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A bit of history and an explanation of how analog devices work vs how digital devices work is essential to understand the differences between analog and digital hearing aids. Analog hearing aids appeared first, and were the standard in the majority of hearing aids for a long time. Subsequently, with the arrival of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also started to appear. Most (roughly 90%) hearing aids sold in the United States today are digital, although you can still get analog hearing aids because some people prefer them, and they are often less expensive.

Analog hearing aids handle inbound sounds by taking the electrical sound waves as they leave a microphone and amplifying them “as is” before sending the sound waves to the speakers in your ears. In contrast, digital hearing aids take the same sound waves from the microphone, but before amplifying them they turn them into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices and computers understand. After the sound is digitized, the micro-chip inside the hearing aid can manipulate the data in sophisticated ways before transforming it back into analog sound and delivering it to the ears.

It is important to remember that both analog and digital hearing aids have the same function – they take sounds and boost them so you can hear them better. Both varieties of hearing aids can be programmed by the dispensers of the hearing aids to create the sound quality desired by the user, and to create settings appropriate for different listening environments. The programmable hearing aids can, for instance, have one particular setting for listening in quiet rooms, another setting for listening in noisy restaurants, and still another setting for listening in large stadiums.

But beyond programmability, the digital hearing aids often offer more controls to the wearer, and have more features because of their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, permitting them to store more environment-specific profiles. Other capabilities of digital hearing aids include being able to automatically minimize background noise and eliminate feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of human voices over other sounds.

As far as pricing is concerned, analog hearing aids are generally less expensive, although some digital hearing aids are approaching the price of analog devices by removing the more sophisticated features. There is commonly a perceivable difference in sound quality, but the question of whether analog or digital is “better” is up to the individual, and the ways that they are used .