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  • How to Use a Remote Microphone to Reconnect To Your Favorite Activities
    16 Jun , 2016










    Remote microphone technology is a proven and effective method of maximizing the help hearing aids can provide in the most demanding scenarios. Users can reconnect to their favorite activities even in the face of background noise, limited visual cues, speech at a distance, and in multiple talker activities. Here are a few tips for applying the technology.

    Humans are social beings. Yet for hearing aid users, some of the most social environments are the most difficult. Factors that negatively impact speech reception include background noise, limited visual cues, long distances from the target speaker and multiple speakers—all typical characteristics of social environments. Not surprisingly, user satisfaction in these difficult listening environments continues to lag behind the vast progress seen in quiet and one-on-one conversations, even for hearing aid users with the newest technology.
    The introduction of directional microphones has produced some measurable benefit, but hearing aid users are still at the mercy of the environment as most of the compounding negative factors are beyond their control. This is not the fault of directional microphone technology or the hearing aid user; it is due to the complexity and demanding nature of these environments. Often, hearing aid users revert to maladaptive coping tactics, such as bluffing or withdrawal from the conversation, when confronted with difficulty in these environments.

    Remote Mics at a Glance


    A hearing aid user can give a remote microphone to a conversational partner, or place it near people he or she wants to hear. The microphone picks up the sound of interest close to the source and transmits it directly to the user’s hearing aids. This increases the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) dramatically, in a wide variety of listening environments.

    Remote microphones have been around for a long time. Decades ago, a hearing aid user could connect a wired microphone to the direct audio input of their hearing aid(s) and point the microphone toward the talker of interest. However, it is somewhat unnatural and even disruptive to many communication situations to hold a microphone up to another person to speak in, so it is hardly surprising that this type of remote microphone did not win a wide audience.
    Remote microphones are also an important component of FM systems, which use an analog frequency-modulated signal to wirelessly transmit sound to receivers attached to users’ hearing aids. Although this type of remote microphone is more convenient to use than a wired one, this solution is expensive and limited to certain hearing aid styles. Thus, FM system use is mostly limited to academic settings.
    More recently however, digital wireless technology in hearing aids has made remote microphone technology more affordable, practical, and accessible to hearing aid users. The remote microphones currently available use different wireless technologies, and in some cases can transmit directly to the user’s hearing aids with no separate receiver device.


    Remote microphone technology provides not only the proven performance required to reconnect hearing aid users to the conversation in these difficult listening environments, it also has the versatility to provide benefit in a variety of difficult listening scenarios where remote microphone technology can help. Hearing care professionals can assist patients in getting the best out of the remote microphone technology—giving patients a personalized and optimal experience.

    EXAMPLE; Noisy Restaurants, Keeping You Engaged in the Conversation Even in Low SNR


    Noisy restaurants are one of the most commonly reported areas of listening difficulty—and why wouldn’t they be? Restaurants frequently have high levels of unpredictable impact and speech background noise, which often overlaps in frequency composition with the target speaker, yielding a low SNR. Combined with limited predictability of noise location, low lighting, and acoustically detrimental architecture, low SNR can negatively contribute to this listening environment. Hearing aid user survey data over the past 25 years has consistently rated noisy situations highest in user dissatisfaction,1,2­ and satisfaction ratings for following a conversation in noise in restaurants were the lowest compared to other situations. Utilization of visual cues can aid in speech understanding in noise, but restaurants often do not provide adequate lighting for patients who rely on visual cues for speech reading and seating arrangements can be problematic. It is commonly suggested to those who wear hearing aids that they use a strategy of “sitting with the noise behind you.” While this is moderately effective as shown in testing of directional microphone benefits,3 it is not always feasible due to limited seating options, the presence of multiple noise sources, and the inherent reverberant nature of restaurants.

    Remote microphone technology can provide better SNR for the user even in the most difficult noisy situations—bringing the target speech directly to the hearing aids via wireless transmission—with proven results. Research by Boothroyd found that, in varying degrees of signal input level, the hearing aid users performed as well with a remote microphone system in the presence of background noise, as they performed in quiet with the hearing aids alone.



    Another situation where external factors are beyond the control of the hearing aid wearer is in the car. External noise is again a factor, but what distinguishes the car environment from a noisy restaurant is the near-complete absence of visual cues. Regardless of seating arrangement, visual cues are lacking, and speech can often be directed away from the hearing aid user. Without visual cues, hearing aid users cannot use speechreading, which has been shown to provide an additional 4-6 dB SNR improvement in noisy environments. Without visual cues, the patient is already at a disadvantage. The hearing aid user may be at additional disadvantage as the seating arrangement may result in a severely reduced speech signal, either because the hearing aid user is seated behind the target speaker or due to physical obstructions between the speaker and the hearing aid user.


