The Evolution of Hearing Aids: How Far Have We Come?

How much do you know about hearing aids?  Hearing aid technology has come a long way in a short space of time.  Who would have thought we'd be able to wirelessly tune our aids to certain devices and channels, for example?  The very first hearing aids were a lot less comfortable, and much more cumbersome, too.

While the way our ears work may not have changed, our understanding of audiology and the technologies available have.  As such, Nano Hearing Aids has taken into account the decades of design and research which have gone into making hearing aids great.  We build our hearing aids to offer users the maximum in comfort and accessibility.  It is safe to say that we have learned a lot from the past!

But where did hearing aids first start out?  Did we always have access to rechargeable hearing aids?  What are the main differences between an analog and a digital aid?  In this guide, we will be taking a quick look at the history of hearing aids, and what has been done to transform them into the incredible high-tech device that is available today.

The First Hearing Aids (1890s)

The very first hearing aids people used were nowhere near as compact or as comfortable as they are today.  In day past, people had to make use of ear trumpets.  These are precisely what they sound like!  They were conical devices which you would hold up to your ear to be able to hear well.  It's thought that famous composer Ludwig Van Beethoven was an ear trumpet user.

However, the need for more compact, more comfortable devices was a necessity.  As with most technology in terms of its evolution, hearing aids started to become smaller, and less demanding.  These, of course, were helped along by the electrical revolution, as well as the birth of the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell. 

  • The first hearing aid close to modern standards was known as the akouphone.  Whilst a million miles away in comparison with the hearing aids of today, this model was – at that time – seen as a significant step forward and away from cumbersome and clunky ear trumpets of old.
  • The akouphone first became available in 1898 and made use of electric currents.  This was at a time where electricity was becoming more and more of an asset to daily lives.  It, too, was eventually redesigned providing for portability.
  • This model was then succeeded by the vactuphone, which, again, was a little clunky, but another step forward in hearing aid technology.
  • This hearing support was controlled via a vacuum tube and was invented during the 1920s.  These units were very expensive for everyday use – and they made use of then-modern telephone technology to help convert speech.

We are, however, a long way away from the days of the akouphone and the vactuphone!  The next step forward occurred in the 1950s, where transistor hearing aids helped make things more portable than ever before.

Transistor Hearing Aids (1950s)

Transistor hearing aids marked an important milestone in hearing aid development because they were the first to be able to fit inside or behind the ear. This step forward meant that they were the first style that didn’t require a clunky, oversized unit to carry around.  There was still a little box you had to carry on your person, but you wouldn’t feel the strain of doing so.

Transistor hearing aids, making use of transistor technology, were dependent on simple batteries and also had a handy on/off function.  It's also fascinating to note that transistor hearing aids appeared a few years before transistor radios did.  While they were considered convenient for the time, they were still easy to spot and hardly discreet.

Analog Hearing Aids (1960-1970s)

As the need for more discreet and more convenient hearing aids increased, there was always going to be further evolution in store for transistor models.  Analog hearing aids, which are still available in some form to this day, came along in the 1960s and 1970s.  Using simple technology by today’s standards, this aids used microprocessing to help amplify hearing.

Analog hearing aids work, generally, as follows – and with the following parts:

  • All analog hearing aids have a microphone.  That picks up the sound being heard by the device, which then transforms it into current.
  • This current is then amplified.  An analog hearing aid will have transistors built into a circuit or processor to be able to do this.
  • There is also a receiver, or speaker, which receives the current and its sound, which can then be played directly into the ear canal.  You will then be able to hear converted sound waves with greater amplification.
  • There is also always a power source.  In analog hearing aids, this is almost always a small, disposable battery.

Analog hearing aids are still sought-after to this day as they are often seen as a cheaper alternative to modern digital technology.  However, it is very much argued that digital hearing aids give you greater control over your hearing and access to a higher level of clarity.  Here at Nano Hearing Aids, we make sure to only ever design the best in digital hearing aids – at prices you can afford.  Why should you need to fall back on outdated analog technology as a result of cost?

Digital Hearing Aids (2000s)

This is where we are today.  Nano's range of digital hearing aids and advanced hearing technology has come a long way from the ear trumpets and vacuum tubes of old.  However, we do owe it a lot.  Technology's advancement is a learning process, in that we now know more about how to support hearing more than ever before.

But how do digital hearing aids differ from analog units?

  • For one thing, modern hearing aids are more comfortable.  Our modern hearing aid solutions are designed to fit a wide variety of ear canals and may be worn over-ear, behind the ear and even deep into the ear canal.
  • Privacy and discretion have been significant components in modern hearing aid design for some time now.  While older hearing aids may have been designed more with function over image in mind, contemporary hearing aid designers understand that hearing loss can be a sensitive subject.
  • Therefore, modern digital units are almost invisible or are at the very least very difficult to spot.  Hearing aids are no longer embarrassing to wear.
  • Digital hearing aids, in fact, work in a similar fashion to analog models.  That is, in the sense that they still work to convert signals into current.  However, modern hearing aids use amplifier chips to turn sounds into digital formats, which can then be fine-tuned to your own needs.
  • Modern hearing aids have a variety of different features and functions.  For example, they can intelligently adapt to different environments.  That means it will analyze background noise to give you optimum clarity wherever you may be.
  • Digital hearing aids can also be used to connect to induction loops.  This means, in certain public places such as sports stadiums, churches and concert halls, you can connect to a public system to hear things more clearly.
  • There are many rechargeable hearing aids on the market.  This has been a major breakthrough, given the fact that old hearing aids will have required heavy duty batteries and power sources.

The Future of Hearing Aids

We're not quite done with hearing aid technology just yet, and our team is excited about the future.  With recent strides made in developing advanced hearing aids to offer a wealth of different lifestyle features, we anticipate technology only getting more sophisticated to provide maximum comfort and hearing accessibility.

Here are a few advanced features already available in some modern devices:

  • Bluetooth connectivity: connect directly to a tablet, smartphone or other devices for instant access to sound.
  • Activity tracking: some hearing aids may be able to monitor your heart rate, and to track your activity. 
  • There are continued movements being made to transform hearing aids into fashionable accessories.  They are no longer seen as clunky, embarrassing devices!

As the future rolls on for hearing aid technology, we can at least expect greater clarity in sound and more accessibility for all users.  Research into hearing loss is always ongoing.  Future hearing aid technology will be more adaptive, more discreet and more widely available.

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Digital hearing aids will continue to improve as the years go by.  That means Nano Hearing Aids will keep developing technology on the cutting edge of hearing innovation for years to come.  Who knows where the future may lead us?

Hearing loss affects millions of Americans every day; however, there's no need to worry about hearing loss with so many fantastic hearing aids available. Are you interested in learning more about hearing aids, our technology, and our products?  Why not call us today on 877 654-9071, or take a look at our online store?

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