Making sense of the hearing aid lingo: what’s the difference between channels and bands… and how many do I need?

Posted on June 21, 2011 by Patrick Freuler | 8 Comments

audicus-hearing-aidsThis post might be for the more technical folks out there interested in the inner workings of hearing aids (we at Audicus HearingAids are proud tech geeks). Whoever has done a bit of research when shopping for hearing aids probably had to wrestle with confusing terminology at some point. With hearing aids becoming increasingly packed with features and gimmicks, it’s important not to lose the overview on the basic indicators.

Hearing Aid Lingo: What are Channels and Bands?

Two of the most important characteristics of hearing aids are “Channels” and “Bands”… which are also some of the most misunderstood by users.

To start off with, the number of channels or bands has nothing to do with the number of programs or volume settings. Sounds are processed and amplified by a hearing aid based on frequencies (or the pitch of a sound) and volumes. A peek at your audiogram will tell you how much amplification you need for any given frequency. In a nutshell, bands and channels thus determine how granular a hearing aid can process and amplify the sounds it perceives. To quote a great explanation from Philips:

"A band is what is used to control volume in different frequencies. This allows us to adjust more volume in a specific area of your hearing loss without effecting other areas where you might need less volume The more bands the hearing aid offers the more room we have to fit the aid to your hearing loss.

Channels break up the frequency range into individual channels. This allows the hearing aid to differentiate noise from speech. The more channels the hearing aid has the more fine tuned it can be. For instance the sound of keys falling on a table, or water running in the sink may be overwhelming. When your hearing aid offers many channels we can adjust each frequency that is too loud without sacrificing the things you want to hear, like your spouse or boss."

Thus, just the way a high-resolution picture gives you a sharper image, more bands and channels provide you with a more granular sound quality. More channels will provide better “resolution” on the frequencies and more bands will mean better “resolution” on the volume… thus allowing your hearing aid to match your audiogram more accurately.

But at what point does a higher degree of accuracy become redundant? For example, take a look at the two pictures below:

hearing-aids-audicus

hearing-aids-audicus

 

 

One has twice the resolution of the other - however most people can hardly notice the difference. The same applies to hearing aids.

Hearing Aid Channels: How many are too many?

Some modern devices can come with more than 24 channels… and cost patients thousands of dollars more. But how many channels do we really need for the everyday use?

Starkey, a hearing aid manufacturer, did a study involving a sample of 1,156 audiograms to answer the question “how many independent signal processing channels are required to maximize speech audibility”. The underlying assumption was that the goal of a well designed hearing aid is to maximize sound quality and speech understanding – as measured by the articulation or “AI Index”. They found that the perceived benefit in speech audibility beyond 4 channels is marginal, or “statistically insignificant”. The most drastic improvement occurs when moving from 1 to 2 channel devices.

 

hearing-aid-channels-audicus-audiology-online

So if most patients (especially those with mild or moderate hearing loss) can’t hear the difference beyond 2-4 channels (all Audicus hearing aids come with 2-6 channels, by the way), why are manufacturers continuously pushing for more channels and bands? One possible answer is that it allows them to pass through continuous price increases year over year, by calling it “superior” technology. Sure, “superior” it is, but “over-engineered with a negligible benefit” might be a better term.

Most importantly though, patients have the right to be better educated by the respective professionals about what they spend their money on - especially if it’s in the Thousands of Dollars - and ultimately have more choice in the decision process. It’s time that manufacturers put “actual perceived user benefit” back in the equation - which is something we at Audicus Hearing Aids are particularly passionate about.

Sources: Audicus Hearing Aids, Philips, Starkey/Audiology Online

Posted in Affordable Hearing Aids, Audicus, Hearing Aid, Hearing Aids, Hearing Industry, Hearing Technology


8 Responses

Sandy
Sandy

January 28, 2014

What about channel free aids? I read a review that claims they can be as good or better then aid with 4+ channels.

Thanks for any input

gulshan
gulshan

January 08, 2014

was very confused which one to buy 12 channels or 6 channels with 6 bands,thanks to your detailed explanation on channels and bands i could make a decesion.also thx to a very helpful chat with nicole KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GUYS .

christine
christine

November 18, 2013

thank you guys …Never had such concise, speedy response to my " call for help" before.! Renata, thank you for introducing me to AUDICUS.!
Would like to read your answers to the other’s responses (questions). Probably, we all would.

i haven’t heard of AUDICUS…..are there dealers/audiologist/ENT’s in chicagoland ?>>>
christine

Girish
Girish

September 13, 2013

I understand that beyond 4 channels there is no major benifits of havng more but what abount Bands? How many Bands I should have, if my hearing is from mild to severe hearing loss?

Nelson Bailes
Nelson Bailes

September 01, 2013

I understand that 4 channels are good. But in your explanation I could not find
your recommendation for how many bands would you recommend for mild to moderate
hearing loss.

Kuruvilla Mathew
Kuruvilla Mathew

June 03, 2013

Dear Author,
Mind blowing explanation !!
Warm regards,
Kuruvilla Mathew.
Audiologist.
08281324718.

Kuruvilla Mathew
Kuruvilla Mathew

June 03, 2013

I’m an Audiologist by Profession .Your way of explanation about channels & bands are just Awesome !!

John kulchyckyj
John kulchyckyj

February 01, 2012

I would like more info on the unitron quantum 20, and the phonak ambra, pricing per aid, quality of sound between the 2 makers. sincerely john

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