An illustration of an ear trumpet

Hearing has always been important, and throughout history people have developed different ways to overcome hearing loss. As technology has advanced, so too have hearing aids. Today, we’d like to give you a brief overview of the history of these devices.

The earliest days

Hearing loss was first combated with ear trumpets. Ear trumpets are long tubes that look like the end of a saxophone. They didn’t amplify sound, however. Instead, they funneled sound directly into the ear. While the most common version of the ear trumpet was developed in the 17th century and popularized in the 18th, primitive versions have been discovered dating back as early as the 13th century. Speaking tubes were also developed in the 1700s to help amplify voices, but they were bulky and not convenient to use.

While ear trumpets were large, in the late 19th century new designs made them smaller and more discreet. One notable design was the acoustic headband, which hid the hearing device in headgear or the wearer’s hair.

The early electronic days

The invention of the telephone was also a boon for people with hearing loss because sound could now be transmitted electronically. Using technology designed for telephones, the first hearing aids were developed. While these machines were portable, they were bulky and the sound quality was often scratchy.

In the 1920s vacuum tubes were incorporated into hearing aids, which first turned speech into electric signals, then amplified that signal. While this was a marked improvement over earlier versions, they still weren’t perfect. They didn’t discriminate between sounds the listener wanted to hear and background noise, and were very large and bulky.

World War II and beyond

Technological developments in the war lead to advances in hearing aid technology. Specifically, they could be shrunk down so the batteries, amplifier, and microphone could be contained in a pocket-sized device. Once the transistor was invented in 1948, it replaced the vacuum tube, which needed less battery power and distorted sounds less. Transistors were constantly improved and miniaturized, and were used regularly in hearing aids for the next few decades.

The birth of digital

While digital sound-processing technologies were invented in the 1960s, they weren’t practical for hearing aid use until the development of microprocessors in the 1970s. That decade hybrid hearing aids were developed that utilized both microprocessors and the technology used up until then.

In the early 1980s, the first fully digital hearing aids were developed, and by 1985, the first fully wearable digital hearing aids were brought to the market.

Hearing aid technology today

The Audeo Marvel digital hearing aid.

Technology today is leaps and bounds ahead of what it was even a few decades ago. Far from the large trumpets or heavy, encumbering devices of the past, hearing aids are small, discreet, and in some cases completely invisible. Digital hearing technology now allows wearers to focus on the sounds they want to hear and not the background noise. Some can even be synced with Bluetooth devices, so people can hear their phones or other smart devices. And while most use small batteries, some hearing aids are rechargeable. Either way, people no longer need to carry bulky battery backs.

Modern hearing aids at CEENTA

Hearing aids have come a long way since the days of the ear trumpet, and if you want the latest in hearing technology, come to CEENTA. We offer hearing aids for every lifestyle, and no matter what your needs are, we’ll make sure your hearing aids are up to date.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with a CEENTA audiologist? Call 704-295-3000.


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