So, you're an audiophile, huh? The hearing ain't quite as sharp as it used
to be . . . ehhhhh? You're thinking it might be time to consider buying hearing
aids? You check the websites of the major hearing aid companies and read
"CD quality sound" or something similar. Not very encouraging, but maybe it
isn't that bad? Well brace yourself, it's worse. They are not even close to
CD quality sound! The pair of $6000 hearing aids you're thinking of buying
will make your Hi-Fi stereo sound worse than a $25 table radio.
This is NOT
an exaggeration. Read about my findings.
I am a
hearing impaired audiophile. That may seem like a contradiction, but it is
not. I was not always hearing impaired. There are many of us in the world,
due to loud noise, loud music, too intense through our ear buds/headphones, and our numbers are
increasing every day.
It is my
observation that the subject of hearing impairment issues has been swept
under the rug in audiophile circles, as it seems nobody wants to tackle this
subject. For those of us who are only slightly hearing impaired, we just
increase the volume of the music. Then, as we get older and hearing
diminishes some more, we use headphones. Finally, as the curve on our audiogram
becomes steeper, usually with an increasing loss of high frequencies,
hearing aids (HA) become mandatory.
hearing impaired audiophile, hearing aids are the most important component
in his or her hi-fi system equipment chain. This review deals with the
sound quality of various hearing aids and may be a first to appear in the
way, all of us will be hearing impaired to some extent as we get older, so
if you think this article does not apply to you, and you are at least 25
years old, take a look
and read about "Hearing Loss Due to Age".
years, I listened to music on my hi-fi system through headphones or turning
up the volume. In 1989, I purchased the first hearing aids that were a
technological breakthrough in terms of sound quality and realistic
reproduction of music. These were manufactured by ReSound, a new hearing
aid company established as a result of extensive research by Edgar Villchur,
the genius and founder of Acoustic Research, in collaboration with AT&T Bell
Labs, and the inventor of the AR turntable and acoustic suspension speakers.
ReSound hearing aids used an integrated analog circuit that was programmable
in order to compensate for an individual's unique hearing loss. This resulted
in a nearly flat frequency response across the frequency spectrum for the
user, a technical breakthrough at the time. These were the first hearing aids I used for
serious listening to music and they were superb at reproducing an
audio/musical event. In 1998, ReSound introduced a new and improved
programmable analog hearing aid, the model CC4, which I had the good fortune
to participate in the alpha clinical trials for this improved technology. These are my current reference hearing aids.
this same period, manufacturers began introducing the first all-digital
hearing aids. Words can't describe how awful these sounded. I tried a pair
before purchasing the ReSound CC4 and wore them a total of two hours before
returning them. The all-digital hearing aids have improved considerably
since then. However, to my chagrin, when it was time to replace my ReSound
CC4s two years ago, I discovered that the CC4 had been discontinued. This
led me on a search for new hearing aids only to discover that the
programmable analog technology is being discontinued by the hearing aid
industry. Since 1997, I have auditioned and evaluated about 20 different
brands/models of hearing aids, including all-digital, programmable analog, and analog.
visit the websites of the major HA manufacturers, you will be overwhelmed
with information that is peppered with marketing hype and terminology, buzz
words, and a mind-boggling assortment of features, many of which have little
or nothing to do with sound quality.
also see pictures of elderly
folks smiling a lot and phony testimonials. My personal experience is this
is inflated and misleading hype. I was told unofficially by a leading HA
company Vice President that quality sound for music reproduction has no
priority among any of the current hearing aid companies. In listening to the
new crop of hearing aids, I find this to be entirely believable.
How They Were Tested
auditions were A/B type comparing the trial HA with my reference, and the
differences were readily discernable. My reference HA is the ReSound CC4,
which is programmable analog and sounds very good to excellent, lacking only
the last nth degree of resolution and deep bass response. I would play a
musical passage with the trial aids and then the reference, repeating until
I was satisfied that I had identified the differences.
things I listen for when auditioning hearing aids include:
- Does the composition (music)
sound realistic? What are the problems?
- How about rhythm and pace?
And micro and macro dynamics?
- How is the timbre of
instruments? Does the saxophone sound like a sax? The piano sound like
a piano? The violins, etc.
- How is the timbre of the
- How is clarity? Is there any
grain or distortion? How about resolution?
- Is there balance among the
various groups in the orchestra? between instruments?
- When the music gets complex
are all groups balanced and clearly defined?
- Does the attack and decay of
transients (notes) sound natural? Are they clearly defined?
- Are transient spikes rendered
cleanly and clearly, with air and separation?
- Listen for separation and air
between notes, instruments and groups.
- Listen for the proper pitch
- Listen for musical detail
rendered properly for the solo or lead theme, the background or
accompaniment, low-level volume passages, fortissimos, etc.
- Do I hear smearing and
congealing of the music? On fortissimos?
- Is there a soundstage? How
clearly is it defined? How believable?
Here to Go to Part II.