Hearing aids are a valuable tool when managing hearing loss and are continuously improving. Each technological advance delivers more functions and features in a smaller space. The directional microphone is one of these new functionalities. Many of today’s hearing aids incorporate this device, allowing the wearer to enjoy a more natural hearing experience.
The traditional standard for hearing aids was the omnidirectional microphone. 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. Directional microphones make up for this by focusing on sounds that come from in front of the wearer. Users can focus more clearly on what the people in front of them are saying, rather than being distracted by background noise.
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. 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.
Adaptive directional microphones are a third type of 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. 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 kids. Kids 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 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.
The advantages of the directional microphone outweigh its flaws, allowing it to dramatically increase its wearer’s ability to hear.