Here’s the Ultimate Hi-Fi Hack Most People Ignore

Does the future of Hi-Fi lie on music-focused hearing aids?
Does the future of Hi-Fi lie on music-focused hearing aids?

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Even the best gear can’t fix what you can’t hear.

Audiophiles obsess over every component in their systems. Yet many overlook the most important link in the audio chain – their own ears.

It’s a sad reality: as we age, hearing loss creeps in, often unnoticed. This slow process makes it harder to fully enjoy the details of music. And, for those of us who love Hi-Fi, this can mean missing out on the very things we’ve spent thousands to hear.

You might think, “Hearing aids should fix this problem, right?” But here’s the catch – most hearing aids are made for speech, not music. They’re not built to capture all the sounds we want to hear.

The great news is, there’s a way to work around this.

Welcome to the world of high-end hearing aids – where audiology meets audiophilia. Here’s what you should know about them and how to get the most out of them.

Understanding the Older Audiophile’s Dilemma

Here’s a surprising fact: hearing loss affects 22% of people aged 65-74, and jumps to 55% for those 75 and older. Yet, less than a third of those who could benefit from them actually use hearing aids.

This reluctance often stems from fears about how these devices might alter our listening experience.

“I have always been concerned that a hearing aid would essentially be the last (digital) audio component in my chain, and could negatively affect the quality of sound,” admits one forum member.

It’s a valid concern, though.

As we said before, regular hearing aids are mainly made to make speech clearer, not music. That means, they often use features like wide dynamic range compression, noise reduction, and feedback management to make speech clearer.

The waveform of speech (left) vs the waveform of music (right). (From: HearingTracker)
The waveform of speech (left) vs the waveform of music (right). (From: HearingTracker)

While these are good for everyday conversations, these same features can mess up music.

Compression can make soft sounds too loud and loud sounds too soft. Noise reduction can remove background sounds that are important in music, like the echo in a live recording. And feedback management, which stops hearing aids from whistling, can mistake some musical notes for feedback, making the sound distorted.

Plus, the physical design of hearing aids can also affect music quality.

Many hearing aids use small balanced armature speakers that work well for speech but not the full range of sound required for music. These drivers can lack the ability to reproduce the deep bass and extended treble that audiophiles cherish.

Some audiologists suggest that audiophiles may have trained themselves to detect subtle audio differences even with hearing loss. Yet, this heightened sensitivity can be both a blessing and a curse when adapting to hearing aids.

The New Wave of Music-Focused Hearing Aids

A close look at the Phonak Audéo Lumity hearing aids. (From: Phonak)
A close look at the Phonak Audéo Lumity hearing aids. (From: Phonak)

The great news is: today’s high-end hearing aids are a far cry from basic amplifiers.

Many have dedicated music settings, adjustable equalization, and even Bluetooth streaming. Some examples of these are brands like Phonak, Widex, and Oticon who are leading the charge in developing models for the discerning ears of musicians and audiophiles.

These devices often have switchable settings that handle music differently from speech.

While speech processing focuses on clarity and intelligibility, music programs preserve the full dynamic range and tonal qualities of the sound.

This distinction is crucial because music and speech have vastly different acoustic characteristics.

Speech usually has a smaller range of frequencies and volumes, focusing on the middle frequencies where human voices are. Music, on the other hand, has a much wider range of frequencies (from low bass to high treble) and volumes (from very soft to very loud).

To deal with these differences, music-focused hearing aids use specialized algorithms that keep the music sounding natural.

For example, wide dynamic range compression, which is useful for speech, is often turned off or adjusted in music programs to keep natural loudness changes. This lets soft parts stay soft and loud parts stay powerful to keep the emotional impact of the music.

These modern hearing aids also often feature customizable equalization settings.

With this, users to fine-tune the frequency response of their hearing aids to match their personal preferences and hearing needs. So, you can boost the bass frequencies to enhance the depth of the sound or adjust the treble to bring out the clarity of high-pitched instruments.

Some models are even starting to use dynamic drivers or hybrid systems that combine balanced armature and dynamic drivers. And, others also add Bluetooth streaming capabilities so you can stream your music straight to your ears.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids for Music

When selecting hearing aids for music listening, consider these factors:

  • Dedicated music program
  • Adjustable equalization
  • High dynamic range capability
  • Open-fit vs. closed-fit options (for bass response)
  • Bluetooth streaming quality (if desired)
  • Speaker type (balanced armature vs. dynamic drivers)
  • Compatibility with streaming protocols (e.g., Made for iPhone, Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids)

Yet, your hearing needs may change over time. So, you’ll need to get annual hearing tests to ensure your devices are always optimally adjusted.

