Hearing Loss in History

From an excellent new book, highly recommended =“Volume Control in a Deafening World” by David Owen, 2019. After the Civil War…in Georgia, those “who had been blinded were entitled to $150 a year, while those who had lost all hearing got just $30”. The chapter has fascinating info about occupational and military-related hearing loss in the old days. A reminder of how far we’ve come as well as how far we have to go).


“Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World”
$14.99 on Kindle and you get a $1.50 coupon for the future

Thanks for this info to share. Also many public libraries have the book in stock. It is quite new and up to date!

There is a book excerpt on the Science Friday website and, I believe, Ira Flatow, the program host, interviewed Owen as well. Learned that Ira Flatow, a national radio personality, has also suffered serious hearing loss, too. Will add link to interview when I find it (the author has probably made the rounds of NPR talk shows).

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Thanks for picking up on this and researching NPR, Jim. I’ll listen to the Fresh Air interview. Yes, I had found the Flatow/Sc.Friday piece which I thought excellent also. Good of Flatow to ‘admit’ his hearing loss. Charlie Rose once did a whole long program about hearing loss w/o ever admitting that he had it!! The book is fine. One whole chapter is about the Bose Hearphones, their development and performance, which I found very useful. Book covers many aspects, occupational hazards, everyday life, etc. As I mentioned above, lots of public libraries carry the book, and of course it’s for sale on Amazon.

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Audiobook $0.00 Free with your Amazon Audible trial.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Ira Flatow recently rebroadcast his November, 2019 Science Friday interview with David Owen about his Volume Control book on the history of dealing with hearing loss.

Listening to Owen again, I was struck by his remark that most people these days first become aware of their age-related hearing loss when having trouble understanding conversations in noisy restaurants (and he also remarked that on average, people wait at least 10 years before doing anything about age-related hearing loss, too).

But Owens remark on first noticing hearing loss due to speech-in-noise problems rings true for me (same for remark on waiting 10 years, too!). But on thinking about it, his observation probably explains why I’m very happy and even crave an occlusive fit. Even with HA’s (and pretty good ones at that), dealing with speech in noise is my biggest problem. And since I have pretty good, ~normal low frequency hearing, and most noise predominates in the low frequencies, wearing an occlusive fit allows my HA’s to do the best job possible filtering out the noise and delivering the cleanest speech possible without having noise bypass my HA mics and go directly to my eardrums. I’ve no problem with the sound of my own voice and habituate to whatever it sounds like (maybe wearing braces as a kid got me used to changing speech patterns early on?!).

The other thing that I picked up on the 2nd time around in the Owen interview is, being a hearing loss sufferer himself, is that he really thinks Bose Hearphones are superior to HA’s in sound processing because they can be bigger all around in every aspect. He told Flatow that when wearing his Bose Hearphones that he would be much better able to hear Flatow than with his hearing aids alone in a noisy restaurant. Perhaps one would put using Bose Hearphones in the same category as using a Roger pen. But that’s an interesting thought. I don’t know whether I want to spend $400 on a set to find out and there doesn’t appear to be any way to use them as over-the-ear devices on top of HA’s (too bad, or I might give it a shot).

As I mentioned in another thread related to this one, Owen discusses in the interview how difficult it is to make a good HA because of the miniaturization problem, especially when it comes to designing a very small BT antenna and he also discusses how tinnitus is like the phantom limb problems amputees experience, the brain substituting a sound for what’s missing - he say Bose gets quizzed all the time, “Why can’t you make a device that cancels out the tinnitus sound that I’m hearing” - to which the reply is “We can’t because it’s a phantom sound that only exists in your brain.”

Hi Jim–You make a lot of interesting points here. I will replay the interview myself. I will say, for now, that I find the Hearphones much superior to my HAs, and not only because of the “talking in noise” feature. I never go to restaurants, noisy or otherwise, and didn’t b/f the virus, but I GREATLY value the noise-cancelling aspect of the Hearphones–for walking in a city w/ traffic and for many other situations with ambient sounds I don’t want to hear (driving in the car, nearby lobby conversations I don’t want to hear, etc.). I live alone (in a city apartment). The volume range (ability to enhance a quiet speaker) is also terrific. On the Bluetooth (BT) aspect. . . I think he makes the point that the Hearphones’ collar is big enough to give the BT lots more room and, therefore, it is much more robust than in any HA. It never cuts in and out unexpectedly and operates at a greater distance etc. than w/ a HA. I don’t have the engineering knowledge to comment on anything else, but after wearing the Hearphones daily for about 4 months, I still prefer them to my HAs (which are now in for repair/replacement). I love the Hearphones for streaming from my iPad (no TV here), hearing navigation in the car, and for telephoning. I’ll see how I feel when life “returns to normal”, if it does. The price is still half of the Roger Pen (which I’ve never fallen in love with). I have finally bought a copy of ‘Volume Control’ and am enjoying rereading many parts. Thanks for your wonderful observations!

Glad to hear the Bose Hearphones work so well for you. Your comment almost makes me want to try them out except just as for you, I’m not going to be experiencing too many noisy restaurants while the pandemic is ongoing.

Owen also tells Flatow that the Bose Hearphones are essentially hearing aids. That Bose is not just legally allowed to call them that - which he uses as a segue into OTC HA’s in the future, I think.

