What are Hearing Aid Channels?
If you’re researching hearing aids for the first time, you’ve probably come across a bunch of terms that describe hearing aids which you aren’t familiar with. While many of these terms are proprietary to each individual manufacturer and named very differently, one of the terms that all manufacturers use to describe their hearing aids is “channels.” Understanding channels in hearing aids can be a bit complicated, but I’m going to break it down in the simplest way possible. If you’ve had your hearing tested, you probably remember being asked to notify the practitioner when you heard certain beeping tones. Those results were then charted on an audiogram, and voila– those are your hearing scores. You may recall that some of those tones were very low pitches, some mid-pitched, and some were very high pitched. Those different tones are actually known as “frequencies”, and if you’re like most people, you probably have a different amount of hearing loss at each frequency.
So how do these tones and your ability to hear them relate to your ability to understand people speaking? Well, speech is also made up of various frequencies, from 500hz to 5,000hz. So if you have a hard time hearing the low tones, you have a low frequency loss, and you are therefore going to have a hard time hearing the low tones of speech noise as well. The idea follows that the pure tone testing (beeping sounds), gives an indicator of how hard it is for you to understand speech at certain frequencies. So the purpose of the hearing aid then, is to understand what your hearing loss is like at each frequency, and then apply an appropriate amount of volume for you so things sound more clear.
So how is this actually done? In the simplest of terms, when sound enters the hearing aid, it is separated into various frequency “channels” before it is output in to your ear. So lets say speech sound enters the aid, and the range of that sound is between 700hz and 2,000hz. The hearing aid then needs to apply an appropriate amount of gain to those various frequencies as it outputs sound in your ear, and using “channels” in the hearing aid is how that is done. If for example, you have a simple 1 channel hearing aid, then all that speech noise between 700hz and 2,000hz is output into your ear and is given the same amount of volume at each frequency. The problem with that is you probably have a different amount of hearing loss at each frequency, so why apply the same amount of gain to each frequency? In this case, the sound will not be natural at all. If however, you had say a 4 or 5 channel hearing aid, that speech noise between 700hz and 2,000hz would be analyzed by the hearing aid, and then gain would be applied to various frequencies independent of one another. For example, if you hear the frequencies between 500hz & 1,000hz just fine, but can’t hear frequencies over 1,000hz, the hearing aid would not amplify those lower sounds for you, but it would add gain to those higher frequencies above 1,000hz. You may now be starting to see why it is widely believed that channels in a hearing aid are one of the most important features in a hearing aid, and why having more channels generally means a more refined sound quality.
So how many channels do you actually need? Studies have been indicated that 6 channels is the magic number. Based on the study above, beyond 6 channels, users notice no improvement at all. However, 6 channel hearing aids are usually mid-level hearing aids, so they won’t have the best technology available for things like background noise reduction. If you want state of the art features, you’ll need to purchase a higher end hearing aid.
Channels can be a bit complicated because most manufacturers utilize channels slightly differently from one another in the way they process sound. Because of this, the number of channels can sometimes be a very subjective figure that is hard to make comparisons with. The important takeaway is to have an idea of what channels do, and the generally accepted minimum number of channels you should look for in a hearing aid.
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