Introduction To Frequency Lowering Technology 

In the arena of modern audiology, cutting-edge innovations are continually emerging to combat the prevalence and challenges of hearing loss. Among these advancements, frequency lowering technology has emerged as a transformative tool, paving the way for a new era in hearing aids [1-4]. This technology offers a life-altering solution for individuals who have struggled with traditional hearing devices, granting them an improved opportunity to interact with the world around them.

Image Credit: ZipHearing.com

Frequency lowering hearing aids are not merely an enhancement over their predecessors; they signify a leap in how we address high-frequency hearing loss. Frequency lowering hearing aids help to break down the barriers that high-frequency hearing loss creates by shifting sounds from unperceivable high frequencies to lower, audible frequencies that the user can hear.

This article aims to illuminate what frequency lowering hearing aids are, diving deep into their functionality and effectiveness. Stay tuned as we unpack the complexities of this game-changing technology and its role in reshaping the hearing landscape.

How Frequency Lowering Hearing Aids Work

The magic of frequency lowering hearing aids lies in their unique ability to shift sounds from high frequencies to lower ones, making previously inaudible sounds suddenly within reach for individuals suffering from high-frequency hearing loss. But how do they accomplish this seemingly impossible task?

At its core, frequency lowering technology works by identifying the high-frequency sounds that an individual struggles to hear and then ‘transposing’ or ‘compressing’ these frequencies into lower frequency ranges that the person can hear. This process can be classified into three main types: frequency compression, frequency transposition and frequency translation [5].

Frequency compression: Think about the range of sounds you can hear as a big piano keyboard. Some people’s hearing loss might mean they can’t hear the notes at the high end of that keyboard, where the keys play high pitched sounds. Frequency compression works like a musical translator, taking those high notes that someone might struggle to hear, and moving them down the keyboard into a range where they can hear better.

For example, let’s say a person can’t hear the sounds of birds chirping or the ‘s’ and ‘f’ sounds in speech because they’re too high-pitched. A hearing aid with frequency compression will detect those high-pitched sounds and then “compresses” or “squeezes” them down into a lower pitch that the person can hear. This can be very helpful for many people with hearing loss, but it’s not perfect for everyone; there are many factors playing an important role on the perceptual effect [6]. Sometimes it might make sounds seem unnatural or confusing because the sounds are not in their original pitch or place on the “keyboard.” It can take time for the brain to adjust to this new way of hearing.

Frequency transposition: Frequency transposition, a technology used in some hearing aids, works like a musical note mover. Instead of squeezing the high notes into a lower range like frequency compression does, frequency transposition takes those high notes and directly moves them to a lower pitch range where the person can hear better.

So, for example, if a person can’t hear the sound of birds chirping because it’s too high-pitched, a hearing aid with frequency transposition will capture that sound, change the pitch to a lower one, and then deliver it to the person’s ear. While this technology can be beneficial, it’s not perfect for everyone. It may make sounds seem strange or distorted because they are not in their usual pitch. And just like with frequency compression, it can take some time for the brain to adjust to this new way of hearing. 

Frequency translation: Frequency translation, a feature in some hearing aids, is like a “musical relocation” service. It takes the high notes (high frequency sounds) that someone can’t hear well and directly moves them to the middle of the keyboard where they can hear better. It’s different from frequency compression and transposition because it doesn’t squeeze or shift the notes, but rather replaces the high notes with middle ones.

So if a person can’t hear the chirping of birds (a high frequency sound), a hearing aid with frequency translation will pick up that sound, change it to a mid-range frequency, and deliver it to the wearer’s ear. However, just like with other frequency altering technologies, it might make sounds seem unnatural because they are not in their original place on the “keyboard”. It can take some time for the brain to adjust to this new way of hearing. 

While the methods of frequency compression, frequency transposition and frequency translation may differ, the end goal is the same: to take the high-frequency sounds that are typically lost to those with high-frequency hearing loss and make them audible once more. It’s important to note, however, that the effectiveness of frequency lowering hearing aids can vary greatly among individuals. Factors like the degree of hearing loss, the individual’s auditory history, and even the brain’s ability to adapt to the new sound patterns can all impact the perceptual effects and the success of this technology.

Despite these variables, frequency lowering hearing aids have proven to be a groundbreaking tool in enhancing speech understanding, especially in noisy environments. By making a wider range of sounds accessible, they have significantly improved the audibility and quality of life for many individuals suffering from high-frequency hearing loss. As research progresses and technology continues to evolve, the potential of frequency lowering hearing aids is only set to increase, offering hope to millions more worldwide.

Types of Hearing Loss that Frequency Lowering Hearing Aids Can Help With

Frequency lowering hearing aids in theory are particularly beneficial for individuals with high-frequency hearing loss. This is a specific type of sensorineural hearing loss, which is the most common form of hearing loss.

High-frequency hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells in the cochlea that respond to high-frequency sounds are damaged or die. This is often a result of aging, exposure to loud noise over time, certain medications, or various diseases. As a result, people with high-frequency hearing loss struggle to hear consonant sounds like “s,” “f,” and “th,” which makes speech understanding particularly challenging, especially in noisy environments. High-frequency hearing loss also affects the ability to hear high-frequency environmental sounds, such as bird songs or certain alarm signals. Traditional hearing aids often fall short in addressing this issue because they only amplify all sounds, which can lead to further damage to the remaining hair cells.

However, whether frequency lowering hearing aids benefit a person depends largely on their specific hearing loss profile and how it compares with the audibility improvements offered by frequency lowering versus conventional hearing aid technology [6]. 

Ηearing Aid Frequency Range 

The frequency range of a hearing aid refers to the span of sound frequencies that it can effectively amplify. This range is crucial because it determines what sounds the user will be able to hear. Typically, the human ear can hear frequencies ranging from about 20 Hz (very low-pitched sounds) to 20,000 Hz (very high-pitched sounds).

