A bit of history and an explanation of how analog devices work versus how digital devices work is essential to understand the distinctions between analog and digital hearing aids. Analog hearing aids came out first, and were the standard in the majority of hearing aids for a long time. Subsequently, with the arrival of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also started to emerge. The majority of (up to 90%) hearing aids purchased in the United States at this point are digital, although you can still get analog hearing aids because some people have a preference for them, and they’re typically cheaper.
Analog hearing aids handle inbound sounds by taking the electrical sound waves as they emerge from a microphone and amplifying them “as is” before sending them to the speakers in your ears. Digital hearing aids take the sound waves from the microphone and convert them to digital binary code. This digital information can then be altered in many sophisticated ways by the micro-chip within the hearing aid, prior to being converted back into regular analog signals and delivered to the speakers.
Analog and digital hearing aids carry out the same work – they take sounds and amplify them to enable you to hear better. Both analog and digital hearing aids can be programmable, meaning that they contain microchips which can be modified to alter sound quality to suit the individual user, and to create various configurations for different listening environments. The programmable hearing aids can, for instance, have one particular setting for listening in quiet rooms, another setting for listening in loud restaurants, and still another for listening in large stadiums.
Digital hearing aids, due to their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form, generally have more features and flexibility, and are often user-configurable. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, permitting them to save more location-specific profiles. Other features of digital hearing aids include the ability to automatically minimize background noise and remove feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of human voices over other sounds.
Cost-wise, most analog hearing aids are still less expensive than digital hearing aids, however, some reduced-feature digital hearing aids are now in the same general price range. Hearing aid wearers do notice a difference in the sound quality produced by analog vs digital hearing aids, although that is largely a matter of personal preference, not a matter of whether analog or digital is “better.”