The Best Sounds You’ve Never Heard

The elderly man at the Charleston train station was telling me about his life as a musician. And I had almost no idea what he was saying.

At first I thought it was because the station had a definite echo. It did, but my frustration wasn’t as much with understanding the man as it was that my hearing was failing and I knew it. The station was empty and I was sitting right next to him. I made a promise to myself that I would get hearing aids soon.

I had known for some time that I was heading for that inevitable day. Cost was an issue since I have no insurance coverage for hearing aids. I also had been watching my older brother Dave struggle with his. But these weren’t the reasons why I hesitated. I wasn’t afraid of getting them. It’s just that, when costs are high, you want to do it right.

But just as I was getting serious about this, the laws changed and you could buy hearing aids over the counter (OTC) and at much lower prices. So, since I’m a gadget guy who likes to figure out how things work, I started my research. I’ve always been willing to buy cutting edge stuff that doesn’t pan out – like eight-track players, VCRs and dot matrix printers. Someone has to sacrifice by buying new stuff or we’ll never know if it really works. I’m that guy.

So, I figured I’d do everyone a favor by buying and reporting on what amounts to a miniature PA system that hangs on top of my ears. My hair is too short to hide them, so I look like a poor attempt to be Mercury, the Winged Messenger.

Past is Prologue 

I suppose part of my hesitation at getting hearing aids was my perception of them. Many of my elderly relatives fought with the large plastic aids and associated wires, amplifier and tiny batteries. These things squealed a lot. The earpiece was about equivalent to the earphone you got with a transistor radio. People at church had them. In fact, I remember sound ports in some pews for congregants to connect hearing devices to.

It was actually the transistor that allowed today’s hearing aids to be small, wireless and rechargeable. This did not necessarily make them easier to use. Some fit entirely in the ear. The ones I bought are over the ear with a cord to the ear canal. They include a 100-day trial and three-year warranty among other things such as many extra domes in various sizes and cleaning tools. Domes are the flexible tips that hold the receivers in your ears. 

When I first started using them, everything sounded tinny, like I was in a metal-walled room that reverberated every sound. I’d hear sharp snapping sounds. That was the ice maker in the fridge. If Catherine coughed or sneezed, even in the next room, I’d practically jump out of my seat. I clearly needed to make adjustments. But I was hearing sounds I hadn’t heard for years.

An important point everyone should know is that full-featured hearing aids work with an app that runs on a smartphone. While you can do many things just from the buttons on the aids, you’ll likely need the app to fine tune them. I think this might be my brother’s problem. He hadn’t used the app yet. The app for mine allows setting bass, mid-range and treble. There are four preconfigured settings: all-around, restaurant, music and outdoors. Right now, I’m focusing on the all-around settings. That’s the one recommended for use most of the time.

They are configured based on the results of an online hearing test. So, when I first put them in now, I usually just adjust the volume as needed. When I do adjust the treble or bass for a certain environment, I can save it as a favorite. I have one called “church.”

Everything is Tiny

As I mentioned, these hearing aids are small devices. The replaceable parts are even smaller and so are the tools. I just bought a hands-free lighted magnifying glass so I can work on them.

And earwax is now a serious subject. As with any hearing aids, earwax buildup is inevitable and needs to be removed. Mine have wax filters that need to be replaced occasionally. At least I don’t need to replace batteries.

You might do well with OTC hearing aids and save some money. Features and prices are all over the place. However, if you aren’t computer savvy or don’t have a smartphone, you could miss out on some features. You might do fine with a low-cost one with just a few basic features.

Everyone who needs hearing aids has many choices now. One thing I haven’t done is get a professional hearing test. I can then upload the results to have my settings fine-tuned.

Some people will be better off visiting a hearing aids center that can do it all. It could be more expensive but if the end result gets you the hearing you need, it’s better than struggling with OTC aids, especially if you have trouble with new technology.

My hearing aids help me hear Catherine better. Now when I don’t understand her she says I’m just not listening.

I don’t know of any hearing aids that can fix that.