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Channels, what’s the big deal?

If you’re researching hearing aids for the first time, you’ve probably come across terms that describe hearing aids which you aren’t familiar with. While many of these terms are proprietary or exclusive to each individual manufacturer and named very differently, some of the generic terms that all manufacturers use to describe their hearing aids are “channels or bands.”

Understanding channels inhearing aids can be a bit complicated, but I’m going to break it down in the simplest way possible.

When sound enters the hearing aid, it is separated into various frequency “channels” before it is output in to your ear. The number of channels or bands has nothing to do with the number of programs or volume settings.

Sounds are processed and amplified by a hearing aid based on frequencies (or the pitch of a sound) and volumes. A peek at your hearing test or audiogram will tell you how much amplification you need for any given frequency. In a nutshell, bands and channels thus determine how smoothly a hearing aid can process and amplify the sounds it perceives. Channels or bands are essentially multiple volume controls for multiple frequencies. Sound is adjusted in smaller sectors of pitch that are all in one lump. A channel is not something you would select like on your TV. Think of it as a place where hearing aid amplification functions are assigned. The user has no control over the channels.

So how many channels do you actually need? Studies have indicated that 6 channels is the magic number. Based on the study above, beyond 6 channels, users notice no improvement at all. One leading study by the Veteran’s Administration put the magic number at 8 channels. In that study of over 4,000 veterans no one heard speech better beyond 8 channels. Most modern digital hearing aids come with 18 channels or above…all the way up to 128 channels.

The manufacturers argue about more channels for more audibility, or hearing a sound. Audibility is far different than speech discrimination which is understanding the sound that is heard. Those units may use channels effectively to process functions at work in the hearing aid circuit like wireless or rechargeable compatibility but the number of channels beyond 6 or 8 should not be a “quality of hearing” sales tactic to move a patient to a higher priced aid with the most channels. Happy New Year!

Hearing care is health care. If you have the symptoms of hearing loss let a professional help you find out why. The hearing professional will help you sort out the technology level to meet your need, your budget, and answer your hearing need questions.

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Jeffrey L. Bayliff, NBC-HIS is owner of Hear the Birds Hearing Aid Center, Lock Haven PA

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