I have an interest in high-fidelity sound reproduction. I usually listen to music through speakers, but with the passage of time, I noticed that my system did not sound as good as it used to. In particular, the treble seemed to have lost its sparkle. I had known for a long time that the hearing in my left ear was worse than that in my right, and a hearing test a few years ago confirmed this to be the case. It also revealed that I had age-related hearing loss in my right ear.
Mr. Robert Donnan, RJD Hearing Care
When I first got my Oticon Opn hearing aids, my audiologist, Mr. Robert Donnan, encouraged me to report my experience of wearing them. I tried listening to music with them in place. There was more treble, but an unpleasant artificial warble was added to high-frequency sounds which spoilt the listening experience. I discussed the issue with Mr. Donnan and he set up a Music program, but I still found the sound from the speakers to be better without the aids.
A couple of years later Mr. Donnan suggested that I should try a pair of Widex Beyond hearing aids. Widex claims that their aids give users a true-to-life musical listening experience.
I am reasonably happy with the sound from the speakers when listening to music with the Widex aids in place. I think that the fact that I use open ear tips helps because they allow the sound processed by the aids to be mixed with the direct sound. Even so, I am aware that I am listening through hearing aids, rather than to the music itself. The bass is OK, but the treble is a bit brittle and harsh. Reducing the volume of the music program on the aids and increasing the volume of the speakers improves the sound, but there are times when it would be better if I could listen to music without the possibility of disturbing others.
I have been thinking about the use of headphones with, or instead of, hearing aids for a while.
The frequency range of Hi-Fi headphones is generally of the order of 5-50,000Hz. There are those who consider a frequency range of that order to be ridiculous because the range of human hearing is only about 20-20,000Hz at the most. The extended range is considered to add nuance and timbre to the sound that we hear when listening to music through them. In other words, they sound better. This could be because the headphones that claim to have such a wide frequency range tend to be better engineered than those that do not.
What frequency range do Widex claim for their hearing aids? Probably 100-10,000Hz at the most. Hearing tests cover the range 250-8,000Hz because that is all that is considered to be necessary for hearing aids. A frequency range of 250-8,000Hz is more than enough for the understanding of speech but insufficient for good quality music reproduction. The quality of the sound of music played through hearing aids is compromised by the lack of frequency bandwidth of the devices.
The sound of music streamed to hearing aids is processed, presumably according to the wearer’s prescription. If a sound can only be heard through the aids, as it is with streamed music, the quality is compromised by the digital processing. Digital hearing aids are wonders of modern technology, but their miniaturisation limits what is possible, at least in their current state of development.
I had an idea about using over-the-ear headphones with the hearing aids in place, allowing the processed sound from the aids to be mixed with the unprocessed sound, as it is with speakers. I do not think that it would work, because I suspect that the arrangement would cause the aids to feedback, making music listening impossible.
I looked to see if I could find any headphones that had the facility to adjust the sound of the left and right sides independently, but I could not find any. Some dedicated headphone amplifiers might have this option.
There would seem to be a gap in the market for headphones designed to assist people with impaired hearing to be able to listen to high quality music reproduction as it was intended to be heard. In the absence of such devices, I will continue to listen to music through speakers with my Widex aids in place. I will use the hearing aid music program at reduced volume, to allow the processed sound from the aids to be mixed with the direct sound, to minimize the brittle and harsh treble sound that they produce.