Bose was an interesting character. He was an MIT Professor for 45 years. As a young fella, he bought a pricey high-end speaker based on technical specs and was extremely disappointed in the sound, which led him to start his own company and it was (in)famous for never publishing product specs since from his early speaker experience, he considered product specs irrelevant to the psychoacoustic sensation of listening. He donated the majority of his company to MIT on the condition that they never sell the shares, which are nonvoting shares, and all the proceeds from those shares go to MIT.

Have you read the Owen book? He gives A. Bose’s story and details the development of the Hearphones. It was this chapter that excited me to try to device, and, as I say, they work well for me. As discussed here in the ‘back up devices’ thread, my excellent results with them may be because of my essentially ‘flat’ hearing loss pattern. But I seem to remember that Dr Cliff’s video review of the product shows how Hearphones can closely follow a hearing loss pattern, so many people should find them productive. I had the book from the library several times before finally buying one!

I haven’t read David Owen’s book but reading some of the “meh” comments about the device by some users on the forum made me wonder whether the Bose Hearphone (and the Bose story) was really worth a whole chapter in a book on the history of hearing loss and whether intended or not, I think that sort of attention to a particular branded device does serve as an infomercial, in the same way that David Pogue when he was the Yahoo Tech guy did a news article on hearing loss that prominently discussed hearing technology relative to a visit with Starkey. By most accounts, Bose Hearphone devices can be pretty useful, even for normal hearing people having difficulty in a noisy restaurant. I think the device may illustrate the sort of technology that needs to be brought to bear in certain situations but by itself literally does not open up a whole new chapter in the history of hearing loss, at least not in the way Apple and the HA OEM’s that went for MFi did. Maybe if I actually ever try Hearphones or a newer, improved model, I may feel much differently.

I bought the David Owen book after using the Amazon “Look Inside!” feature to basically skim through the chapter on Bose Hearphones (Amazon omits a page every few pages to induce you to buy the book).

I decided to agree with Melinda Stuart that the chapter is a very, very worthwhile addition to the book on the HISTORY OF HEARING LOSS, not so much because of the Bose technology per se, but because it describes the journey of a couple of people that thought they’d invented a way to allow folks with mild to moderate loss to easily adjust their own hearing aids without the heavy overhead of having to go back to an audiologist after an initial fit and they thought surely one of the BIG SIX HA OEM’s at the time would certainly be interested in their approach because a company could then sell more HA’s more cheaply and expand it’s business tremendously. According to Owen’s telling, the small group met with rejection everywhere they went, with one company telling them the planned device and software would cause them to lose their customers, i.e., the HCP’s of the world, not the HA users of the world. Another company told them they’d buy the product but only to kill it. Bose was the only company that offered them a deal they liked (but Amazon left out the pages of the book sample on how the deal was clinched!-so ergo, I bought the book!). I would say that David Owen is not a friend of the hearing care industry as it exists now. He begins the chapter on comparing the hearing aid industry unfavorably to the mortuary industry! So if you want to find out how Bose clinched the deal to buy the EarMachine and a lot more about helping to open up a new chapter in how the public acquires HA’s for mild to moderate hearing loss, I’d recommend the book.

See Chapter 9 in the Table of Contents using the Look Inside! feature (Beyond Conventional Hearing Aids):

The EarMachine folks are not the only folks who’ve helped drive new regs for OTC HA’s. According to the NY Times and David Pogue at Yahoo, Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins also played a significant role in getting the OTC regulations changed - and Lin is not listed at all as one of the influential individuals in the index of Owen’s book! (and if you search the forum for “Frank Lin” (without the quotes), you’ll find that he’s been mentioned quite a few times in posts going way back here.

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EAR MACHINE is available as a free app on the Apple app store page!! (Don’t know about availability for Android phones, but would assume it is.) It’s an opportunity for anyone to check out how the Bose Hearphones basically work.


I’m delighted you decided to purchase the book, Jim. I hope you enjoy the entire thing, and maybe, like me, you’ll go back to it time and again. Thanks, too, for the links you provided above. I read them and also re-listened to the Science Friday interview about the Hearphones–less then 20 min. in duration. Good to hear it again. Owen is an excellent writer, and talker on this subject, but he speaks too fast! (like a lot of NYers!) [I was raised in the NY suburbs, so I can say that!] I hope your posts will convince some readers here to get hold of the book–they won’t be sorry. I have downloaded the EarMachine app to my iPhone and will practice using it, just for fun, and as a backup. Works with Apple earbuds. It can function as a free hearing aid substitute.

Thanks for info and I’ll definitely check into buying "Volume Control in a Deafening World. But sometime “mystuart” you really have to wonder how far we have come.

Hundreds of veterans are filing lawsuits against a government contractor that manufactured and sold defective combat earplugs to the military. How many people? 3Ms dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs may have caused thousands, if not millions, of our soldiers to suffer hearing loss and tinnitus, and the pain and suffering that comes with these conditions.

I hope you like ( get a lot out of) the book as much as I do! Thanks for the awful details about the ear plugs used by the military. The Owens book briefly describes this. Very, very distressing. …Melinda

Hi, Melinda. Yes, I read in Owen’s book about the availability of the EarMachine app in the Apple App Store (Andrew Sabin made it one word) but I didn’t find it in the Google Play Store. Google has the Sound Amplifier app, which it says is entirely of its own devising but works similarly to the EarMachine app if offering the user just two simple controls plus a choice of Low, Medium, or High all-around noise control. I didn’t see any reference to EarMachine in Google’s Open Source credits for the Sound Amplifier app code. Sound Amplifier now works with Bluetooth devices and works OK with my ReSound Quattro’s using a streamer. I’ll describe more in the thread Abram Bailey started.