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February 27, 2015

Bands vs Channels: What’s the difference and Why do I need them?

This post might be for the more technical folks out there interested in the inner workings of hearing aids (we at Audicus Hearing Aids are proud tech geeks). Whoever has done a bit of research when shopping for hearing aids probably had to wrestle with confusing terminology at some point. With hearing aids becoming increasingly packed with features and gimmicks, it’s important not to lose the overview on the basic indicators.

Hearing Aid Lingo: What are Channels and Bands?

Two of the most important characteristics of hearing aids are “Channels” and “Bands”,  which are also some of the most misunderstood by users.

To start off with, the number of channels or bands has nothing to do with the number of programs or volume settings. Sounds are processed and amplified by a hearing aid based on frequencies (or the pitch of a sound) and volumes. A peek at your audiogram will tell you how much amplification you need for any given frequency. In a nutshell, bands and channels thus determine how granular a hearing aid can process and amplify the sounds it perceives. To quote a great explanation from Philips:

“A band is what is used to control volume in different frequencies. This allows us to adjust more volume in a specific area of your hearing loss without effecting other areas where you might need less volume The more bands the hearing aid offers the more room we have to fit the aid to your hearing loss.

Channels break up the frequency range into individual channels. This allows the hearing aid to differentiate noise from speech. The more channels the hearing aid has the more fine tuned it can be. For instance the sound of keys falling on a table, or water running in the sink may be overwhelming. When your hearing aid offers many channels we can adjust each frequency that is too loud without sacrificing the things you want to hear, like your spouse or boss.”

Thus, just the way a high-resolution picture gives you a sharper image, more bands and channels provide you with a more granular sound quality. More channels will provide better “resolution” on the frequencies and more bands will mean better “resolution” on the volume… thus allowing your hearing aid to match your audiogram more accurately.

But at what point does a higher degree of accuracy become redundant? For example, take a look at the two pictures below:

hearing-aids-audicus

hearing-aids-audicus

One has twice the resolution of the other – however most people can hardly notice the difference. The same applies to hearing aids.

Hearing Aid Channels: How many are too many?

Some modern devices can come with more than 24 channels… and cost patients thousands of dollars more. But how many channels do we really need for the everyday use?

Starkey, a hearing aid manufacturer, did a study involving a sample of 1,156 audiograms to answer the question “how many independent signal processing channels are required to maximize speech audibility”. The underlying assumption was that the goal of a well designed hearing aid is to maximize sound quality and speech understanding – as measured by the articulation or “AI Index”. They found that the perceived benefit in speech audibility beyond 4 channels is marginal, or “statistically insignificant”. The most drastic improvement occurs when moving from 1 to 2 channel devices.

 

hearing-aid-channels-audicus-audiology-online

So if most patients (especially those with mild or moderate hearing loss) can’t hear the difference beyond 2-4 channels (all Audicus hearing aids come with 8 – 12 channels, by the way), why are manufacturers continuously pushing for more channels and bands? One possible answer is that it allows them to pass through continuous price increases year over year, by calling it “superior” technology. Sure, “superior” it is, but “over-engineered with a negligible benefit” might be a better term.

Most importantly though, patients have the right to be better educated by the respective professionals about what they spend their money on – especially if it’s in the Thousands of Dollars – and ultimately have more choice in the decision process. It’s time that manufacturers put “actual perceived user benefit” back in the equation – which is something we at Audicus Hearing Aids are particularly passionate about.

Sources: Audicus Hearing Aids, Philips, Starkey/Audiology Online

by Patrick Freuler

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Comments

John kulchyckyj said

I would like more info on the unitron quantum 20, and the phonak ambra, pricing per aid, quality of sound between the 2 makers. sincerely john

Kuruvilla Mathew said

I’m an Audiologist by Profession .Your way of explanation about channels & bands are just Awesome !!

Kuruvilla Mathew said

Dear Author,
Mind blowing explanation !!
Warm regards,
Kuruvilla Mathew.
Audiologist.
08281324718.

Nelson Bailes said

I understand that 4 channels are good. But in your explanation I could not find
your recommendation for how many bands would you recommend for mild to moderate
hearing loss.

Girish said

I understand that beyond 4 channels there is no major benifits of havng more but what abount Bands? How many Bands I should have, if my hearing is from mild to severe hearing loss?

christine said

thank you guys …Never had such concise, speedy response to my " call for help" before.! Renata, thank you for introducing me to AUDICUS.!
Would like to read your answers to the other’s responses (questions). Probably, we all would.

i haven’t heard of AUDICUS…..are there dealers/audiologist/ENT’s in chicagoland ?>>>
christine

gulshan said

was very confused which one to buy 12 channels or 6 channels with 6 bands,thanks to your detailed explanation on channels and bands i could make a decesion.also thx to a very helpful chat with nicole KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GUYS .

Sandy said

What about channel free aids? I read a review that claims they can be as good or better then aid with 4+ channels.

Thanks for any input

ramya said

Thank you so much for explaining the difference between bands and channels. I always how many channels are enough. What about bands though?

Arnab Lahiri said

Dear Sir

I was looking for hearing aid for my dad. I was confused as the concerned sales person was pushing for more channels and bands. Thanks for your wonderful explanation, now I feel confident which aid to choose and why.
God bless you Sir.

Regards,

Arnab

Jamil said

Very informative, good work.

How I can confirm the number of channels in any hearing device (looking for widex).

Please help me.
Thanks & regards

audicus said

Hi Jamil- You will have to find out the specifications of the device. This is not something you can determine yourself.

OldETC said

the issue is a bit obscured in your example...
Your definition of bands is correct. However channels refer to the break out of the bands into amplification channels. Basically a hearing aid lacks something audiophiles call headroom. When many frequencies pass through an amplifier, the various signals "heap up". The results mean that some of the signal is clipped or lost. If you separate the frequency bands into channels, you restrict the number of frequencies that can "pile up". This means you have more headroom for each distinct frequency, and better reproduction fidelity.
Hope this helps.

Larry Jones said

I would like to know more about hearing aids channels and bands.
How they work.

Gerry said

Thank you so much for the information. I will be shopping for a hearing aid in the near future and need all the info. I can get.

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