Bluetooth Hearing Aids

Wirelessness with hearing aids isn’t new. As long as hearing aids have been around, it has been clear that reducing the “links” in the “chain” between the sound source and the hearing aids’ speakers is desirable. By reducing the stages of transduction that sound has to go through, your hearing aids can present clearer, cleaner, more decipherable audio to your ears.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth fills the wide gap left by T-coil technology in reducing the stages of transduction for hearing aid wearers. Bluetooth is a short-range, non-proprietary, digital wireless protocol. You’ll find Bluetooth capability in most of the devices you encounter regularly, including smartphones, tablets, computers, media players, and even the audio system in your car.

Bluetooth has existed since the late 1990s, but it has not been practical to use inside hearing aids until recently when the “low power” Bluetooth protocol was developed. For years, intermediary devices had to be used. You could connect the intermediary device to a Bluetooth-capable device, and the intermediary device would employ the T-coils in your hearing aids to provide the sound. This extra device was necessary because the batteries in hearing aids were drained too quickly by the additional power required by the old Bluetooth protocol.

Nowadays, you can get a set of hearing aids with Bluetooth built-in! It’s even possible to get hearing aids with rechargeable batteries that will last a full day even when Bluetooth is enabled all day long! This virtually eliminates the need for intermediate devices and allows your hearing aids to be constantly connected to your smartphone.

Why Get Bluetooth Hearing Aids?

Bluetooth radically expands your hearing aids’ capabilities. You can connect wirelessly to your television or stereo system if those devices are also Bluetooth-enabled. You can wirelessly connect to smartphones, computers, and tablets—to stream phone calls, media, or audio from video calls. This will drastically improve the audio quality in most cases, compared to using the speakers that are built-in to these devices.

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Bluetooth also allows your two hearing aids to talk to each other. This helps artificial intelligence algorithms in your hearing aids to work together to improve sound localization and even automatically change programs as you move through different environments.

Many hearing aids are coming on the market with the ability to connect to two devices simultaneously. This is a game-changer because most of us want to keep our hearing aids connected to our smartphones at all times. Especially for ITC (in-the-canal) and other hearing aids that are exclusively controlled via smartphone apps, it’s wonderful to stay connected to your phone while also streaming audio from, for example, your television.

Smartphone Apps

Smartphone apps are one of the biggest attractions for getting Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids. While your Bluetooth hearing aids are connected to your phone, you can do a bit more than simply stream audio, control the volume, and change programs.

Some apps employ GPS technology to allow you to save programs based on location. For example, if you have a favorite coffee shop to meet at, you can adjust your program once to best suit that environment, and then every time you walk through the door in the future, your hearing aids will automatically return to that program!

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It is also more and more common for hearing aids’ smartphone apps to allow telehealth conferences with your audiologist. You can schedule an appointment, meet in a video conference within the app, and even have your fitment adjusted through the app, while you are on the video call. It’s as quick and easy as meeting in person, but you can do it from anywhere in the world!

Another great thing about smartphone apps is that they can be updated even if your hearing aids are older. You might buy a set of hearing aids now, and in two years a new version of the app might actually increase their capability!

Austin Hearing Services offers numerous hearing aid models with Bluetooth capability. If you’re interested in Bluetooth hearing aids, call today and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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What Is Transduction?

Transduction is the process of converting one type of energy to another. This is always accomplished with a device of some kind. Examples of transducers in the sound world include:

Your hearing aids contain both microphones and speakers: microphones to collect environmental sound, and speakers to reproduce the processed, amplified audio to your ears.

While the transducers used in hearing aids are typically of a very high quality, the process of transduction itself is, by definition, never perfect. The best outcomes are achieved by minimizing the stages of transduction that audio must pass through to reach our ears.

parts of a hearing aid
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For example, if you are attending a lecture with your hearing aids in, the lecturer will likely be speaking into a microphone (a transducer). A PA system will then amplify the sound and present the louder version of the lecturer’s voice through speakers. The microphones in your hearing aids will then pick up the sound from those speakers, and the speakers in your hearing aids will present it to your ears. That’s a total of four stages of transduction.

What if the sound from the lecturer’s microphone could stay in the electrical realm until it reaches the speakers in your hearing aids? That would mean a clearer, closer, more defined and decipherable version of the audio from the lecturer’s microphone!

In fact, this technology has existed for some time in the form of T-coils, or telecoils. Originally developed to provide clearer audio from telephones, T-coils are still in use all over the world today and remain a popular option in hearing aids.

But T-coils require a “loop” system to work, and loop systems require some effort to install. This makes them a less-than-efficient way to reduce the stages of transduction for hearing aid users in a lot of situations.