A bit of background and an explanation of how analog devices work versus how digital devices work is necessary to understand the differences between digital and analog hearing aids. Analog hearing aids appeared first, and were the norm in most hearing aids for many years. Then with the introduction of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also began to emerge. At the moment, the majority (90%) of the hearing aids purchased in the United States are digital, although analog hearing aids are still offered because they’re often lower priced, and also because some people prefer them.
The way that analog hearing aids work is that they take sound waves from the microphone in the form of electricity and then amplify the waves, delivering louder versions of the sound waves to the speakers in your ears “as is.” In contrast, digital hearing aids take the same sound waves from the microphone, but before amplifying them they turn the sound waves into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices and computers use. After the sound is digitized, the micro-chip within the hearing aid can manipulate the data in sophisticated ways before transforming it back into analog sound and passing it on to your ears.
It is important to remember that analog and digital hearing aids have the same function – they take sounds and boost them so that you can hear them better. Both analog and digital hearing aids can be programmable, meaning that they contain microchips that can be customized to alter sound quality to match the user, and to create various configurations for different environments. The programmable hearing aids can, for example, have one setting for listening in quiet rooms, another setting for listening in noisy restaurants, and still another for listening in large auditoriums.
Digital hearing aids, due to their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form, often offer more features and flexibility, and are commonly user-configurable. They have an array of memories in which to save more location-specific configurations than analog hearing aids. Other capabilities of digital hearing aids include being able to automatically reduce background noise and remove feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of voices over other sounds.
Cost-wise, most analog hearing aids continue to be less expensive than digital hearing aids, but some reduced-feature digital hearing aids are now in the same general price range. There is often a noticable difference in sound quality, but the question of whether analog or digital is “better” is up to the wearer, and the ways that they are used to hearing sounds.