most challenging situations at getsuperhumanhearing.com.

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