Technology

Do More Channels Always Make Better Hearing Aids?

Modern hearing aids have multiple channels designed to help audiologists and hearing aid dispensers adjust the hearing aid to your personal hearing loss so that you only receive volume where you need it. In this article, we look at multi-channel technology and answer the question “What is the ideal number of hearing aid channels a hearing aid should have?”

Figuring out the frequency

Before digging into the technology behind hearing aid channels, it is important to understand frequency or pitch. 

If you have ever played the piano before, you know that notes range from low to high. Low-frequency notes, which sound deeper, are played on the left side of the piano. A bass drum, a “rumble,” thunder, or a man's deep voice are all examples of low-frequency sounds. 

As you move your fingers towards the right side of the piano, the notes become higher, raising in frequency. A shrill whistle, squeak, squeal, or a child's voice are all examples of high-frequency sounds.

<p>Lower pitch sounds are easier for the human ear to hear; so typically, when someone experiences mild hearing loss, the higher frequency sounds are the first to go. That is, someone is most likely to lose their hearing ability at the higher end of the spectrum (3000 Hz or above) than the lower end of the spectrum (1000 Hz or below).</p>
<p>Evolutionary psychology may have something to do with this; as it was important for<a href="/en/articles/knowledge/ancient-audibility-how-did-the-cavemen-hear"> early homo sapiens to hear low-frequency sounds</a>, such as the growl of a lion as their ability to hear low-frequency sounds would have kept us alive.</p>
<h2>What is a hearing aid channel?</h2>
<p><span>When an audiologist or other hearing care professional is conducting a hearing exam, they will typically test the individual's hearing within the range of 250 Hz to 8000 Hz because this is the range of human speech. There are also extended high-frequency testing that goes up to 16,000 Hz, though this is typically only done for people that have been prescribed certain medications to monitor their hearing. It makes more sense to break it up into smaller ranges. Channels help divide the full frequency range into smaller, more manageable groups in order to program the hearing aids to your particular hearing. For example, in this sample audiogram shown below,&nbsp;frequency levels are broken up into 4 different channels.</span></p>

Lower pitch sounds are easier for the human ear to hear; so typically, when someone experiences mild hearing loss, the higher frequency sounds are the first to go. That is, someone is most likely to lose their hearing ability at the higher end of the spectrum (3000 Hz or above) than the lower end of the spectrum (1000 Hz or below).

Evolutionary psychology may have something to do with this; as it was important for early homo sapiens to hear low-frequency sounds, such as the growl of a lion as their ability to hear low-frequency sounds would have kept us alive.

What is a hearing aid channel?

When an audiologist or other hearing care professional is conducting a hearing exam, they will typically test the individual's hearing within the range of 250 Hz to 8000 Hz because this is the range of human speech. There are also extended high-frequency testing that goes up to 16,000 Hz, though this is typically only done for people that have been prescribed certain medications to monitor their hearing. It makes more sense to break it up into smaller ranges. Channels help divide the full frequency range into smaller, more manageable groups in order to program the hearing aids to your particular hearing. For example, in this sample audiogram shown below, frequency levels are broken up into 4 different channels.




  • Channel #1: 250 Hz to 750 Hz

  • Channel #2: 750 Hz to 1750 Hz

  • Channel #3: 1750 Hz to 4000 Hz

  • Channel #4: 4000 Hz to 8000 Hz 

frequency chart

Once a channel is selected, the sound volume can then be adjusted for each one individually. To illustrate, let’s say you heard low-pitched sounds in Channel 1 perfectly well; you had no hearing loss in Channel 1. But let’s say you had a severe hearing loss in Channel 3 and needed a higher sensitivity so as to be able to hear the soft voice of your spouse or grandkids. An audiologist could tune Channel 3 to be more responsive while leaving Channel 1 alone. Therein lies the benefit of more hearing channels. Multiple channels are beneficial because they allow for a more tailored customization.

Are more channels always better? Not so fast

Remember that multiple channels are good — but more channels don't automatically mean that multi-channel hearing aids are a better choice for every wearer. There is a limit at which multiple channels stop becoming effective.

It's important to know the pros and cons of multiple hearing aid channels. As the number of channels increases beyond that which is truly beneficial, there are some of the factors you'll want to be aware.  As the number of channels increases so too does the possibility for a slight loss in clarity or a delay in the processing of the sounds.

How many are too many?

Just as some people have a more refined palate, others have a more finely tuned ear. While one person may notice an immediate difference of upgrading to a hearing aid with more channels, another person may notice a more subtle change. How can you tell if you, or your loved one, will benefit from hearing aids with more channels? Typically, you can test drive your hearing aid with a trial period to determine if they are the right devices for your lifestyle.

Your hearing takes time to adjust and sync with your brain. It can feel like the volume has been turned up to 11 at first, but it will get better with time. Be sure to ask the person fitting your hearing aid how long their trial period lasts.

About the Author

About the Author

Annie L. Messmer, Au.D.

Dr. Annie Messmer is a certified audiologist with a degree from Northwestern University and over 10 years of experience working with patients of all ages. She has also trained numerous hearing care professionals on audiology best practices and the latest hearing technology.

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