How Hearing Aids Work a Historical Perspective

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The highly technical tiny ear devices known as hearing aids have changed a great deal throughout the years. Hearing aids, first mentioned in a book published in 1588, were carved of wood in the shape of an ear. If you think your hearing aids are irritating, at least they will not give you splinters! In simplest terms, a hearing aid is an electronic sound amplifier. Numerous models feature a wide array of features for individuals with hearing loss. Hearing aid technology is light years ahead of its humble beginnings. Even so, all hearing aids still share a few components:

  • The microphone is the part of a hearing aid that picks up the sounds around you. It is standard practice to place one microphone in the front and one in the back to receive input from two different directions.
  • This component is a small speaker responsible for playing the amplified sound into your ears.
  • Processor/amplifier. The “middle man” of a hearing aid. This digital component works between the microphone and the receiver. It functions to work out the amount of sound that should be amplified

Ear Trumpets

Watch an old movie sometime, and you will probably see someone straining to hear using an ear trumpet. These devices, which gained popularity in the 17th century, were effective at amplifying and directing sounds. They were available in all sizes and shapes, and could even be fashionable.

The Telephone and Hearing Aids

Although hearing devices of the 1900s to the 1920s were based on telephone technology, Alexander Graham Bell was not involved in their development. The units reproduced sound by utilizing sound waves to compress carbon against a diaphragm.

Vacuum Tubes

In the early 1940s, the latest technology for hearing was vacuum tubes. The tubes could address more serious hearing problems than its predecessors. The problem was the need for batteries which at that time were very pricey.


The hearing aid story took off between 1950 and 1980 with the introduction of transistor hearing aids. Semiconductor technology allowed hearing aids to become more portable devices. The prototypes for analog hearing aids arrived and provided more comfort and better sound quality. Unfortunately, the ability for these hearing aids to filter noise and speech was limited. However, they were an improvement, and some analog models still exist today.


Digital Signal Processors (DSPs), introduced in the 1980s, comprise the largest category of hearing aids available on the market today. These hearing aids feature channels and bands that vastly improve filtering and amplification.

Future Innovations

With the introduction of wireless technology and Bluetooth, users are now able to link up to their cell phones and television. Cutting edge devices now allow the communication between the left and right ear which delivers precision hearing. Promising advancement in genetics and medicine may one day eliminate the need for hearing aids and hopefully, that day will come soon. For now, check out the incredible hearing aid technology that includes small, sleek, and powerful devices.



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