Chronologically, analog hearing
aids were here before the digital hearing aids. The last evolved with
technology in the last decades. Today you can find both analog and
digital hearing aids. Digital are more common, though.
1) Both types, analog and digital do the basic functionality
of hearing aid. They amplify the sounds and voices so you can hear it.
2) The concept is the same. Hence the basic components:
A microphone to absorb the sounds from the surrounding and transforms it to electric signal.
Amplifier that amplifies and manipulates the electric signal
Speaker to transforms the electric signal back to acoustics and to send it to the ear.
State of the art digital hearing aid
The main difference between analog and digital hearing aids is
the way it handles the electric signal. I’ll try to explain it in a
sentence or two just to demonstrate the difference.
On analog hearing aids, the electric signal from the microphone is amplified “as is” and it is then transformed back to acoustics using the speaker.
On a digital hearing aid, the electric signal from the microphone is transformed to bits and bytes of digital information. It becomes a digital binary code. This is the language all digital devices use nowadays.
Once the signal is “digitized”, you can use the most advanced
technology to manipulate it. The signal is processed inside a unique
chip the hearing aid got. It can perform millions of manipulations in
1000th of a second...). Afterwards, the signal is transformed back to a
regular electric signal and then the speaker change it back to acoustic
The ability to manipulate the sounds enables the hearing aid
to make more precise adaptations to your specific hearing abilities and
to the ever changing situations you might encounter.
For instance, digital hearing aid can automatically recognize what part of the sounds around you is just noise and what part is human voice. It can therefore amplify the human voice and compress the noise. I use this example for a reason. This is one of the most common complaints (if not the most common), the difficulty to distinguish human voice from background noise.
Another significant advantage of the digital hearing aid is that you can configure it fairly easily.
On analog hearing aids, you, as a user, can hardly control the volume. The Audiologist might have some additional controls, but it is usually very limited. On many cases, you have to send it to the manufacturer for configurations or adjustments.
On the digital, on the other hand, you can control many parameters on tour own and the audiologist can connect the device to his computer and configure almost any relevant parameter. It is done on the spot, right there on the clinic.
First and foremost - the price. Analog hearing aids usually
cost much less.
Second, some patients are just used to it. If you are used to analog amplification, making the transition to digital might be annoying. It sounds totally different, and some claim that the analog is more “natural” This makes sense if you take into account that the analog hearing aid doesn’t play around with the sounds too much. BUT - don't forget, like I stressed before, that digital devices can do many many things that the analog can’t.
Did you know?
Analog programmable hearing aid is an analog device that the hearing aids specialist can adjust with digital tools. Don’t get it wrong: it is an analog hearing aid and it hasn’t got all the goodies of a digital hearing aid.
Even if you got the most sophisticated hearing aid, it has to be handled by a skillful hearing aids specialist. Otherwise, you are waisting your time (and money) and it can get you really frustrated. On most cases, the combination of a slightly lower rate device in the hands of a well trained expert will earn you better results than the other way around (best device and so-so audiologist).