What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like?
February 03, 2022

If you have recently found out that you have a degree of hearing loss, a ton of questions may go through your head. Wondering if you will still get to enjoy music, talk on the phone with others, or simply be able to hear the voices of your loved ones are all some things that may be racing through your mind.

Depending on your degree of hearing loss, your audiologist may recommend a hearing aid or potentially even a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a medical device that is implanted into the inner ear.

It essentially bypasses the normal structures of the ear to allow individuals to hear. Because cochlear implants bypass the normal function of the ear, they are often called bionic ears.

Below is a closer look at how different hearing assistive devices sound, what they can offer, and which ones might serve you best.

Hearing Aids

The most utilized assistive hearing device is the hearing aid. Hearing aids are devices that are placed into the ear canal and essentially amplify the volume of sounds that enter your ear. Hearing aids come in a number of different styles and types. These include prescription, over-the-counter, in-ear, and behind-the-ear.

Below is a closer look at how hearing aids work and how they can change the noises you are able to hear as well as the differences between hearing aid types.

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Hearing aids work in a pretty simple way. Regardless of the type of hearing aid, there are four main components that allow them to work. These include a microphone, processor, battery, and speaker.

The microphone takes in the noise from the immediate environment and converts it into a digital signal. This signal is then sent to the processing unit, where the intensity of sounds is increased. Once the signal has been increased, it travels to the speaker, where it emits the same sound but louder.

Different Styles of Hearing Aids

When it comes to hearing aids, there are many different form factors and styles available. This includes completely in the canal, in the canal, in the ear, and behind the ear.

Many people prefer the smaller form factor hearing aids since they are able to be concealed and are less apparent than other larger models like the traditional behind the ear. Typically the smaller hearing aids get, the more expensive they are.

At Audien Hearing, we provide small form factor hearing aids at a fraction of the price of other companies. Not only are they small, but they are also mighty and full of features that punch well above their price point. Take the Audien Atom as an example with its Atom™ sound technology and Patented Comfort + Design.

What Do Hearing Aids Sound Like?

Unlike cochlear implants, hearing aids retain the use of normal ear anatomy. Sound waves are still hitting the eardrum and are conducted like any other noise. The speaker located at the entrance of the ear canal is essentially relaying all of the noise that would be entering your ear. But now, it’s simply at a higher volume.

In terms of what they sound like, hearing aids tend to sound much more natural when compared to a cochlear implant. The ear is like a finely tuned acoustic instrument; it is capable of differentiating different noises and picking up the subtleties in sounds.

On the other hand, cochlear implants have the difficult task of adapting audio into a stimulatory signal, leading to a less natural and true-to-life sound.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are hearing devices that many people know very little about. Cochlear implants are hearing assistive devices that are implanted into the inner ear. They help individuals with severe hearing loss or those that are completely deaf.

Unlike other devices like hearing aids that rely on the acoustics of the ear, cochlear implants are completely independent, and the device does most of the conversion of sound into nerve impulses.

Below is a closer look at cochlear implants, how they work, and how they sound.

How Do Cochlear Implants Work?

Cochlear implants may seem complicated, but the reality is that they are fairly straightforward with how they work. Cochlear implants consist of two main components: the internal and external units.

The internal unit is the part that is transplanted, and it contains an electrode and a receiver. The entire unit is implanted below the skin. The receiver is placed between the skull and scalp to allow for easy communication with the external unit.

The external unit contains microphones, a processing unit, a battery, and a transceiver. This part of the cochlear implant is the brain of the operation and is what converts sound into an electrical signal that is then sent to the implant.

The two components work together to provide individuals the ability to sense sound. When a sound is picked up by the external unit, it is converted into a digital audio signal that is sent to the processor. The processor converts this signal into a format that is sent to the implant to coordinate electrical stimulation to the inner ear.

What Do Cochlear Implants Sound Like?

While cochlear implants are hearing assistive devices, it is important to acknowledge the sound that is heard from an implant will be quite different from that heard with natural hearing. There are a few factors that can contribute to exactly how a cochlear implant sounds.

The first factor that can impact what a cochlear implant sounds like is at what point in your life you get a cochlear implant. Some individuals have had a cochlear implant since childhood. For this group, cochlear implants are the only way of hearing they have ever known. These individuals would most likely tell you that they sound normal.

In contrast, people that have gone most of their life with natural hearing and made the switch are likely to tell you that there is an immense difference. This large difference can make it a little difficult to understand, but over time those with a cochlear implant begin to adapt and are more likely to get used to the change in sound. When the implant is first implanted, sounds tend to be described as robotic, tinny, or echoey.

Another factor that can impact how it sounds is the implant itself. There are a number of different designs when it comes to cochlear implants, and these differences can change the way it sounds.

One factor that can impact sound quality immensely is the implanted electrodes. The implant electrodes have a number of different outlets that are called channels. Early cochlear implants only had one channel, but modern cochlear implants can have up to 22 channels.

The last factor that can alter the way cochlear implants sound is the external unit. Most of the time, cochlear implant manufacturers have different hardware compared to one another, which can impact how it sounds to the individual. Differences in microphone quality or processing ability could cause sound quality to be more natural or tinnier.

Cochlear Implants vs. Hearing Aids: Which Is Right for You?

Now that you know what a cochlear implant and hearing aid sound like, you may be wondering which is the best option for you and your specific circumstances. As a general rule, cochlear implants are typically left as a last resort when it comes to helping you hear.

If you suffer from minor to severe hearing loss, hearing aids are most likely the best route. With these forms of hearing loss, your ears are still able to interpret sounds. Hearing aids can help to bring quieter sounds into your threshold to enable you to hear better.

For those that have profound hearing loss or are nearly deaf, hearing aids will not do you much good since the range of hearing is nearly nonexistent, and you can only increase the volume of sounds so much. This scenario is typically when cochlear implants are recommended since they can allow for a person to regain some level of hearing when they would otherwise be deaf.

Cochlear implants are reserved for severe hearing conditions because there are risks associated with going under for implantation, and residual hearing can be reduced. If you have a mild form of hearing loss, these factors are simply not worth it. A simple and easy hearing aid could be all you need.

Sounding Off

A cochlear implant is a form of hearing device that allows those with profound hearing loss the ability to hear sounds in their environment. While this technology allows those with profound hearing loss to hear again, the technology is not able to exactly replicate the sound of natural hearing.

Some people can describe it as sounding slightly robotic, tinny, or echoey. As technology continues to develop, there may be a day when cholera implants mimic everyday sounds flawlessly.

Sources

The cochlear implant: Historical aspects and future prospects | NCBI.

Types of Hearing Aids | FDA

The Bionic Ear | Stanford Health Care

Hearing Aids — Styles/Types & How They Work | NIDCD

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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