A Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid With a Built-In MP3 Input

A new generation of hearing aids will be able to block out background noise and let users directly jack into music:

On Friday Mr Hughes had tiny titanium screws drilled into bone behind each ear during a 90-minute operation under general anaesthetic. Once the wounds heal and the screws have fused with bone, abutments will be screwed into the implants, and the processors, about the size of a postage stamp, are clicked into place.

Older-style hearing aids amplify all sounds, making it almost impossible for wearers to hear conversations in noisy environments. They also interfere with frequencies used by mobile and fixed phones and often emit high-pitched whistling sounds. But the newer processors, costing about $6000 each, shut out background noise, giving users up to 25 per cent better hearing, and can be attached directly to MP3 music players or wireless headsets for talking on the phone, Cochlear's territory manager, Katrina Martin, said.

Link via Popular Science

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Bone conduction hearing is certainly not new. Earphones for army tank intercoms and radios had them in WW2. And I know that during an audiological exam a few years ago, when they put on the bone conduction earphones I could hear perfectly. I also find that there do not seem to be any inexpensive bone conduction earphones on the market. There is one for about $110, and that was all that I could find. And the $6000 each for top end earphones? That is what the market will bear, since some who have lost hearing are really desperate and will pay whatever the price is for anything claimed to work. To bad about the price gouging, isn't it?
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August 10th, 2009 at 5:31 pm

My pop switched to digital from analog and complains that everything sounds tinny and hollow. Sure hes got bluetooth, but hed rather have rich tone."

Have him go back to the audiologist and have them readjust the profiles in the digital hearing aides. Most come with at least 2 or 3. Mine came with 4. I had the same initial complaints, but most of my issues actually revolved around the "features" of the digital hearing aides that made it very difficult for me to use it in general. Namely, sound limiting, compression, limited volume range, distortion due to clipping and EQing. I had my audiologist disable everything... turning the hearing aide into a dumb amplifier... and then adjusting the EQ so that the extreme high end had a cut and the lower end had a slight boost. Sounds almost exactly the same as my old analogue hearing aide did. The differences is that the digital will simply cut out if volume is too loud (clipping) but at least now sounds don't continue to become distorted at higher volumes (giving me the option to reduce the volume myself). I also had the audiologist increase the volume dial range from 12db to 36db. While I cannot have near complete silence by turning the dial completely down (and letting my natural hearing take over while using the earmold as safety earplug)... it's down low enough where it's not a problem anyway.

It WILL take about 2 or 3 visits to get things fixed right. Best advice I can give you and your pop is to have him write down what issues he has with what circumstances. Example: Someone slams a door, it sounds like a delayed noise where the actual slam sounds lower than the echo that follows it. This is a classic example of sound limiting. It reduced the volume of the peak noise (door slam) leaving you only hearing the echo of the noise in the room.

My specific issue with the tinniness and hollow sounding digital sound was due to frequency stepped variable compression. If he prefers the older analogue sound, have the audiologist disable the digital 'features' and it may help. Compression is useful, but in hearing aide capacity, it makes the sound inconsistent... instead of helping you to reduce loud background noises, it changes how foreground noises sound in different circumstances. In the end, it's personal preference. I prefer the "dumb amplifier" method of using my hearing aide rather than having a digital one with features changing things to "help" me. (When really it makes things in other circumstances harder to understand.)

All that said, I have a major problem with the article. It sounds more like a press release where the author wrote down everything told to him/her as fact. Example:

"They also interfere with frequencies used by mobile and fixed phones and often emit high-pitched whistling sounds. But the newer processors, costing about $6000 each, shut out background noise, giving users up to 25 per cent better hearing, and can be attached directly to MP3 music players or wireless headsets for talking on the phone, Cochlears territory manager, Katrina Martin, said."

That high pitched whistling sound is not interference. It is proximity feedback due to most hearing aides being attached to an ear mold with an air vent. You close the area between the microphone (on top of the aide) with the speaker (in the ear), you increase likeliness of feedback. (Just like in ANY case where you're at a concert and a mic gets too close to any speaker.) Feedback reduction on digital hearing aides helps this problem... but this issue is NOT due to interference.

"Newer processors" giving you the same features digital hearing aides have had for years. Even my el-cheapo digital (About $950 new, which is really about as cheap as they get while still being qualifiable hearing aides) has these features. It also allows for direct input via a "shoe" that attaches to the bottom of the unit. The process of attaching it exposes terminals that can be used for inputs. Hearing aides also have what's called teleconductor pickups. Now THIS actually does involve interference.

TCoil, as it's often called, allows the hearing aide to pick up whatever emits radio frequencies. That includes speakers in the earpiece of a telephone. When a hearing aide is switched to TCoil mode, it will only pick up RF. When it was analogue or now digital, I did not get high pitched squealing by using a phone to my ear. This has been a standard feature of hearing aides for DECADES. (Even going back to the 70's when I was first fitted for them) So yes, it also does have drawbacks... my aide will also pick up 60 cycle hum prevalent in power wires. It's not terribly loud or distracting unless, maybe... you go near a power substation or walk in a city and walk across big batches of powerwires underground. (Kind of like a sixth sense. ;)

What actual interference hearing aides WILL pick up from cellphones is mostly due to GSM modulation. Ever leave a cellphone near a computer speaker and heard the dut-dut-dut, dut-dut-dut-BLURRRRGHHHHHHHH noise before a phone call came in? That's interference. Unfortunately, GSM allows for much more than hearing aides can tolerate... and it has only been until the last 2 years before models have been built with hearing aide compatibility. (Usually involving better shielding on the ear side of the phone) CDMA in the US (Sprint and Verizon, for example) does not have this issue.

Another form of listening that many people with hearing aides will do... is to use tcoil mode to listen to CD players or MP3 players. It's as simple as putting an earbud (or headphone) next to the middle, upper part of the hearing aide itself and switching it to TCoil mode. Because an earbud or headphone has a coil of wires behind the diaphragm... it emits RF as well as audible sounds (due to the diaphragm moving). Using TCoil mode to pick up an earbud wedged behind my aide allows me to listen to only the sounds coming from that earbud... So this feature being touted by the article is anything but new.
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Ant Dude, do think about going digital! I was upgraded to a digital hearing aid a few years ago & the clarity is so much better than analogue. It also has a damping filter that shuts out noise & will focus the voice of the person directly in front of you.
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I also wearing an analog bone conduction hearing aid. I just don't like the idea of having surgeries and having implants. I will stick with old tech. :P
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Adelheid, his aids probably just need to be readjusted. It sometimes takes some tweaking to get the sound right (and it should be part of the initial cost). And as she pointed out, many non-surgical hearing aids have bluetooth or other ways to hook up to phones, etc.

And as Brianana pointed out, the aid in the article is a bone-conduction aid, only used for people who have chronic or congenital problems with the middle ear. The vast majority of people with hearing loss have trouble with the *inner* ear, and the bone-anchored aid won't work for them at all. The original article says this, but the synopsis here gives an inaccurate impression.
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