Recent research has been conducted on optimizing hearing aids for music listening. Though hearing aids have continued to advance technologically from year to year in improving how hearing aid wearers hear speech sounds, music processing provides a special challenge.
Music is much different than human speech in that it has tonal qualities and includes a greater dynamic range than human voices. Additionally, though it's important for hearing aids to be adapted to accommodate higher frequencies to maximize speech perception, for listening to music, the lower frequencies are the most important. Hearing aids optimized for music should be able to adapt to large dynamic range inputs without distortion and a wide frequency range.
Thankfully, there are a few different ways to remedy this so music-lovers with hearing loss can hear more clearly, including purchasing hearing aids that are best for music, having hearing aids adjusted by an hearing care professional and using accessories that work in conjunction with hearing aids to maximize music listening.
There is much debate about which are the best hearing aid brands and models for listening to music. In general, any hearing aid with multiple programs can be configured with a music setting. Many hearing aid manufacturers also offer their own devices or technology that is meant to function with hearing aids. One such example is Oticon's ConnectLine™ - a completely integrated technology that, through the use of the Oticon Streamer, allows people with Oticon hearing aids to watch TV, talk on the phone and listen to music more clearly with just the push of a button. This device, like others on the market, allows you to listen to the radio or your mp3 player through a wired connection or Bluetooth, which turns your hearing aids into earphones. There are just a few quick steps to attach the Streamer to your music devices. Talk to your hearing care professional to see what accessories or programs are compatible with your hearing aid.
Adjustments for music listening
Almost any hearing aid can be configured with a music setting. Below are some of the adjustments your practitioner might make to your hearing aids in order to enhance your music listening experience. Note--you'll want to return to your normal listening program when you're done listening to music because these changes will not enhance speech understanding.
Feedback reduction system
Oftentimes, music includes flute and piano notes, or other high-frequency sounds, that the hearing aid may confuse with feedback because of the tonal nature. When feedback systems try to cancel these sounds, it results in a sound artifact or distortion. For this reason, a music program may have the feedback reduction system disabled, which could cause greater likelihood of feedback when this program is used in other listening situations.
Noise reduction system
Hearing aids are often programmed to reduce background noise to enable better speech understanding. Music, in contrast, has sustained chords that might be mistaken for background noise and reduced by a noise canceling system. Therefore, a music program may have the noise reduction feature disabled in order to avoid any reduction in amplitude that would affect music listening enjoyment.
Low frequency range
Music often occurs at lower frequencies than those which we use to understand speech. Your music program may be set to amplify an extended range of low frequencies.
For speech understanding, your hearing aid microphones are often set to directional mode in order to block out background noise and conversations. For music listening, your practitioner will likely set your hearing aid microphones to omni-directional mode. This will pick up music in a surround-sound fashion that will offer the richest listening experience.
It's important to understand that hearing aids are generally optimized for speech understanding. However, that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy music with your hearing aids as well. With today's sophisticated, programmable hearing aids, your hearing care practitioner can customize a program that specifically enhances your music listening experience. It is important to discuss your love of music with your practitioner at the time of purchase, initial programming and on an ongoing basis as you receive follow-up care.