Image Credit: Medicine.uiowa.edu

However, most speech sounds—which are essential for communication—fall within a narrower frequency range, typically between 250 Hz and 8,000 Hz, and hearing aids are usually designed to cover this essential range of speech frequencies. In other words, they are built to amplify sounds between around 250 Hz and 8,000 Hz. Some advanced models might have an extended frequency range, reaching up to 10,000 Hz or even higher, to provide more nuanced sound perception, particularly for high-pitched sounds such as bird songs or certain musical notes.

Likewise, it’s important to note that everyone’s hearing loss is different. Some people might have difficulty hearing low-frequency sounds, while others might struggle with high-frequency sounds. That’s why hearing aids need to be properly adjusted by a professional to ensure they’re amplifying the right frequencies for each individual’s unique hearing needs.

It’s also worth mentioning that technologies like frequency compression, transposition, and translation can help users hear high-frequency sounds better by shifting or compressing these sounds into a lower frequency range that the user can hear more effectively.

Best Frequency Lowering Hearing Aids

Several hearing aid manufacturers are well-known for their quality devices with frequency lowering technology. However, the best choice can often depend on individual needs and preferences. Here are a few notable brands:

Phonak

Phonak hearing aids

Phonak offers a line of hearing aids equipped with SoundRecover2, an advanced frequency lowering technology. Their devices like the Audeo Marvel and Paradise models are praised for their high quality and comprehensive features.

Widex

widex hearing aids

Widex hearing aids use a type of frequency lowering technology called Audibility Extender. This is available in their Evoke and Moment product lines, which have been well-received for their sound quality and performance.

Oticon

Oticon hearing aids

Oticon’s BrainHearing technology includes frequency lowering in their devices (Speech Rescue). The Opn and More models are both renowned for their technology that supports the brain in the hearing process.

Starkey

Starkey Hearing Aids

Starkey’s hearing aids include a feature known as Spectral iQ, which is their take on frequency lowering technology. Their Livio AI product line is equipped with this feature.

Signia

signia hearing aids

The Signia hearing aids, particularly the Styletto X and Pure Charge&Go X, use a technology known as Frequency Compression to help those with high-frequency hearing loss.

ReSound

resound hearing aids

The ReSound LiNX Quattro and One models feature Sound Shaper, a frequency compression technology that brings high-frequency sounds into an individual’s hearing range.

Before choosing a hearing aid, it’s crucial to consult with a hearing healthcare professional. They can guide you based on your specific type and degree of hearing loss, lifestyle, budget, and personal preferences. Also, as hearing aid technology continually evolves, remember to check for the latest models.

Frequency Lowering Hearing Aids Conclusion

The journey of understanding and treating hearing loss has been one of constant evolution, with frequency lowering technology being a significant milestone. These advancements not only allow us to hear the world in a fuller way but also enable us to navigate it more confidently. From the gentle chirping of birds to the subtle nuances in our favorite melodies, and most importantly, the voices of our loved ones – frequency lowering hearing aids ensure that these sounds remain a part of our lives.

In the end, it is crucial to remember that hearing loss affects everyone differently. While frequency lowering hearing aids have proven beneficial for many, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to consult with a hearing healthcare professional who can help determine if this technology is the right fit for you or your loved one based on individual hearing needs.

As we look towards the future, we can expect even more improvements in hearing aid technology. For now, frequency lowering hearing aids represent a hopeful step forward. They offer many individuals with high-frequency hearing loss a renewed chance to connect with the world around them through sound. As we close this exploration into the world of frequency lowering hearing aids, we hope that you are leaving with a deeper understanding and appreciation for this transformative technology. After all, in a world filled with beautiful sounds, everyone deserves the chance to hear.

References:

  1. Scollie, S. (2012). Frequency lowering hearing aids: New techniques for fitting. Phonak. Retrieved from https://www.phonakpro.com/content/dam/phonakpro/gc_hq/en/events/2012/advances_in_audiology_lasvegas/Scollie_S_Frequency_lowering_hearing_aids_New_techniques_for_fitting.pdf
  2. Starkey Hearing Technologies. (n.d.). Frequency Lowering. Retrieved from https://www.starkeyhearingtechnologies.com/inspirehelp/aah/Fitting/Frequency_Lowering.htm
  3. Widex. (n.d.). Lowering the Frequency. Retrieved from https://www.widexpro.com/en-au/blog/global/lowering-the-frequency/
  4. Boys Town National Research Hospital. (n.d.). Hearing Aids for High Frequency Hearing Loss. Retrieved from https://www.boystownhospital.org/knowledge-center/hearing-aids-high-frequency-hearing-loss
  5. Mueller, H. G., & Ricketts, T. A. (2019). Frequency Lowering Fitting and Verification. Audiology Online. Retrieved from https://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/frequency-lowering-fitting-and-verification-25644
  6. Alexander, J. M. (2018). Nonlinear frequency compression: Influence of start frequency and input bandwidth on consonant and vowel recognition. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 29(10), 881–897. https://doi.org/10.3766/jaaa.18018. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6203461/
Eleftheria Georganti
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Eleftheria's world revolves around sound - whether it's designing high-quality audio applications, crunching numbers in audio signal processing (DSP), decoding room acoustics, listening to music or crafting the latest hearing aid technology and new features. She has a professional career spanning over 15 years and a strong research record (over 40 articles and patents) and has been the driving force behind top-notch products at leading hearing aid and audio tech companies. But what really makes her enthusiastic is sharing what she knows. As an avid writer, she loves spreading the word on the science of hearing, hearing aids and health technologies. Her ultimate goal? To give people with hearing impairments the insights they need to live their best life.

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