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Digital hearing aids are producing sound as lousy as MP3s

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In Slate, David Polansky argues that the quality of audio in hearing aids is plummeting for the same reason the quality of recorded music plummeted in the age of the MP3: It went digital. Up until the early 00s, hearing aids were often built using analog tech. In the 2000s, though, the six major firms that comprise most of the hearing-aid market all shifted over to digital tech -- and the result, Polansky writes, has been terrible. Much as MP3s truncated the acoustic range of sound to scrunch it into a small signal, users of today's digital hearing-aids have found the sound of the world abruptly reduced: I am well aware of the limitations of the old analog hearing aid technology: It was prone to feedback, and it did not always adjust well to different aural situations, such as crowded restaurants or large auditoriums with poor acoustics. In compensation, the user lived in a world that was saturated with sound, rich and crisp in detail. No amount of added Bluetooth connectivity or Fitbit trackers can change the underlying fact that the digital processor samples incoming sound at a rate far lower than that of an old CD player, effectively turning the entire world into a giant MP3 file. Children’s voices, fallen leaves, birdsong, the Beatles: All of these have been rendered and reshaped so that the listener perceives a wholly synthetic world. For those who are unable to adjust, it is alienating on a neurological level. In fact, it is estimated that almost a quarter of all hearing aid users are not satisfied—often profoundly so—with the sound produced by their hearing aids. Read the rest

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