To fully understand the difference between analog and digital hearing aids, it is important to first understand the history of analog vs digital, and the different ways that they amplify and process sounds. Analog hearing aids came out first, and were the norm in most hearing aids for a long time. Subsequently, with the introduction of digital signal processing (DSP) technology, digital hearing aids also started to emerge. The majority of (roughly 90%) hearing aids sold in the United States at this point are digital, although you can still find analog hearing aids because some people have a preference for them, and they’re typically cheaper.

Analog hearing aids handle inbound sounds by taking the electrical sound waves as they emerge from a microphone and amplifying them “as is” before sending the sound waves to the speakers in your ears. In contrast, digital hearing aids utilize the very same sound waves from the microphone, however before amplifying them they turn the sound waves into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices understand. This digital data can then be manipulated in numerous complex ways by the microchip within the hearing aid, before being transformed back into regular analog signals and delivered to the speakers.

Both analog and digital hearing aids perform the same function – they take sounds and boost them to allow you to hear better. Both analog and digital hearing aids can be programmable, meaning that they contain microchips that can be modified to adjust sound quality to suit the individual user, and to create different settings for different environments. The programmable hearing aids can, for example, have one particular setting for use in quiet spaces, another for listening in noisy restaurants, and still another setting for listening in large auditoriums.

But beyond programmability, the digital hearing aids generally offer more controls to the user, and offer additional features because of their ability to manipulate the sounds in digital form. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, permitting them to store more environment-specific profiles. They can also employ advanced algorithms to detect and reduce background noise, to remove feedback and whistling, or to selectively prefer the sound of human voices and “follow” them using directional microphones.

Price-wise, most analog hearing aids continue to be less expensive than digital hearing aids, but some reduced-feature digital hearing aids fall into the same general price range. Hearing aid wearers do detect a difference in the sound quality produced by analog versus digital hearing aids, but that is largely a matter of personal preference, not a matter of whether analog or digital is “better.”

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