A hearing aid can be the best way to offset hearing loss. Each year hearing aids become more sophisticated and offer additional features and functions not formerly available. 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. When used in a quiet setting (such as in the home), an omnidirectional microphone works quite well, but it is not as effective in noisy environments. In order to compensate for this, directional microphones focus closely on sounds emanating from the front. This allows you to hear what is being said in front of you while blocking out unimportant noise from the rest of the room.
Both omnidirectional and directional microphones have advantages, so many hearing aid manufacturers include both types in their products. How you use these microphones varies from device to device. In some cases users can manually switch back and forth between microphones, usually through a small switch. Other hearing aids can automatically determine which method is most effective and switch itself to the optimum microphone.
A third type of hearing aid microphone is the adaptive directional 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 be sure that their child’s directional microphone is only turned on in appropriate situations.
Despite its flaws, hearing aids equipped with a directional microphone can greatly increase a person’s ability to hear and interact with the world around him.