    Beyond the lack of visual cues and reduced amplitude of the desired speech, road noise presents another issue. Not only does driving introduce added noise, but the added noise may trigger a directional microphone setting in the user’s hearing aids, making it more difficult to understand the speaker or forcing the hearing aid user to turn his or her head towards the target speaker—which is especially not desirable if the hearing aid user is the one driving!


    Remote microphone technology can offset the loss of visual cues by bringing the target speech in clearer and directly to the hearing aids. As noted before, the performance of remote microphone technology is a significant improvement in noisy environments over hearing aids alone, providing more SNR benefit than visual cues alone or directional microphones can. As an improvement over ReSound’s Mini Mic, ReSound’s Multi Mic provides additional noise reduction by entering a “Directional Mode” when worn vertically in the presence of noise. The directional response is directed towards the speaker’s mouth to preferentially amplify their voice, while not impacting other aspects of the hearing aid sound processing. The microphone can be clipped on the target talker (see image) or passed among multiple talkers, keeping the hearing aid user connected to the conversation even if someone is speaking from the back or a side seat of the car. It can also dramatically reduce the hearing aid wearer’s need to turn towards the talker—which means one less distraction for the driving hearing aid user.


    A THIRD COMMON EXAMPLE; Listening At A Distance.


    Listening from a distance presents its own challenges for hearing aid users. Typically, listening at a distance introduces some degree of reverberation, due to the size of the room, lecture hall, or place of worship. Similar to the car environment, listening at a distance effectively negates the benefits of visual cues, as the hearing aid user likely is not sitting close enough to take cues from the speaker’s face.


    The final challenge is the most obvious: the speaker will sound softer to the listener than a typical face-to-face conversation. As the Inverse Square Law dictates, the SPL of any sound will decrease 6 dB with the doubling of the distance from the sound source. Given the size of many places of worship and lecture halls and the possibility of sitting in a new spot each week, the hearing aid user may be receiving a severely lower input compared to the initial signal. Most places of worship have sound systems, but can result in additional issues for the hearing aid user. Many lecture halls or classrooms do not utilize a sound system.


    Remote microphone technology can alleviate the strains associated with listening at a distance, because the sound is brought directly into the hearing aids from near the speaker’s mouth—negating the reduction in volume and the addition of reverberation. Multiple studies have shown that the benefits of remote microphone technology do not dissipate when the distance between the remote microphone and the hearing aid user is increased, as long as it is within the working range of the remote microphone transmission protocol. The aforementioned research by Rodemerk and Galster shows that remote microphone technology provides significant improvement in speech perception in noise compared with hearing aids alone, even at a distance of 12 feet.


    Research by Jespersen took that one step farther—well, actually several steps farther —by testing the ReSound Mini Mic, which utilizes 2.4 GHz wireless technology, testing the technology at 6 meters (almost 20 feet). They found no significant drop-off in performance in speech perception in noise when compared to shorter distances using the remote microphone technology. This research also found that the remote microphone significantly outperformed hearing aids alone —even in a directional microphone setting at these distances. With the ReSound Multi and Micro microphones, the range is increased so the target speaker can be up to 30 meters (>90 feet) away from the hearing aid user and within a clear line of sight, and the patient can still receive the benefits of the remote microphone technology.

    More recent research by Rodemerk and Galster showed remote microphone technology improved speech perception performance in noise by 11-15 dB—including the 2.4 GHz transmission used in ReSound’s Multi and Micro Mics—when compared to unaided and hearing aids only conditions. Rodemerk and Galster’s “hearing aid only” condition utilized an omnidirectional hearing aid microphone setting, but even compared to directional microphone settings remote microphones still provide much added benefit. Recent research by Jespersen and Laureyns suggests that there is a significant improvement in performance in noise of 9-11 dB compared to hearing aids set to a directional microphone setting.



    Remote microphone technology is a proven effective method of maximizing the help hearing aids can provide in the most demanding scenarios. Users can reconnect to their favorite activities even in the face of background noise, limited visual cues, speech at a distance, and in multiple talker activities. In real world terms, that means going back to restaurants they stopped going to, trying new places that were once too noisy, reconnecting on road trips and at family reunions, hearing a lecture, chatting on the golf course, and everything else life brings.


    Image credit: Hearing Review


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    2. Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VIII: Consumer satisfaction with hearing aids is slowly increasing. Hear Jour. 2010:63(1):19-27.

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