Hearing aids are a useful tool when dealing with hearing loss and are continually getting better. As hearing aid technology improves, new features help facilitate better hearing. The directional microphone is one of these new features. 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. When this style of microphone is in use, sound is amplified from all directions in equal measure. When used in a quiet setting (such as in the home), an omnidirectional microphone works quite well, but it is not as effective in noisy environments. In order to compensate for this, directional microphones focus closely on sounds emanating from the front. Users can focus more clearly on what the people in front of them are saying, rather than being distracted by background noise.
Because both types of microphones have their own advantages, many hearing aid designers will incorporate both into their devices. How you use these microphones varies from device to device. Some devices utilize a small switch that allows the user to manually flip between microphones. Other devices can pick up on which microphone is most useful in a given situation and will automatically switch back and forth.
A third type of hearing aid microphone is the adaptive directional microphone. Instead of focusing in the front or all around, this type of microphone can pick up on the direction that speech signals are coming from and focus its amplification accordingly. Adaptive microphones can be troublesome in crowded environments where many speakers are present, but the user can usually switch to a forward only mode in these situations.
Directional microphones are included in hearing aids for all ages, but caution must be applied when this feature is used by children. Because kids develop much of their language skills from listening to the people around them, a directional microphone may cause them to miss out on an important developmental experience. Children may also have difficulty hearing traffic with this type of microphone. Parents should make sure that their child’s hearing aid has an on/off switch for the directional microphone and make sure it is only turned on when appropriate.
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.