When trying to understand the difference between analog and digital hearing aids, you need to first appreciate the history of analog vs digital, and the alternative ways that they amplify and process sounds. Analog technology appeared first, and as a result the majority of hearing aids were analog until digital signal processing (DSP) was developed, at which point digital hearing aids appeared. Most (roughly 90%) hearing aids purchased in the US at this point are digital, although you can still find analog hearing aids because some people prefer them, and they are typically less expensive.
The way that analog hearing aids work is that they take sound waves from the microphone in the form of electricity and then amplify the waves, sending louder versions of the sound waves to the speakers in your ears “as is.” In contrast, digital hearing aids utilize the very same sound waves from the microphone, however before amplifying them they turn them into the binary code of “bits and bytes” that all digital devices use. This digital data can then be manipulated in numerous complex ways by the micro-chip within the hearing aid, prior to being converted back into regular analog signals and delivered to the speakers.
Remember that both analog and digital hearing aids serve the same purpose – they take sounds and amplify them so that you can hear them better. Both analog and digital hearing aids can be programmable, meaning that they contain microchips which can be customized to alter sound quality to match the individual user, and to create various configurations for different environments. For example, there can be distinct settings for quiet locations like libraries, for busy restaurants, and for outdoor spaces like sports stadiums.
But beyond programmability, the digital hearing aids generally offer more controls to the wearer, and offer additional features because of their capacity to manipulate the sounds in digital form. For example, digital hearing aids may offer multiple channels and memories, permitting them to store more location-specific profiles. Other capabilities of digital hearing aids include the ability to automatically minimize background noise and eliminate feedback or whistling, or the ability to prefer the sound of human voices over other sounds.
Cost-wise, most analog hearing aids continue to be less expensive than digital hearing aids, but some reduced-feature digital hearing aids fall into the same general price range. There is often a noticable difference in sound quality, but the question of whether analog or digital is “better” is entirely up to the wearer, and the ways that they are used .