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Optimizing Hearing Aids for Music: A Practical Guide

Do the notes of a piano sound distorted? Or do songs you know intimately seem off, or does all music sound excessively tinny? Don't worry.

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If you're here reading this article, chances are you've found your hearing aids falling short when it comes to delivering a quality music-listening experience. Do the notes of a piano sound distorted? Or do songs you know intimately seem off, or does all music sound excessively tinny? Don't worry. If you're a musician or a music enthusiast, I've got some insights to share that could significantly enhance your music experience through your hearing aids.

Over the years, I've developed a keen interest in optimizing hearing aids for music. While no one-size-fits-all solution exists, a few straightforward measures can tremendously improve your music experience.

Understanding Music Frequencies

The first step involves having a meaningful conversation with your audiologist. Not all audiologists specialize in the intricacies of music, and that's okay. But when it comes to tweaking hearing aids for music, they must grasp the basics of fundamental frequencies and harmonics.

The range of music within human hearing is another vital concept. For instance, when discussing high tones and speech clarity with a non-musician, adjustments generally fall between 3 to 8 kilohertz (kHz), concentrating on human speech's higher tones. However, if you are a pianist, the highest note on a piano is at 4,186 hertz (Hz), and the highest fundamental frequency on a flute is 2,096 Hz.

As such, miscommunication can easily arise when musicians and audiologists speak about 'high pitch.' Graphs and visuals can greatly aid in ensuring both you and your audiologist are on the same page about the frequency ranges you're focusing on.

Leveraging Hearing Aid Settings

Hearing aids are primarily engineered to amplify speech, so they often manipulate non-speech sounds based on programmed algorithms. While modern hearing aids, like Phonak's AutoSense 5.0, are smart enough to adjust settings based on the environment – even including a music setting – I would personally recommend a dedicated manual music setting.

Phonak Audéo Lumity

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Busy Café
With device
Quiet Office
With device

Depending on your needs, you may want to create multiple music settings. For instance, as a musician, you could have one setting for concerts or general music listening and another setting specifically for playing your instrument.

Practical Hearing Aid Adjustments for Music

To make the most of your hearing aids when listening to music, there are some basic yet essential adjustments to consider:

1. Feedback Manager: Turn this off to prevent the hearing aid from misinterpreting music as feedback noise, which can distort the sound.

2. Noise Reduction Settings: These should also be turned off, as they can alter the surrounding sounds, affecting the music quality.

3. Directional Microphones: Disabling this feature ensures that your hearing aids pick up sounds from all directions, not just from the front.

4. Compression: Modern hearing aids use wide dynamic range compression to improve the audibility of speech and other sounds. However, music can sound flat if the compression ratio is too high. Ensure you have a lower compression ratio to keep soft sounds soft and loud sounds loud, maintaining the dynamism in music.

5. Maximum Power Output: Consider increasing this to enhance the music experience, subject to comfort.

6. Frequency Compression: Turn this off as it changes the pitch of sounds, which is undesirable when listening to music.

7. Volume Control: Enable this feature to adjust the music volume according to your taste and environment.

With these adjustments in hand, consult your audiologist and optimize your hearing aids for the best music experience.

Walking down the corridors of my practice often sounds like a music school with various instruments playing from different rooms. I highly recommend bringing your instrument to your appointments or ensuring your audiologist has quality speakers to monitor the adjustments in real time.

The Bottom Line

I strongly advise you to discuss these recommendations with your audiologist. This article is the first in a series aimed at enhancing your hearing aids' music experience. Keep an eye out for related posts, like the best hearing aids for music and how each manufacturer optimizes their hearing aids for music.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them below. I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for reading this far. Your interest in improving your music experience through hearing aids is a testament to the power of music in our lives. Here's to a more harmonious future!

Matthew Allsop Harley Street Hearing 2021 09 28 11 54 38

Audiologist

Matthew Allsop is the Video Content Manager at HearingTracker.  He has nearly two decades' experience in audiology, and has practiced in both the NHS and the private sector. He is accepting new patients at Harley Street Hearing in London.