Background noise is the most common complaint of anyone with hearing loss and anyone who wears hearing aids. Every time a new hearing aid is released it is often coupled with claims of improved speech understanding in background noise. Knowing which aid performs the best in background noise can you decide which hearing is the best for you.
There are 5 major hearing aid manufacturers and they each deal with background noise in different ways. Each has its own different competing philosophy of how best to solve the issue of background noise. All have valid arguments on why theirs is the best. However, after my decade-plus in the field of audiology, I am going to share with you my top picks and I’ll explain why below. Ranked from 1-6 these are my preferred manufacturers. (Please note that the higher the technology grade of the hearing aid the better the noise reduction will be no matter which manufacturer you choose.)
- GN Resound
There is a lot to understand about how each hearing aid functions and treats background noise, it can feel complicated and overwhelming. The intent of this article is to give a basic rundown to help you make an educated choice.
Understanding directional microphones
The base technology of background noise removal in hearing aids is from two methods. First and foremost is directional microphones. Essentially, you have two microphones and can determine the direction a sound is coming from and amplify or not amply a certain direction. This technology has existed for decades but keeps improving as computer chips have gotten faster and millions of dollars have been invested into algorithms to make it better and better.
Why Phonak Is The Best Hearing Aid for Background Noise
If you have read my other articles, it’s pretty obvious that I am a fan of Phonak products. I don’t get any kickbacks or compensation for saying this. They are just simply my favorite brand to work with and they have been for the last decade. I believe their method of noise reduction helps people the most. It is called beamforming directional microphones. Basically, this is how it works: Each hearing aid uses forward-facing directional microphones and then shares that information with the other hearing aid. Working in harmony, both the left and right hearing aid work together to decide what direction sound is coming from and reduces amplification to any sound not coming from that direction. It is the best technology to help a person hear what is in front of them and not hear what is on the sides or behind them.
This technology works best in close-range scenarios meaning that what you want to hear is close to you, such as right across the table in a restaurant. However it’s also important to realize that sound bounces off of walls in a restaurant, so noise comes from all directions, making it so you still hear some background noise.
If you are interested in the engineering behind the technology I encourage you to read the most recent ‘white paper’ from Phonak.
If you are interested in finding an audiologist to fit Phonak hearing aid or check up-to-date prices on Phonak hearing aid aids please visit our friends at ZipHearing.
Oticon Points Out Limitations of Directional Microphones.
Phonak Methods were the accepted norm for background noise reduction until Oticon challenged that thinking by releasing a product called Oticon Opn 2016. They argued (and still do) that the brain works best when we give it information/sound from all directions and do not artificially remove background noise from certain directions.
I remember a virtual reality experience that Oticon did at a dinner party where you only heard the person you were looking at. I will grant that it was unnatural and made it hard to follow a conversation around the table. However, I have normal hearing and can tolerate background noise. A person with hearing loss can’t function well in background noise. I left the virtual reality experience open-minded about this new technology but have since determined it is better for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Oticon’s way of dealing with background noise is to categorize what types of sounds things are and then give more preference to speech. They do this with artificial intelligence or what is known as a deep neural network. They trained their hearing aid computer chips on a million different sounds so it can accurately identify what is happening in the environment and amplify only want it thinks that you want to hear.
Check out Oticon’s White Papers if you want to know about the engineering in their deep neural network.
Oticon has a great argument and I applaud them for trying something completely different than the industry norm. However, I find that patients still struggled with background noise. I find this technology to be great for the younger generations and for those with milder to moderate hearing loss.
Then again, if you have tried Phonak before and you want something else, it wouldn’t hurt to try Oticon next.
Check out updated prices for Oticon at ZipHearing.com. They can set you up with a fitting provider to try out the hearing aids.
GN Resound uses inspiration from vision loss providers to deal with background noise.
GN Resound, another hearing aid company, uses a rationale from optometry to create its directionality algorithms. As people age, they need bifocals because we have difficulty focusing on things close up. If you don’t want bifocals Ophthalmologist due laser surgery on the eye to make one eye focused on distance (far-sighted) and the opposite eye focused on close-up (near-sighted). The medical term for this is Antimetropia.
The idea being the brain learns which eye to use depending on what it wants to see. People choose to have these operations every day and their brains adapt just fine. It is a way to see clearly and has a proven track record.
GN Resounds uses that idea with their directional microphones in their hearing aids and calls it “All Access Directionality”.
So applying the above Antimetropia idea to hearing aids, one ear is in a directional mode that focuses on sound coming from the direction that you are looking. While the opposite hearing aid is in an omnidirectional mode which allows you still to hear all the noise around you from any direction.
The two middle graphics from above. The ear that is around the most noise will be in the directional mode.
I have never been a fan of this theory because hearing is simply not like vision. The majority of the time, hearing loss is at the level of the cochlea and nerve, which means hearing loss can not be fully corrected. Even with hearing aids, the sound goes into a damaged ear to gets distorted and garbled up. Hearing aids do not perform anything like glasses, contacts, or laser eye surgery. A person hearing only one ear is at a significant disadvantage over someone using both ears. I am simply not a huge fan of Resound’s directionality algorithm.
In 2022, Resound does have hearing aids now (the Resound One line) that are capable of beamforming directionality (like Phonak and Signia). However, they do not do it automatically. It requires a manual program change either by using the app, remote control, or push button on the back of the hearing aid.
If you would like to try Resound hearing aids or see how they compare in price, I recommend checking out Ziphearing website for up-to-date pricing information.
Signia, Starkey, and Widex
Signia uses the same philosophy that Phonak uses with background noise. They make great computer chips and have excellent products. I honestly have found patients report that their hearing aids are very similar to a Phonak aid in background noise. However, my opinion is that Phonak is superior to Signia.
Starkey and Widex do have good hearing aids but do not excel in background noise reduction or do anything that another manufacturer isn’t doing better.
Please note these are simply my humble opinion and every audiologist out there is going to have their own opinions which may differ from my own.