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Index » Internet/Computer » Streaming/Media » "Hearing Aids are only made for speech, not music"
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Steely_D Avatar

Location: Biscayne Bay
Gender: Male

Posted: Dec 14, 2020 - 10:17pm

Just finished reading this. It skips around a bit but does a good job of talking about the history and technology of hearing aids.

Volume Control


The surprising science of hearing and the remarkable technologies that can help us hear better

Our sense of hearing makes it easy to connect with the world and the people around us. The human system for processing sound is a biological marvel, an intricate assembly of delicate membranes, bones, receptor cells, and neurons. Yet many people take their ears for granted, abusing them with loud restaurants, rock concerts, and Q-tips. And then, eventually, most of us start to go deaf.

Millions of Americans suffer from hearing loss. Faced with the cost and stigma of hearing aids, the natural human tendency is to do nothing and hope for the best, usually while pretending that nothing is wrong. In Volume Control, David Owen argues this inaction comes with a huge social cost. He demystifies the science of hearing while encouraging readers to get the treatment they need for hearing loss and protect the hearing they still have.

Hearing aids are rapidly improving and becoming more versatile. Inexpensive high-tech substitutes are increasingly available, making it possible for more of us to boost our weakening ears without bankrupting ourselves. Relatively soon, physicians may be able to reverse losses that have always been considered irreversible. Even the insistent buzz of tinnitus may soon yield to relatively simple treatments and techniques. With wit and clarity, Owen explores the incredible possibilities of technologically assisted hearing. And he proves that ears, whether they’re working or not, are endlessly interesting.

BillG Avatar

Location: Left Coast
Gender: Male

Posted: Dec 14, 2020 - 1:59pm

Thanks for the very informative post!  Fortunately, I don't need hearing aids, but I've read in the past about what a terrible job they do with music. Glad to hear that's starting to shift. Seems like a field where advances in miniaturization and low power electronics should really pay off in the coming decade or so. 

freemusic Avatar

Posted: Dec 13, 2020 - 1:01pm

I'm happy to report that this is patently false... at least with Bluetooth... but with some caveats.   In the next five years, I predict that great HA's and consumer Ear Buds will converge, and everyone will be wearing them.   Let's face it, unless you have the perfect setup, save the bandwidth and don't bother using RP's FLAC.  OTOH, you CAN get perfect sound, if you know how.   Also, unlike Ear Buds, my rechargeable HA's last all day and not just a few hours.

First, most Audiologists that "fit HA's" are trained by their vendors.  They've been told, and even all the technical specs say that the very best HA's only go down to 100 Hz, and cut off all bass response below this.  This is also likely true, perhaps by the way they are programmed to amplify ambient sound.  Why would they do that?  Great bass likely makes it harder to hear ambient speech.  

GET HA's to give you the best BASS RESPONSE, BELOW 10 Hz!

But, today's modern HA hardware, I'm happy to report, covers the whole range, better than anything I've ever heard from the highest end equipment.  How low?  I've heard the frequency go down to almost being able to count the Hz's, below 10 Hz!!   (Check out the fantastic free lab tools for your phones at keuwl.com and especially their frequency generator I used.  Their magnetic detector allows you to measure how much energy is radiated from an MRI machine, a hundred feet away!  BillG, they also have other very sophisticated audio tools about harmonics and analysis I've never seen, or understand much about how to use.  Oh, and you can also build your own universal remote control, (if you have the right kind of phone with IR transmitter included))

If listening with Bluetooth, your frequency response will now be perfectly matched to your ears.  Also, ALL the bass is transmitted, all the way down to where you only feel, but can't hear the bass.  OK, so why does not this seem true, by anyone's apparent experience, if anyone's ever had, or tried HA's out?  Simply because, unless you close off the outside sound, you won't ever be able to hear the bass properly.  Open air earphones need tremendous amount of power, to drive speakers that will give you great bass.  That power, pretty much prevents any decent bass from an open air wireless headset.   My HA are designed with BT, and rechargeable LiIon batteries, as small as a #2 pencil lead.  So, how do I get that great sound with tiny batteries?  Read on....

