Hearing aids are a valuable method for dealing with hearing loss and are constantly getting better. Each year they become more advanced and offer new features and functions that were not previously 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. While this method works well in a quiet setting such as a living room, it is not conducive to noisier environments (such as a restaurant). Directional microphones make up for this by focusing on sounds that come from in front of the wearer. 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. This device offers variation in the direction of amplification, automatically picking up on speech signals and focusing in on the direction they are coming from. 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.
Directional microphones are included in hearing aids for all ages, but caution must be applied when this feature is used by kids. Children 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.