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Traditional Audio vs. Group Assistive Listening Devices

Hearing helps us better contextualize other people’s thoughts and emotions, which is why the hearing impaired need listening tools. For many of these people, their inability to hear hindered their social participation and emotional stability. Thankfully, assistive listening devices are changing this narrative for the hearing impaired. 

Schools, theaters, airports, and conference rooms now have the right listening tech. There’s also a wide range of personal amplification devices for the hearing impaired. Assistive listening tech has truly been a revelation for people with hearing difficulties. In this article, we’ll explore the unique features and uses of traditional and assistive listening technologies


Traditional Listening Devices

Traditional listening devices are, fundamentally, personal amplification devices. They help hearing-impaired persons at a personal level.  

These devices work best for people with residual hearing. People with residual hearing can experience sound without assistive technology. They can do so if the sound is at the right frequency or volume. However, they struggle to hear in noisy rooms or if the speaker is far away. Personal amplification devices help these people to pick sounds in such situations. 


Types of Traditional Listening Systems

Traditional listening devices aren’t self-sufficient. This is especially true for users with profound hearing loss in crowded spaces. Their effectiveness is limited to super-controlled spaces with ideal acoustics. Here are the most common types of traditional listening devices.


1. Hearing aids

A hearing aid consists of a microphone that picks up sound signals at the source. It then converts the sound signals to electrical signals.

Moreover, there’s an additional amplifier that enhances the sound frequency and volume of the sound. All these components are then connected to a receiver that converts the electrical signal back to sound. This receiver delivers the sound directly into the user’s ear.

Modern hearing aids are small, discreet, and comfortable. They sit stylishly over the ear or in the ear canal, offering a very seamless experience. 

2. Cochlear implants

Cochlear implants are electronic devices implanted in a user’s ears through surgery. They are useful for people with severe hearing loss from inner ear damage. A cochlear implant lets sounds bypass the damaged part of the ear so it goes directly to the cochlear nerve

Cochlear implants include a sound processor that traps sounds from the outside and sends them into the damaged ear. It fits well behind the ear. 

Then, a receiver collects sound signals from the sound processor. This receiver is placed under the skin behind the ear. 

Lastly, there’s a thin wire that’s attached to the receiver on one end and tiny electrodes on the other end. The electrodes trigger the cochlear nerve to send them to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as sounds.

3. Neckloops

A neck loop has a microphone, which the user sets near the audio source to capture sound and send it to the audio processor. Then, there’s a sound processor that relays sound signals from the microphone to the user’s ear.


Group Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive audio devices have a good reputation for making sound experiences more inclusive. They help people with any level of hearing difficulty, including mild to profound hearing loss. They are designed for bigger audiences in public settings. You’ll find this technology in theaters, courtrooms, and lecture halls, among other spaces.

An ALD system consists of wireless transmitters and receivers. The system isolates and enhances the desired sounds and quiets unwanted background noises to deliver clear audio to the user. Users get an exceptional listening experience regardless of their environment. 


Types of Assistive Listening Systems

Assistive listening systems include hearing loops, frequency modulation (FM), and Infrared (IR) audio systems. Here’s more into each type to know which fits your needs better.

1. Hearing loops

The Audio Frequency Induction Loop System (AFILS) is an example of hearing loops. Hearing loops enhance speech clarity by eliminating background noises. They’re connected to a user’s hearing aid to deliver quality audio directly to the ear. 

A typical hearing loop system includes a discreet wire loop that carries electrical signals from the desired audio source. The loop generates a strong electromagnetic field within a designated area, for example, in an auditorium. 

Then, a telecoil receiver picks up magnetic signals from the wire loop. The receiver acts as the miniature antenna for the users’ hearing aids. It turns the signal back into sound before sending it straight to the user’s ears.

2. Frequency Modulation (FM) systems

An FM system works best in small, enclosed spaces such as classrooms and lecture halls. Usually, they feature amicrophone that captures sound at the source, e.g. the voice of a teacher or a preacher. Tapping sound at the source reduces background noise significantly.

Then, there’s a transmitter that converts sound into FM radio waves and a receiver that picks them up and delivers them directly into the user’s ear. The receiver is integrated into the user’s hearing aids or cochlear implants. 

3. Infrared (IR) Systems 

IR audio systems work well in rooms with ambient light and minimal noise, such as movie theaters. These systems first convert sound waves from the source into infrared signals, which they then convert back to sound signals for the user’s ears.

IR systems start with a transmitter that taps sound waves at the source and converts them into light waves. Then, the receivers (e.g. headphones or neck loops) are connected to the user’s hearing aids. 

These receivers pick up infrared signals and convert them back into audible sounds. For optimal audio quality, the receiver and the transmitter should align in a clear line of sight.

The bi-directorial communication in these devices can also connect to standalone units with built-in speakers. This is best for amplifying sound to a large hearing-challenged audience.

Why IR Systems Stand Out the Most

IR systems have the best assistive technologies out there since light waves produce premium sound quality. 

IR systems support multiple audio channels, letting users choose their favorite audio source. For example, blind users can choose the audio description channel, which would give them a superior theater experience. On the other hand, hearing-impaired users can choose the main audio source, which would give them superior audio quality.

Ultimately, these systems are more portable and often easier to set up than hearing loops or FM systems. If you need a temporary ALD, an IR system would be your best option.

4. The roger pen

Roger pens are wireless audio devices, perfect for students with hearing problems. Their main component is a microphone worn by the teacher (or any other speaker). If the sound sources are many, you can strategically place the microphone in a central place.  

Then, the devices feature a neck loop that’s connected to the user’s headphones, earbuds, or hearing aids. The loop acts as the receiver, transmitting sound signals directly to the user’s hearing aids. 


The Legal Requirements And Standards For Assistive Listening Devices

People with hearing impairment are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act requires public facilities to install assistive listening receivers. This is mandatory for all spaces whose optimal use necessitates audible communication. Such spaces include (but are not limited to):

  • Classrooms and lecture halls
  • Theaters, amphitheaters, and concert halls.
  • Courtrooms
  • Legislative chambers, 
  • Conference halls. 
  • Arenas and stadiums.

Spaces that seat 50 people or more must always provide assistive listening systems. And, at least 25% of the sound amplification devices provided must be hearing aid compatible


Final Thoughts: Which Is Best For You? 

Traditional systems are more affordable, easier to install, and more portable than advanced ALD equipment. They’re great for personal use at home, such as listening to music or having dinner with family or friends. 

Advanced ALDs are perfect for public spaces where audio is a primary function. They make communication more accessible and efficient, especially for people with severe hearing loss. However, they’re more expensive to install and maintain than personal amplification devices. 

If you need one of these systems, contact one of our experts at ABBN and let them guide you toward the perfect solution for your needs.


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