Hearing in restaurants

My hearing aids help me get by in almost all circumstances except restaurants. Often the best I can do is sit right next to someone and ask him to repeat things. If there are several people, it is almost impossible for me to join the conversation, especially if the restaurant is noisy or there is background music. If the din gets too intense, sometimes I’ll just take out my hearing aids. Any suggestions? --Steve

You didn’t say what kind of hearing aids (brand and model) you wear.

I wear Phonak Bolero Q BTE RIC.

I assume that you already set your Phonak to some kind of a directional noise reduction mode for restaurants or noisy places. But even in that mode, the noise reduction wouldn’t be as successful unless you meet all 3 of the following criteria based on some research:

  1. The person speaking to you must be in front and close enough to you (within 6 feet).
  2. The noise is on the side and in the back but not in the front.
  3. There can’t be too much reverb in the room.

Some newer hearing aids like the Sonic Enchant (and maybe Bernafon Zerena) try to solve this problem by doing automatic/adaptive directionality and automatic/adaptive noise reduction and also doing it in a multi-band design. Check out the Sonic Enchant 100 review on this forum to get some idea on the limitations and how the Sonic folks try to solve them with the Enchant model.

Another new approach is the open paradigm taken by the Oticon OPN. It actually does the reverse of the traditional way by letting you hear more noise more clearly (like even background music) and competing speeches around you. The premise here is that the more auditory information you have (instead of blocking it out the traditional way), the more information your brain hearing will have to cognitively filter out what you don’t want to hear (by hearing what you don’t want to hear more clearly) and train your brain to focus on what you want to hear. But it does also help clear up speech in the front as well.

If you don’t want to get new hearing aids but just want to find ways to improve on what you’re already wearing, simply try to fit the 3 criteria above (1,2,3) or try to mimic the OPN a little bit by using music mode when in noisy restaurants. It’s not really the same effect as the OPN, but at least gives you an idea of what the OPN is going to be like. Be aware that this open paradigm does not work overnight. You’ll need to try it out for at least several weeks to get your brain hearing trained up on its cognitive skill to get used to doing its own cognitive filtering.

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I wear Phonak Q70 HAs and have no problems hearing in noise. I found having my MPO lowered to really help hearing in noise.

I have a new set of ReSound Linx 3D (ITC). It has a “restaurant” program. I tried it for the first time today and it doesn’t work very well. For one, it hardly lowers the background noise and the upfront sounds are diminished, almost to the same extent. I had a pair of phonak aids and it did a great job of lowering the background but it too lowered the upfront sounds. I experimented with the controls on my Iphone but it didn’t help very much. There are some programming things to try, I guess, and I have an appointment with the audiologist next week. So we’ll see. I’ve been wearing hearing aids for 15 years and have never had a pair that I bought or tried that worked very well in restaurants or noisy social gatherings. Some work very well to block out general noise, like road noise and the like, but none seem to improve speech in noise.

The Opn does not work by training your brain. It works by increasing the signal to noise ratio. The music program will really not do this at all.


Your clinic technician may not have maxed out the signal to noise parameters in the speech-in-noise/restaurant program.
Other than Phonak’s SteroZoom which was fantastic when I demoed them 8 years ago…get a remote lapel mic to attach to your restaurant partner…or move the mic toward the person speaking/waiter at the time… or set the mic in the middle of the table to help along with reading lips.
Also when I was using my Oticon Agile Pros in a loud restaurant, I was able to use the speech in noise program with the connectline lapel mic to really get the “island in a sea of noise” effect.

Once people understand why you are using the mic they naturally accept it. They may even take the mic up close to their mouths when directly speaking to you in a group and pass it around. Makes for some interesting comedy and the awkward or embarrassing situation wains.

Caution though…your partner will leave your table with the mic attached going to the restroom. you will hear whats going on in the ladies room for example, and the toilet paper lol.

The OPN 3 only has a max noise reduction of only 3dB. So its noise reduction is only very marginal compared to the 9dB max nose reduction of the OPN 1. Yet it’s still very effective for many people (myself included) when it comes to speech understanding. So I disagree with you that the OPN works solely because of its noise reduction. Sure, the noise reduction is a very important part. But gaining full auditory cues on competing speeches and noise to help the brain hearing to apply is cognitive power to do the filtering is also a big part of the OPN strategy. This is explained by Donald Schum (spelling?, VP @ Oticon) in one of his podcasts that you can find relating to the Oticon noise management strategies on the Oticon website. It’s not something that I cooked up myself.

