Hearing Aids

One thing that has caught my attention at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is the number of audiophiles-including me-wearing hearing aids.

I have three: a Bose “Hearphone”; a 4 year-old Kirkland (Costco) with phone control; and an Opticon, also about 4 years old. The Bose is unmatched for hearing in a conference room; the Kirkland is almost as good as the Opticon for general use, costs about 2/3rd’s less, and phone control is a big plus; the Opticon is the smallest, the most expensive, and the least controllable, but comes with a regular checkup by an audiologist, which is important.

None of them are any good for music. The reason is that each of them reverses phase (sometimes called “polarity”). While this is good for speech, it robs the beginning impact of every note and with that, much of the emotion in music. It also makes violins screechy, screws up instrument placement and depth, and weakens bass.

For Directstream DAC users, the solution is simple. Any time you listen to music, reverse the phase. You do this from the remote for the Senior, and, on the Junior, via the second menu (hold done the menu access button until the screen changes, press the button until you reach the phase sub-menu, then change the phase by turning the knob). Others can achieve the same effect by switching the leads on their speakers (red wire to black socket).

Recorded music (disk or streaming) comes in two phases: normal (0 degrees) and reverse (180 degrees). In general, music recorded in the US, Britain, and Japan is normal phase. Music recorded on Continental Europe is reverse phase. Ah! It would be wonderful if it were so simple. But, if you use hearing aids when listening to your system, try this:

  • For a week, listen to music you know well recorded in the US, etc. in reverse phase. If classical, listen in particular to high violins, string basses and percussion; and image spread and depth. If jazz, listen to the pluck of standing basses and the noises that accompany the pluck; impact and depth of percussion, especially the kick drum; and depth and stability of images. If pop or electronic, listen for the clarity of the lead singer (how many words do you understand?); the beginning of all bass notes (especially if fast) and, if you have a sub, whether the deepest notes have a discernable beginning and end. Also note whether you get the same (or more) satisfaction when playing your favorite tracks at a lower volume.
  • When you hear a difference, start the track again in normal phase and see whether the sound is less satisfying or needs to be louder to get (almost) the same impact.
  • Now, if you have favorites recorded on the continent-especially DGG (but not Phillips)-- listen to them in normal phase and determine if you hear a difference.
  • Let others know what you discover on this tread.

For me, the difference is night and day. So, I took the next step: at a chamber concert yesterday morning, I listened without my hearing aids. The piano was notably clearer, the string trio better balanced (the violin did not stand out), and no distracting overload on the loudest attacks.

There’s a lot more to all of this. I’m apparently unusually sensitive to phase (a virtue when I play with others in an orchestra). My hearing loss is just high frequencies. And I have very strong brain memory of what instruments should sound like. I see this as an experiment, not yet a recommendation.

PS: Anyone know of a hearing aid that does not reverse phase?

Hi jrango… I use Widex Evoke 440 aids. My vendor/distributor says that the Evoke 440s do not invert phase.
They are, of course, programmed to my particular loss, and 4+ different programs for various situations. My Music program is amazing. They connect via bluetooth to an iphone app that facilitates quite a lot of band adjustment and EQ as well as an heuristic capability to build your own, reusable programs.

Thanks for the information. I’m setting up an appointment with my local distributor now.

I’ve had 3 different brands of “top shelf” hearing aids over the last 12 years. All were programmed to deal with my particular loss (typical high freq loss). The Widex Evoke 440s are Far And Away the best with everyday life and particularly with music. Their dynamic range, clarity in hf, and better amplification capabilities are the best I’ve had. My sonic life just seems dull without them on. They also work inside the larger headphone cups…I like Beyerdynamics, closed or open.

Thanks for the information. When we’ve heard from others, I’ll put together and post a list of hearing aids that do not reverse phase and headphones that work with over the ear hearing aids.

I have age-related high frequency hearing loss. I need to improve my hearing overall and intend at minimum to do no harm when it comes to music (and hope for some upside). I’m currently testing Widex Evoke, having tried Widex Beyond, Resound 3D Linx, and Oticon OPN without success. The Evokes still need more adjustment to cut down on distortion and background noise but are the best I’ve tried for both general hearing and music The Resounds seemed dull overall. The Beyonds and Oticons were bright with high background noise in general use and had music settings that seemed bright, harsh and distorted.

For music, I’ve taken the Evoke’s basic Music setting through the Sound Sense Learning feature (iPhone app) and have saved two settings that are a big step up from the basic Music. This feature is similar to the process for selecting reading glasses. You start with two samples and pick the one preferred. It can take 20 or more iterations but the end result is a dialed-in music setting that is quite compelling. Background noise and treble edge is gone. Some would say it’s a mellow presentation but high in clarity and not at all fatiguing. This learning feature is a game changer and will be coming to more top end brands according to my provider.

Regarding phase inversion, after a quick switch of speaker leads, I couldn’t detect any change caused by the Widex.