The primary goal of hearing aids has always been to optimize speech intelligibility in a variety of situations. As a result, hearing aids have always been designed to process speech sounds, while the processing of other sounds, including music, is secondary. In more recent years, even when a dedicated music program is offered as a hearing aid setting, it often entailed less compression and an inexact outcome.
A better performance with music
With the rapid advancement of hearing aid technology, modern hearing aids have reached an acceptably high level of performance for delivering speech understanding. Now that speech recognition as taken leaps and bounds in hearing technology we are seeing a trend where the performance of hearing instruments in non-speech related scenarios, such as music, has become prioritized.
Optimizing hearing aids for speech vs. music
Before discussing the ways hearing aids can be optimized for the enjoyment of music, it is important to understand the difference between speech and music signals. Compared to speech, music covers a much wider dynamic and frequency range. To capture the full range of music, hearing aids need to be able to collect, process, and put out a wider intensity and frequency range with fidelity than is necessary for speech.
Designing hearing aids for music
Wearer requirements for listening to music are very different from speech. As such, maximizing hearing aid sound processing for the better enjoyment of music is also different from the goal of maximizing speech comprehension. When working with speech, compression serves to make soft speech audible and louder speech less abrasive. However, in music, less compression is desirable to maintain the spectral contrast. When speech is the focus, all other sounds should be suppressed to provide as clean a signal as possible for the wearer.
Environment and the music experience
Beyond optimizing hearing aid processing for music, the listening situation where music enjoyment takes place must also be considered. Most hearing aids offer specialized programs for different speech situations, such as when outdoors or when in a noisy room. These programs trigger specific hearing aid settings to meet wearer listening requirements in these situations. By the same token, it is simplistic to assume that a single music program can provide the best listening experience for music at all times. By differentiating the environments in which music listening is taking place, we can fine-tune hearing aid settings even more specifically to maximize the wearer listening experience. Hearing aid manufacturers are now developing solutions for musical enjoyment in three distinct listening environments:
- Listening to recorded music.
- Listening to a live musical performance.
- Playing a musical instrument.
Hearing Aids for Musicians
These three music programs share similarities, such as disabled digital noise reduction settings and situation-specific frequency shaping and compression optimized for music, but they also have notable differences.
The recorded music program engages a microphone mode designed to simulate the directional properties of the outer ear. This helps create a more natural, surround sound effect.
The live music program activates directional microphones to pick up the performance at the front rather than the crowd from behind since the wearer would be in the audience facing the stage,
The third program option is designed for musicians. This program focuses on preserving the natural dynamics of the music so performing musicians can better gauge the loudness of their own instrument or voice in relation to other musicians performing with them. Since the musician could be positioned anywhere on stage the microphone is designed to hear from all directions.
Because the frequency and intensity range of music is significantly greater than that of speech, and because listener requirements for music are different from speech, hearing aids are now being redesigned to offer a more rewarding music listening experience. Hearing loss is common among musicians, but now with new advancements, hearing aids can help you hear better on the stage and off.
Visit Us at La Cañada Hearing Aids & Audiology
Are you a music lover or performer who has noticed that sounds just aren’t as clear as they once were? It is important to monitor your hearing abilities with an annual hearing test. At La Cañada Hearing Aids & Audiology, we provide comprehensive audiology services, from hearing tests to hearing aid fittings to tinnitus solutions and more. Contact us to learn more about hearing aids that can help restore your access to the rich sounds of music.