9 breakthroughs in the history of hearing

Jun, 27, 2019

For nearly as long as humanity has had ears, we’ve had hearing aids.

Here we take a look at the history of hearing and the various technologies our ancestors used to enhance their hearing – some low tech, some high tech, all ingenious.

 

a woman wearing invisible hearing aids gardening with her daughter
1. The Animal Horn

As early as the 13th century, hollowed out cattle horns were used as rudimentary ear trumpets. The device didn’t amplify sound like modern hearing aids, but funnelled it through a narrow tube into the ear.

a man playing a trumpet in a blurred background
2. The Personal Ear Trumpet

By the early 1800s, the horn had evolved into the ear trumpet – an often bulky device with a fancy fluted end for speaking into.

elderly woman and elderly man on a sofa talking on the phone
3. The Portable Carbon Transmitter

By 1890, the telephone had been invented and that meant new technology became available to help people hear. This aid used a portable carbon transmitter to amplify sound signals, but it wasn’t very effective.

Back of man with hearing aids
4. The Vacuum Tube

The refinement of vacuum tubes dramatically increased the amplification technology available – by as much as 70 decibels. By the mid-1920s, the unit could fit into a small wooden box, with a receiver the user held to their ear.

a man placing his ric hearing aid in the ear
5. The Transistor System

With the invention of the transistor in the 1950s, plus more efficient battery technology, hearing aids could become dramatically smaller and more practical – worn inside or behind the ear.

an ENT specialist examining the ear of a boy
6. The Microprocessor

 

By the 1970s, improvements in digital and analogue circuitry allowed the design of even smaller units incorporating powerful microprocessors.

a couple using a tablet together
7. The Dawn of Digital

The first fully digital hearing aids emerged in the 1990s, with radically improved smart amplification technology able to process 40 million signals per second.

a girl smiling while driving her car
8. The Bluetooth Revolution

By the new millennium, hearing aids had shrunk yet again, with receivers small enough to fit inside the ear canal itself – and even directly connect via Bluetooth to phones, TVs and computers.

a man standing indoors and holding a tablet
9. The Smart Device

Today’s hearing aids employ adaptive Artificial Intelligence to optimise sound quality in any hearing environment, even allowing for virtual check-ups with hearing care professionals.

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National Hearing Care blog is our place to explore ideas and themes of interest. For professional audiology advice, please contact your local clinic for a consultation.

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