The invention of the ear trumpet during the 17th century and today’s digital hearing aids are just some of the historical breakthroughs in hearing.
It’s incredible how we’ve gone from simple using our hands as a natural sound harnesser to programmable hearing devices that come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors.
Hearing Aid Devices
Hearing aids are programmable medical devices that were designed to treat people with certain ranges of hearing loss. As long as they can benefit a person with hearing loss, they are usually the primary solution for anyone with hearing loss.
Natural hearing cannot be restored with hearing aids, but they can amplify certain frequencies so that the user can feel as though they’ve regained some of the hearing that they’ve lost.
Hearing loss can happen at any age. Some people are born with it, others come in contact with loud noises that impact their hearing, autoimmune diseases or other ailments can cause hearing loss, or simply an aging body can gradually lead to hearing loss. One in eight people in the U.S. who are at least 12-years-old experience bilateral hearing loss. Celebrities like Halle Berry and Jodie Foster wear hearing aids.
Hearing loss that goes untreated can create more problems in your daily life. Simple interactions with coworkers, healthcare providers, and even friends and family can become challenging. You may prefer to isolate yourself from these situations, which can lead to depression.
It may be surprising that among adults who are at least 70 years of age and could benefit from wearing hearing aids, less than 30% use them.
The Invention of the First Man-Made Hearing Aid
There were many varieties of hearing aids before today’s digital hearing aids became widely used. Today, hearing aid technology is changing at a rapid pace with more conveniences and features than ever before.
The very first hearing aid creation was the ‘ear trumpet’. This was a tubular mechanism that was designed to siphon sounds into the ear. These funnels were made out of animal horns, snail shells, wood, silver, or sheet metal.
Their usage can be traced back to the 17th century. A French priest and mathematician named Jean Leurechon first referenced the ear trumpet in the Recreations mathématiques in 1634.
The conical ear trumpets were also customized by instrument specialists. Just like today, hearing instrument specialists can customize the fit and programming for each person’s individual listening needs for the best results.
The Inventor of the First Hearing Aid
The ear trumpet, though impressive for its time, turned out not to be as useful as originally thought. It simply amplified all sounds. Better technology was created.
In 1889 the Akouphone was invented by Miller Rees Hutchinson. It was the first hearing aid that utilized a carbon transmitter. The carbon transmitter had an electric current that could change a weak signal into a stronger signal.
It featured an individual microphone, amplifier, headphones, and battery (which did not last long). The device was bulky and challenging to use. It was also very expensive, so few people used the Akouphone.
Among the wealthy, it was considered a success. The American press called it a “miracle”. Queen Alexandra of Denmark was thrilled with the results that Hutchinson was invited to attend her husband’s coronation.
19th Century Hearing Aid History
The potential business from hearing aids received more attention from manufacturing companies that specialize in mass production, and engineers who wanted to make more advancements with the device. This is what led to the variety of hearing aid products that are currently available.
Just like many inventions, it took trials and errors to improve the devices. Technology is always quickly changing and there are always improvements that need to be made with current hearing aids.
What is Vacuum Tube Technology?
The first vacuum-tube technology was patented in 1920, by Naval engineer Earl Hanson. It was known as the Vactuphone. This invention utilized the telephone transmitter to translate speech into electrical signals, then amplified via a receiver. This became a huge hit, and vacuum tube hearing aids were marketed in the U.S. in 1923.
Just like today’s technology, smaller versions of these devices became available throughout the 1930s. They were sold as wearables starting in 1936, and became popular across the country.
During this period, the amplifier and batteries were donned on your neck and the microphone was held by hand. The size of it was equivalent to your range of hearing loss. As a result, conversations mimicked a news reporter.
Transistor Hearing Aid
Transistors played a crucial role in the evolution of hearing aids. They were introduced in 1948, replacing vacuum tubes due to their better performance. Less battery power was utilized, there were fewer distortions and heat compared to vacuum tubes, and they were more discreet.
Manufacturers were thrilled about the benefits of transistors, but sufficient testing was not implemented on the transistor hearing aids. Due to their carelessness, the devices stopped working within weeks of a customer’s purchase. Moisture in the hearing aids interrupted the transistor and it would stop functioning.
This ushered in the invention of a protective layer and silicon transistor to repel sweat.
Microprocessor and Compression Hearing Aids
In 1970 the microprocessor was invented. It sped up the process of making hearing aids smaller and modernized. A researcher named Edgar Villchur built upon this invention by improving hearing for its users.
He made advancements by making an analog multi-channel amplitude compression device that let audio signals separate into frequency bands. They had the ability to finely-tune analog sound in a non-linear manner. This is how specific sounds could be lowered and other sounds could be made louder.
High-Speed Processors and Minicomputers
During the 1970s, high-speed digital-array processors were starting to be used with minicomputers. In 1982, digital, real-time array processing hearing aids were created at the City University of New York. It was used as part of a research tool to study digital signal processing.
Even though this was a major advancement, like many devices that were made up to this point it was big and heavy. Inside was a minicomputer, a digital-array processor, an FM transmitter, and a receiver.
The 1980s established the creation of digital chips that were used for high-speed digital signal processing. These enabled fast processing but were pretty hefty and drained too much power, so it wouldn’t be practical to wear them as hearing aids.
As more advancements were later made, these inconveniences became more manageable with the help of A. Maynard Engebretson, Robert E. Morley Jr., and Gerald R. Popelka, Ph. D. from the Central Institute for the Deaf (CID).
The First Complete Pair of Digital Hearing Aids
In 1987, the Nicolet Corporation introduced the first commercial digital hearing aid on the market, without much commercial achievement. Even though it seemed like a bit of a failure companies saw that it was possible to market, and improvements could be made.
It became a race to create functional hearing aids that could be marketed to a wider audience of people with hearing loss. There were quicker developments and leading hearing aid companies presented different combinations of instruments that used analog amplifiers, filters, and inhibitors that were digitally controlled.
Hearing Aids of the 21st Century
Hearing aid technology and usage has advanced greatly in modern times, thanks to the work and technology that has been refined. Bluetooth®-connected devices and rechargeable batteries make hearing aids more convenient for today’s users.
In addition to hearing aids, devices like Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) give people with hearing loss a way to hear their surroundings. They can control background noise by using ambient sound, isolation, and suppression. These devices help enhance your environmental sounds (whether it’s an office setting, class setting, or somewhere else), but should not be used as a replacement for hearing aids if you have moderate to severe hearing loss. These provide two different benefits and should be used when paired together, rather than working on their own.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulties with hearing, get in touch with us at Pure Sound Hearing for a complimentary hearing test and consultation.