A little bit of history 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 came out first, and were the norm in the majority of hearing aids for a long time. Then with the introduction of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also started to emerge. Currently, the majority (90%) of the hearing aids purchased in the US are digital, although analog hearing aids are still sold because they’re often less expensive, and also because some people prefer them.
Analog hearing aids handle incoming 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. Digital hearing aids take the sound waves from the microphone and convert them to digital binary code. This digital information can then be altered in many sophisticated ways by the micro-chip within the hearing aid, prior to being converted back into regular analog signals and sent to the speakers.
It is important to remember that analog and digital hearing aids serve the same purpose – they take sounds and amplify them so that you can hear them better. Both types 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. As an example, there can be different settings for low-noise locations like libraries, for busy restaurants, and for large areas such as stadiums.
Digital hearing aids, due to their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form, often have more features and flexibility, and are commonly user-configurable. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, allowing them to save more environment-specific profiles. They can also employ advanced algorithms to identify and minimize background noise, to remove feedback and whistling, or to selectively detect the sound of human voices and “follow” them using directional microphones.
In terms of price, analog hearing aids are in most cases cheaper, although some digital hearing aids are nearing the cost of analog devices by removing the more state-of-the-art 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 .