Of course using music mode only from any other hearing aids brands and models is not the same experience as wearing the OPN with its effective noise reduction to boost. Otherwise Oticon wouldn’t have been able to sell their OPN. But it is PART of the Oticon brain hearing strategy to train the brain to use its cognitive function more effectively to complement the special noise reduction strategy that Oticon uses on the OPN. So I still believe that trying out the music mode still gives you a PARTIAL experience of trying to see how the brain hearing cognitive function works.

One thing I think you are saying here in the first paragraph is that the Opn hearing aids try to maintain the cues that the brain naturally uses to localize auditory objects and that supports the brain’s ability to hear speech in noise. That is true and fine. Oticon is not the only company that has been trying to maintain ILD and pinna cues and the Opn is not even Oticon’s first platform that was doing it. Yes it is a thing that the Opn is doing, but it is not the thing that makes the Opn special (it is not the “paradigm shift” that their marketting department talks about). I don’t even think that they are doing the best version of that particular thing right now. But regardless, I don’t have an objection to what you said there.

But in the second paragraph. . . Oticon’s “brain hearing” strategy has nothing do you with training your brain. For the umpteenth time. You’re stuck on this idea that the Opns are training your brain. They are not. When Oticon talks about “brain hearing” they are talking about a particular motivation behind their research which is to understand how the auditory system normally uses sound and use that understanding to guide them in making hearing aids that support the damaged auditory system. It’s a great approach. But the Opns are heavily processing sound to help you out (they are not training your brain to do anything). Music programs, including music programs in the Opn itself, are generally turning processing algorithms OFF, because the things that are helpful for improving speech understanding can often distort music. The music programs in other hearing aids are not in any way similar to the Opn strategy.

You give lots of great information in these forums. I don’t know what it is about this one particular thing that really rubs me the wrong way. : P


Have you experimented with the three “sub-programs” within the restarurant program? To me each sounds notably different, and depending on circumstances- provides the best speech recognition.

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It rubs you the wrong way because you always misinterpreted what I said. I never said the OPN itself per se does the training of your brain. I said that the open paradigm / strategy is based on the brain hearing philosophy, and having more auditory cues may be helpful to let the brain make better use of its cognitive filtering function. One does NOT need the OPN to try out the open paradigm. That’s why I suggested that using the music mode can give one an idea of the open paradigm.

You just said so yourself that Oticon is not the only company that promotes ILD and pinnacle cues, and it also did it in the previous models as well. So we’re not in conflict about that point. You just assumed incorrectly for the umpteenth times that I’m saying the OPN trains your brain while I never said that.

There’s a big difference between saying complete auditory cues help train your brain hearing use its cognitive skills (which is what I said) vs the OPN trains your brain, which I did not say.

Neville, In your first paragraph, you mention that you didn’t think Oticon was doing the best version of maintaining ILD and pinna clues. Who do you think does it best (or better?) Thanks.

The problem is that some speak authoritatively while selection isn’t a black or white action.

Throw in that forums have a hard time with clarification. What is discussion in person can be perceived as attacks in forums. What seems clear to us may confuse others. What we write may not be exactly what we meant. e.g. complete auditory cues help train your brain tumor

The majority of us here are untrained. I know I have back off from some of my earlier habits where best advice isn’t something we can be certain of.

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Restaurants are the “worst case scenario” for us people with hearing aids and the most effective hearing features for hearing in a restaurant are often only found in the most expensive (i.e. the 9 series) version of each brand. So if you don’t own the Phonak B90 or OPN1 or Linx3D-9, you will struggle in a restaurant.

IMHO, it’s not the noise that is the main issue. Most hearing aids can handle speech in a very noisy environments where the noise is machine or environment related, etc. The challenge comes when you are in a restaurant where there are a number of other speakers within very close range of your hearing aids. In other words, noise plus people at adjacent tables. The hearing aids get mixed up and don’t know where to focus for the speech comprehension.

You can do things to help. Pick a table in a corner or beside a wall and make sure you are in a chair when your back is to the wall. This eliminates voice from behind. Avoid long tables where you are at the end. Also…work with your audiologist to create a program that cranks up the speech frequencies, turns off the rear microphones and cranks up noise reduction. Plan on three to four visits to fine tune and really consider shelling out the $6K it will cost for a 9 series premium hearing aid.



This is not 100% true. I wear Phonak Q70s and I hear very well in restaurants with my automatic program. I don’t use StereoZoom or anything like that.

When I enter a restaurant, I’m up front with the hostess and tell her/him that I am hearing impaired and request seating in the quietest area available. Restaurants seldom have a really quiet area, but if I can get seated away from music and large groups of celebratory diners, my HAs function well enough to allow me to take part in the conversation.

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If you do not think that opn hearing aids are training the brain to use its cognitive function more effectively, this is a funny thing to say.

The resident acronym hater here. What does MPO stand for, please?

Maximum Power Output