GET custom Ear Molds made for your ears!
Every rock musician out there today won't perform without them.   Before  they were common, rockers would often eventually be partially deaf, (as members of the Who found out).  HA's also using ear molds, but aren't as common or cheap.  (COSTCO sells and makes the molds for $50).
HA are generally designed with an "open speaker" in your ear, (that the pro's call "receivers").  They also optionally make custom ear molds to your specific ear, so they fit perfectly, and are virtually noticeably and invisibly comfortable.  When I got mine in January 2020, I was trying to adapt using these for BT with RP.  OK, your ears can adapt to lack of bass.  But, it really made me very angry that they were, according to EVERY SINGLE bit of technical and consumer info out there, to ONLY go down to 100 Hz.  So, I'd generally use my $200 Klipsch in-ear earphones.  The problem now, was "tuning my Klipsch" to match the great quality I was now getting with my HA's, (but only over > 100 Hz).  You'd think it would be easy... it is not!  The tools that audiologists have to tune, or "fit" your HA's to you are extremely sophisticated, and even include a tiny microphone in your ear, so they can literally hear what your eardrums are getting, 0.1" away.


Now that you have a theoretical "perfectly tuned" system that still sounds deficient, it's time to make it sound perfect.  Your ear molds were made for ambient sound, and are tuned to work only for ambient sound, and not bluetooth.  They have open ports that don't look very large, but they supply most of your ambient sound.  The HA companies all make "occlusion" plugs that can be added to block all or most of that open port.  (All the plugs are silicon, and all have a much smaller (1% ?) hole, presumably so the molds won't "air lock" to your inner ear when you pull them out fast.   IMO, ignore the hole, you won't lose enough bass to notice. )   They make two kinds:  One is shaped like a Crinkles can, with perfect cylinders that are virtually impossible to insert by hand.  Luckily, I also got some tapered ones with multiple diameters, that were long enough to easily insert.  Get in there tightly enough to close off all of the "D" shaped hole's corners.   MAKE SURE that you now CUT OFF most of whatever is sticking out into your ear, so you don't puncture your eardrums.

Using your HA's...

You can test out the frequency response to see just how good the sound is, at any and all frequencies, using the Keuwlsoft frequency generator if you want.  Play around with FLAC settings on RP, and you will see a noticeable difference, (and total lack of recording quality on most music from before the 70's).   I was listening to RP and some concerts on my ROKU last night, that were steaming first to my phone, and then to my HA via BT.  Switching between my PC's BT sound with RP and the ROKU, it was obviously deficient to listen to RP on the ROKU.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the RP app sounded absolutely perfect, and the same as my PC, when I changed the default setting from 320k  to FLAC, in the RP app.

Workarounds Required...

You will quickly notice that you now no longer are bothered by anyone else around you, trying to tell you what to do or think.  You will also notice they aren't very happy about that, either!  The trick is to easily just pull the ear molds partially out of your ear.  Yeah, you lose the bass, but now your HA are adjusted to work the way they were designed.  This is also now in the "socially acceptable" mode, so you can't (unknowingly) ignore those around you, although you can still claim plausible deniability for anything that was said.  "Huh?  Did you say something?"   The other option that should, or will be included eventually for consumer ear buds, is to "turn the HA's down", which also turns the volume up for ambient sound.  So now your music is more in the background and I've found I can converse, almost like normal.  Personally, I pull the ear molds partially out whenever not using BT, or just talking with folks.   I'd prefer a well designed manual open/close valve on the molds, but this will do.

If you'd like to read more about audiology, read up on Mead Killion and Etymotic Research.  He's my former father in law and a friend of mine that has done more to revolutionize hearing and protecting hearing for musicians than anyone in the world.  He's also an ardent activist to get the HA industry to produce affordable HA's, and without the need for a prescription.  At Etymotic, (which he finally sold a few years ago), he had great non-prescription HA's for < $300.  (My Phonak Audeo M90-R's sell for > $5,000).  Etymotic is (or has been) the supplier of most of the musician's earpieces, that were first introduced by Mead.  

Side Note:  I've been hard-wiring my own headsets, since "6 transistor radios" were still $20 in the early 1960's, but had the same earphone jack we use today.  I'd rewire two earphones with great closed ear type earplugs in parallel so I could sleep and work with great sound, even if not stereo.  Later in the 60's and 70's, I won  a $45 pair of David/Clark mickey mouse headset.  I'd install a headphone jack in every car I had, from the late 1960's on.  Between 70's rock, and the F-4's I worked on, my hearing suffered some.  But, great sound should be as great and ubiquitous as BillG envisions.  Thank you for RP.