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Binaural Processing

2014-12-16

There is a reason we have two ears. In people with typical hearing, the ears work together to better understand speech in noisy environments as well as to determine the direction from which a sound originates. For instance, we can tell that a sound originates from our right side, because it is a little louder and arrives a little earlier at the right ear than the left. Hearing aids are now capable of sharing information with one another in an attempt to preserve the natural differences that exist between sounds arriving at the two ears and mimic the way the natural auditory system works.  

Furthermore, some hearing aids work together so that a wearer may adjust the volume or a program on one hearing aid and the change automatically happens at the other hearing aid. Some hearing aids also have the capability of allowing the user to hear the sound from a telephone in both ears simultaneously when the phone is placed next to one of the hearing aids. Finally, some advanced hearing aids share information between their microphones in order to allow for “super directionality.” As shown in Figures 3B and 3C, beamforming achieved by two hearing aids working together can be much more precise than either hearing aid working alone.     

Omni-Directional Microphones without Binaural Processing. The circle represents the fact that the hearing aids are amplifying sounds from all directions equally,which may result in the wearer experiencing difficulty hearing the signal of interest (i.e., “How are you?”) over the surrounding noise.

Directional Microphones without Binaural Processing. Here, a directional hearing aid provides amplification for sounds arriving from directly in front of the wearer, while reducing the volume for sounds arriving from other directions. As shown, much, but not all of the noise is attenuated by the directional amplification.

Directional Microphones with Binaural Processing. Here, a listener is using hearing aids with directional microphones enhanced by binaural processing. Note how the binaural directional response is more focused on the sounds arriving from the front than the directional response achieved by the hearing aids in Figure 3B. There is the potential to provide better speech recognition in noise than conventional directional hearing aids without binaural processing.    

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