The best way to make sure that a hearing aid sounds good is to test it… and test it … and test it … and test it … thousands of times. But whose job is it to create and test the sound that comes out of your hearing aids – and how is it done?
That job belongs to the Widex Research and Development team – a group of engineers who work tirelessly to ensure that the “Widex Sound” is the most natural hearing aid sound around.
The listening test
Jens Peter Holmegaard is one of the faces behind the Widex sound. He’s a hearing aid research and development engineer who has been designing Widex hearing aids for 7 years.
We sat down with Jens and asked how he and his colleagues make sure that sound from our hearing aids is as true to real-life as it can possibly be.
And the answer is simple: he listens.
He listens to everything – from speech, to music, to the sound of a microwave. It’s Jens’ job to make sure that the sounds of your everyday life are perfectly replicated by your hearing aids.
“Our library of sounds includes everything from water running in the sink, to pork chops frying, to birds singing,” says Jens. “They’re all sounds that have characteristics that are important to the hearing aid user.”
But listening to those sounds once isn’t enough. With every small tweak or change comes a new round of testing – which means listening to those sounds hundreds or even thousands of times.
“I become very familiar with those sounds,” says Jens. “They’re often not sounds I want to hear when I get home.”
And it’s not just everyday sounds – it’s music too. A favorite test song at Widex is Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” because of its range of tones and pitches. It also has a steady bass line and a repetitive chorus – all good for testing purposes.
Creating the Widex sound
To find out more about how Widex hearing aids get their true-to-life sound, it’s important to take a step back to where the whole process begins. Developing a new hearing aid can often take five or more years and it all starts with the experiences and wishes of existing hearing aid users which are gathered and transformed into ideas for new products at the engineers´ drawing board.
For example, Widex got the idea to develop its audibility extender after realizing that some hearing aid users were having difficulty hearing upper frequency sounds. The extender moves these sounds to a lower frequency region where it is easier to hear them.
After the brainstorming phase, ideas are scheduled for development. That’s where the sound library comes in. As features like the audibility extender are created, rounds of testing begin. Sounds like birdsong, bells, and timers are used to test upper frequency sounds that the audibility extender helps hearing aid users to hear.
“It gives us a frame of reference for the hearing aid feature we are developing,” says Jens. “We listen to how this feature helps the sound in real-life situations and tweak it to make it sound as natural as possible.”
The final test
After a feature is developed, the technology is added to the physical hearing aid. But that’s not where the story ends. Hearing aids are then tested again by specially-trained sound expert who make sure that the technology is working correctly.
Hearing aids are then produced and shipped to your hearing professional, who will program them to fit your particular hearing loss.
Which hearing aid features have Widex developed over the past years? Here are just a few of the ones found in our devices:
Audibility Extender – The Audibility Extender helps people with high frequency hearing loss to hear upper frequency sounds by moving these sounds to a lower frequency region where it is easier to hear them. The upper frequency sounds are important for hearing the “softer” sounds like /s/ and /t/ in women´s and children´s voices and high-pitched sounds like the “ping” of the microwave.
Telecoil – A telecoil is a small coil inside your hearing aids. The coil works as a small receiver which picks up signals from a loop system that acts as an electromagnetic field. Hearing aids with an activated telecoil can convert this electromagnetic field into a sound signal. Only the signal from the loop system’s microphone is amplified, and background noise is shut out.
Speech Enhancer – The Speech Enhancer is different from simple noise reduction systems in that it doesn´t just dampen noise – it also amplifies speech. When we listen to a sound, we are rarely in doubt as to whether it is speech or noise. The Speech Enhancer in modern hearing aids is able to distinguish the two in much the same way as our brains do – by using the fact that speech consists of a number of varying sound components that follow each other at brief intervals.
If you would like to listen to the latest hearing aids for yourself then why not book in with Henley Hearing Centre, Oxford and test them for yourself, with no obligation. Call us on 01494 765144.
Hearing aids go a long way to help people with hearing loss to better communicate. But even with the most advanced digital hearing aids, there can be situations where it is important to point out that you have a hearing loss.
We have come up with some tips to help you talk about hearing loss with your friends, family, and coworkers. Chances are that you behave a little bit differently around each of these groups of people, so the conversation you have about your hearing loss should be catered to each group.
Friends and Family
American author Alex Haley once said that, “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” Family members can help to understand how and why your hearing loss developed and support you in finding solutions to your hearing loss.
Similar to family, friends are often the people who know you best – and they may have already noticed that you have a hearing loss. It’s in their best interest to help you communicate, because communication the basis of a good friendship!
But sometimes it is hardest to talk about these things with the people we are close to. You might not want your family to worry about you or meddle in your personal life. But the truth is – your family and friends may have been aware of your hearing loss long before you were. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America:
One’s family and friends are likely to be the first to notice some difficulty hearing, long before the person does. Typically at this stage, the individual will deny a problem. This is understandable, since there is usually great variability in how the person functions in various situations and with different people. In some situations and with some people, he or she may do pretty well.
Bringing up your hearing loss may be a way to unleash the “elephant in the room” that your close family members knew about but never mentioned. That’s how it was for Reina, who says the best way to talk about hearing loss is to be direct.
Tips for family members
Your family and friends probably want ways to help you hear better, but aren’t sure how.
Try to offer these tips for family members:
- “Try to catch my attention before you speak to me. It’s easier for me to understand when I am looking at you.”
- “Speak clearly and at a moderate pace – but don’t go overboard. I’ll let you know if you’re going too fast.”
- “Use body language to show what you are saying.”
- “Repeat yourself if it doesn’t seem like I heard you.”
If you haven’t sought professional help for your hearing loss, family members can help by finding a local hearing professional, accompanying you to your first hearing evaluation, and helping you choose your hearing aids.
Talking to your boss or coworkers about your hearing loss can be more difficult than speaking with family or friends. You may be worried that your boss will see your hearing loss as a weakness that could affect your work. The Hearing Loss Association of America surveyed their members about their workplace experience with hearing loss in 2013. Here are a few of the responses:
Q: What are your experiences interviewing for a job?
A: It was very stressful and many of the social situations that went with the interviews were less than ideal for somebody with hearing loss. However, since I had to give a talk every time I interviewed, I let people know then about my loss. I did not worry too much that possible employers would discriminate against me, as I work in academia, and find most academics pretty open minded.
Q: Are your co-workers sensitive to your communication needs?
A: Yes, but they often forget, or don’t realize just how many types of situations are impacted by the hearing loss.
Q: Does your employer and/or co-workers know you have a hearing loss?
A: Yes. It is something I try to make everybody aware of. I point it out also to my students when I teach and audiences when I give a talk.
As you can see from the responses, your experience with hearing loss in the workplace can vary based on your specific job and your coworkers. Here are some general tips to use in a conversation about hearing loss with your employer:
- Stay positive: Address your hearing loss and tell your employer how you cope with it. If you wear hearing aids, tell him/her how the technology helps you to hear. Point out specific times when your hearing was particularly good on the job.
- Ask for help: After you have pointed out the positives, tell your employers about your challenges and how they can be helped. If you require assistive listening devices, explain how they would work in your workplace.
- Offer Tips: Tell your coworkers how they can help you to better communicate by emphasizing the communication tips above. These tips work for anyone, not just family and friends.
- Know your rights: Many countries have laws to protect people with hearing loss in the workplace. Read up on what sort of accommodation you are entitled to and be prepared to explain this to your employer in the most non-threatening way possible. If you have noise-induced hearing loss that you feel was caused by your work environment you may also be entitled to compensation.