Feature Article

Hearing Aid Issues for the Hearing Impaired Audiophile

Part II

June, 2006

Wayne Sarchett


The following reviews are in decreasing order, according to perceived sound quality and ability to reproduce a musical event.

My Reference Hearing Aid ReSound CC4 CIC

Edgar Villchur originally developed the technology for the ReSound CC4 in collaboration with AT&T Bell Labs, so one would expect these to sound exceptional with this Blue Ribbon Pedigree, and they are.  Unfortunately GN-ReSound discontinued them several years ago. What a crying shame, as the new all-digital technology that replaced them has seriously compromised sound quality.

Micro and macro dynamics are excellent with the CC4s, as is dynamic range.  Music is emotional and involving, alive and fluid with nuance, emotion and expression, this is not subtle.  Transient attack is natural, clean and not strained, brilliant, and assertive, decay realistically rendered.  Transients are delivered with more perceived speed than all the other hearing aids tested. 

The CC4s are richer and fuller, more balanced across the frequency spectrum.  The music flows with expression and emotion, capturing the nuances of the presentation micro dynamics are very good to excellent there is very good to excellent separation between instruments, and more air.  The music is exciting and vibrant.

Timbre is excellent, the highs are brilliant but not harsh. The lows (deep bass is slightly rolled off) are solid, underpinning the foundation of the orchestra.  Bass and highs are very good to excellent.  Distortion is very low and clarity excellent.

Violins are vibrant and alive sounding, transients well defined.  Resolution is very good to excellent, particularly on complex musical passages.  Complex musical passages are well defined, with only a slight smearing on the loudest fortissimos (ffff) when the full orchestra is in full cry.  There is more musical information, if not all, with the CC4s.  They reproduce the musical event extremely well.  These are satisfying to the soul.

The CC4 has a bigger, fuller sound without being bloomy than all the HAs except for the Etymotic K-Amp.  The presentation is articulate, with very good to excellent separation and air between notes and instrument groups.  Background and accompaniment are well defined, with excellent musical detail and complexity.

The CC4 presentation is dynamic.  Transient attack is assertive without being aggressive . . . transient response fast, decay of notes natural.  On loud (ffff) passages when the entire orchestra is in full cry, there sometimes is slight congestion, but not very often.  However, when it does happen, the deterioration is graceful, doesn't break up and is less noticeable than with all-digital hearing aids. 

On the Brubeck "Time Out" (and Rollins' "Way Out West") the sound is wonderful excellent example of getting the balance right and treating the background (accompaniment) and the foreground (solo) correctly.  (This is also evident at the beginning of the Tchsikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Curzon.)  No digital or any other hearing aids I have tested gets this right (except for the Etymotic K-Amp)!

Brubeck's piano sounds just right, excellent transient attack and decay of notes, with balanced presentation of each note in the chords in the right and left hands.  Rich piano sound!

Separation and air are very good, with excellent micro and macro dynamics, resulting in more expression and emotion.  Drums have snap balance of instruments realistic.  Background and accompaniment are balanced.

Cardas Sweep Record Frequency sweep from 30 to 30K hertz a fair, barely acceptable sweep no suck outs, one notch, some minor wavering, no warbling.  The notch was at mid-high.  There was excellent high frequency extension.  Deep bass was poor.  Most of the frequency band sweep was even with right and left HAs nearly identical.

I have thousands of hours of listening to music with the CC4s, they consistently sound very good to excellent.  With the CC4s, the music is lively, richer, fuller, there is just more sound; micro dynamics brings the music alive with emotion and expression there is nice background detail with air and separation between instruments excellent balance between instruments and frequency range is extended in the highs and bass!  Percussion is +++++, cymbals sound right, and one can hear brushes against brass.  It's toe-tapping good. The CC4s kick butt!

All-Digital Hearing Aids

The hearing aid industry has been touting the attributes of all-digital technology for hearing aids and marketing these devices as having excellent sound quality, clarity, etc.  My findings, based upon detailed auditions are contrary, and what they do to music is just tragic.  Dr. Mead Killion, who has conducted exhaustive research into the reproduction of accurate sound vs. colored sound and people's preferences for colored or high fidelity reproduction and people's capability to understand speech using various technologies, has also found all-digital seriously lacking.

My listening experiences have identified a typical sonic signature of all-digital sound, which is characteristic, in varying degrees, of all the digital hearing aids I have auditioned.  The sonic signature is poor separation and air between notes and orchestral groups, hard transient attack with poor decay, thin, cold, hard, steely, edgy sound, exaggerated or poor rhythm and pace, poor timbre, smearing of musical phrases, off key pitch of notes, and high distortion that is stressful and fatiguing to listen to.

There is much missing musical information.  As audiophiles, we are constantly searching for that nth degree of realism and all-digital doesn't even come close.  At its best, it is unable to portray any palpable presence or soundstage.  Resolution is worse than poor.  My sense is the problems occur in the A/D and D/A conversion, interpolation, low sampling rates and word length, inadequate processing algorithms, etc.

Although I am loath to fill this space with negative reviews of unacceptable products, I think it is important for audiophiles to understand and be aware of what to expect in respect to sound quality from the all-digital, new generation of the most popular hearing aids.  Following are reviews of the best of the unacceptable.

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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