To make sure you’ll have the best, finding an audiologist who understands the unique needs of audiophiles is equally important.

A specialist can help optimize your hearing aids for music by:

  • Turning off feedback management and noise reduction for music programs
  • Disabling directional microphones for a more natural soundstage
  • Lowering compression ratios to preserve dynamics
  • Increasing maximum power output for better headroom
  • Disabling frequency compression to maintain accurate pitch

Most audiologists are more focused on hearing aids for the general public. But, there are also some who specialize in working with musicians and audio enthusiasts.

These “Music Audiologists” have a deeper understanding of both hearing health and musical requirements.

If you’re a musician, consider bringing your instrument to appointments for real-time adjustments. For general music lovers, you can look for an audiologist who has high-quality speakers for testing your hearing aids’ performance with music.

DIY Tricks for Better Music in Regular Hearing Aids

Matthew Allsop explaining the budget-friendly trick to improve music quality in hearing aids. (From: YouTube/HearingTracker)
Matthew Allsop explaining the budget-friendly trick to improve music quality in hearing aids. (From: YouTube/HearingTracker)

For those looking to experiment and don’t want to spend a lot for new hearing aids, audiologist Matthew Allsop offers a surprising tip:

“By placing a few layers of Scotch tape over the microphones, it will reduce the volume of sound entering the hearing aids. This tricks them into thinking that what they’re hearing is actually lower than it is, eliminating that initial distortion.”

This simple hack works by preventing the hearing aids from being overwhelmed by high-volume music, which can cause distortion at the input stage.

Typically, 3-5 layers of tape work best, but feel free to experiment to find the perfect balance for your listening preferences.

User Experiences

User, Teskey, sharing his experience in discovering and using hearing aids made for music. (From: NaimAudio)
User, Teskey, sharing his experience in discovering and using hearing aids made for music. (From: NaimAudio)

Many audiophiles report positive experiences after adapting to properly adjusted hearing aids:

“I’ll never forget the day when I tried my new pair of hearing aids,” shares one user.

“It’s as if I had bought a new piece of audio gear, which in fact I had. Tonality, instrument separation, and the rest of the attributes often used to describe an excellent piece of gear had made an appearance.”

However, it’s important to note that the journey isn’t always smooth. Some users say it takes time to get used to hearing aids, and others find that while helpful, the devices don’t fully match natural hearing.

Tinnitus, a common issue for many audiophiles due to years of exposure to loud music, can also complicate the adaptation process.

“I am amazed at the difference the aids make to my listening experience,” shares another user.

“HF detail that I didn’t know was missing is now clearly audible. But, mid and low frequencies reach my ear drum naturally and are unaffected by the aid. It did take a few trips to the audiologist to get the music programme just right, but it has been so worth it!”

The Future of Audiophile Hearing Aids

The future of audiophile hearing aids looks very promising as the lines between regular hearing aids and high-end audio equipment continue to blur.

Sure, no major audio brands currently produce hearing aids specifically marketed to audiophiles. But, there are some companies that have begun to branch into this space, as they recognize the potential market.

Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus look just like any TWS earbuds. (From: Sennheiser)
Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus look just like any TWS earbuds. (From: Sennheiser)

An example of this is Sennheiser, who has introduced products like the Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus, designed to make speech clearer for people with mild hearing loss.

Jabra also let go of its consumer electronics market to focus on hearing aids.

But, none of them has produced audiophile-centric solutions so far. So, we’re still waiting for a major audio brand to do so. Imagine a pair of hearing aids tuned by Bowers & Wilkins or Mark Levinson, complete with custom drivers and a leather-wrapped charging case!

And, with hearing aids becoming an important part of the listening setup, reviews and comparisons might need to include the reviewer’s hearing health and the specific hearing aid model used. This openness could lead to more personal and accurate recommendations for fellow audio fans.

For example, reviewers might discuss how different hearing aids affect how various audio equipment sounds, from speakers to headphones to amplifiers. But for now, we’re just dreaming.

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