A hearing aid can be the best way to offset hearing loss. As hearing aid technology advances, new capabilities help facilitate better hearing. One such innovation is the directional microphone. Many of today’s hearing aids incorporate this device, allowing the wearer to enjoy a more natural hearing experience.
Older hearing aids relied on omnidirectional microphones to amplify sound. This type of microphone picks up on sounds from all directions equally. While this method works well in a quiet setting such as a living room, it is not conducive to noisier environments (such as a restaurant). In order to compensate for this, directional microphones focus closely on sounds emanating from the front. Users can focus more clearly on what the people in front of them are saying, rather than being distracted by background noise.
Because both types of microphones have their own advantages, many hearing aid designers will incorporate both into their devices. Directional microphone usage varies from hearing aid to hearing aid. Some devices utilize a small switch that allows the user to manually flip between microphones. Other devices can pick up on which microphone is most useful in a given situation and will automatically switch back and forth.
Adaptive directional microphones are a third type of microphone. Instead of focusing in the front or all around, this type of microphone can pick up on the direction that speech signals are coming from and focus its amplification accordingly. If the wearer is in an environment where many people are speaking, adaptive microphones can be troublesome, but they are usually accompanied by a switch that allows the user to access a “forward only” listening mode.
Hearing aids designed for kids sometimes utilize directional microphones, but caution is needed when using these devices. Kids learn language by hearing the people around them speaking, but a directional microphone can limit a child’s exposure to this incidental speech. It may also reduce a child’s ability to hear traffic while playing. Parents should make sure that their child’s hearing aid has an on/off switch for the directional microphone and make sure it is only turned on when appropriate.
The advantages of the directional microphone outweigh its flaws, allowing it to dramatically increase its wearer’s ability to hear.