Need help with how reverberation or room accoustics effect my aids

My hearing aids work great for me at home, outside, and even in some noisey situations but put me in a room with a high ceiling and hard surfaces, like a medium size restaurant for example, and I can really struggle with conversations, even if it’s not that noisey. It seems like the very quality of voices change to something somewhat distorted and useless noises like fans and such that don’t usually bother me seem more amplified making it even harder to understand speech. I know it has to do with the space itself. What frequencies tend to be the most problematic in those environments? What is the best strategy for echoey, high ceiling places where sounds tend to become hollow and bounce around and the softer more nuanced sounds in voices seem to get lost?

If your HA supports it, then you need to have the Audi set up a specific program for this type of environment. Since it is a specific environment that causes this problem, but the aid works in most instances for you, then it does not make sense to play with the main program settings.

They can change the way the HA filters sounds to take out more of the “echo” or reverb sounds and cut out more of the highs or lows depending on which bother you more. Then you just switch to that program when you are in the environment that causes you problems, and switch back to the basic program for normal use. I currently have 5 programs set up on my HAs for different environments.

Take into consideration that, even if your hearing was perfect, there are bound to be certain situations where no matter what, you won’t hear everything that is said to you!

My wife and her family went to a real fancy restaurant with marble all over the place. The place was crowded and she said it was so noisy in there, they all decided to just eat and not try to keep up yelling at each other two to three feet away!

In other words, for a restaurant, the place was poorly-designed with very poor acoustics! Put a wall-to-wall carpet in that same place and an acoustical ceiling and it would seem like a completely different restaurant!

Typically, modern hearing aids will be set with a second program for noisy environments. In some aids this is switched on using a push button on the aid or the aid will do the switching automatically.

This second program will usually adjust the frequency response by reducing the low frequencies and may also switch on a second microphone. The second mic is used to make your hearing aids less sensitive to sounds coming from the rear and sides of the aids. In some cases, the switch can be quite dramatic. In most cases you should hear a definite reduction in perceived volume. The speech in noise program can come with a lot of digital signal processing which some folks may not like the sound of.

Your aids may be switching to a second program that is not properly set. I think this happens a lot during the initial programming. Typically the first program will be set OK but sometimes the programmer doesn’t spend much time fine tuning the second program. As a practical matter, it’s tough to set the second program because the fitter’s office, while fine for speech in quiet, will make it hard to adjust for speech in noise. Sometimes the fitter forgets about making adjustments to the second program.

As it goes the high end aids will gear most of the premium features for digitally processing speech in noise. Do they work? I’ll let you know if I see any that does.

I do have a second program set up for noise. It seems to work pretty well if I’m sitting in a restaurant with one or two other people sitting close to me. The situation that gives me trouble is the kind of room I describe (high ceiling, hard surface) when I’m attending a group meeting. It doesn’t have to be very noisey at all. Maybe part of the problem is that I just can’t hear someone speaking 10 feet away from me. But it also has to do with that echoey sound. Anyone else have problems in group meetings in public places? When I say group meeting, what I mean is 10 or 12 people sitting around in a circle.

Hearing and comprehension in church is the most common complaint that I have heard. As you say, the reverberation and echo due to the typical high ceilings and hard surfaces is the problem. My advice would be to move to a spot more in line with the PA system or some other spot on the assumption that some locations are better than others for listening. Of course, that probably won’t help you. Frankly, I have no ideas.

The problem you are describing is a very common one: the effective range of your directional mic system is about 6-9 feet. If you go beyond that, degradation in the signal occurs as sound gets reflected from reverberant surfaces all around you. These ‘echoes’ are destructive to the original signal.

Even hearing aids have limits - the only system which has currently bettered this is the Phonak Stereozoom (on the Spice IX), which can ‘zero-in’ in sounds farther away due to the 6 inch separation of the microphones.

If you cant afford $6000 hearing aids with stereo zoom, there is a very good App called SoundAmp that can be purchased for less than $10. You need an I-Pod Touch or an I-Phone. I’m not sure they have it yet for Android systems. I experimented with it the other night in a noisy restaurant. I measured the decibel levels in the restaurant at around 85 - 90 (another app I have). I first used my new Phonak Ambras with stereo zoom and it was OK. It kept picking up a ladies voice from the table next to ours and it seemed very noisy. I didnt sense that it was reducing background noise but I did sense it was trying to pick out the loudest voice and amplifying that. These aids are new and I haven’t yet been back to have them adjusted yet. Then I pulled out my zoom link fm system and tried that and it was still too much background noise. Then I pulled out my IPhone 4, put in a pair of bud type sony headphones and switched on the SoundAmp App. There are settings for boosting about 5 frequencies from low to high for each ear. Then there is a zoom button and bingo, it dampened the background sound and I was able to hear my husband better than the hearing aids. I could see this as an option for people with just basic hearing aids and wishing to hear better in restaurants.

Was that Autozoom or Stereozoom? With stereozoom you set the direction yourself, so unless the person with the load voice was sat directly in-line with your husband, it shouldn’t have been an issue. However, like you say: these systems aren’t always perfect.

wow, Crymeariver, I love your user name by the way, it’s what I have to NOT do everyday. That system sounds very interesting and I’d like to know more. How do you think the IPhone 4 would work in a meeting situation like I described. I assume this is not taking advantage of your hearing aids but is sort of like a phone I have where I can hear as well without my hearing aids as with them due to the boost button on the phone which enhances a frequency that helps me. Do you have to have any other equipment for this to work like you have to have with FM systems?

Hi Shirley: I haven’t used it in a group setting yet, but I suspect it might be ok with a round table and 4 maybe 6 people. There is also another App called “Ears” which has been getting rave reviews. You can tune it to whatever sounds best to you. I downloaded it but haven’t used it yet. It doesn’t look like it has a zoom slider like SoundAmp though. You might be able to add additional mics using the headphone jack. There are some cell headphones that have a separate mic. I used these on the old SoundAmp program and they worked. I’ll let you know what I find out. I have several of these types of mics.

Unwanted speech usually is different than wanted speech in that its volume, content, tone, cadance,and direction is different. Reverberant speech technically is a mirror image of the original sound displaced in time, direction, and with altered frequency emphasis. The brain using its billions of connections and redundancies (sp) is, in a person with normal hearing, able to filter out the unwanted speech and echos.

HOH persons lose that ability. Why…I don’t know.

Despite the claims, I am not aware of any aid that can replace this brain function. The only thing an aid can do is narrow the azimuth it will amplify using directional microphones. The further apart the mikes are spaced the higher the Directional Index (narrow the beam of reception). As indicated in other posts, the direction of admittance is easily controlled by an aid’s electronics.

Extraneous noise is another matter because the noise is quite different than speech in content, frequency, and direction and can be filtered by an aid’s electronics more or less. Ed