Infrared sheds some light on hearing better in noise

December 21, 2015

Once you’ve made a large investment in better hearing, it can be frustrating to find that the hearing aids do not solve all of your hearing difficulties. New technology is amazing! Hearing aids are fantastic in most situations! They aren’t human, however, and they can’t solve all of the problems a hearing loss can cause in different environments. It becomes necessary, at times, to augment the hearing aid’s function with accessories. Infrared systems are one type of accessory and are most commonly used in the home with TV sets and other audio equipment. They help make speech more intelligible by decreasing interference from background noise. They’re also a great asset at the theater, in large meeting rooms or in concert venues.

What is an Infrared system?
Infrared (IR) listening systems transmit sound by invisible light beams. An IR system converts an auditory signal into infrared light and carries it by light emitting diodes to the infrared receiver. The receiver converts the information back into an auditory signal and delivers it directly to the hearing aid or to the ear. Infrared systems improve hearing by decreasing the distance between the sound source and the ear. This alleviates such things as reverberation off furniture, bare walls and hard floors. This system also improves the signal-to-noise ratio, making speech more easily heard over background noise.

What are the negatives of an Infrared system?
The infrared signal is limited to line of sight transmission. This means that if you aren’t sitting within a 160° angle of the transmitting light emitting diodes (LEDs), you won’t pick up a signal or that the signal will be degraded. The line of sight transmission also means that if someone walks in front of the LEDs, you may lose the signal momentarily. Line of sight transmission can be a positive, as well. Because the diodes must “see” the receiver, there is no spill over from room to room. This makes it a secure form of sound transmission in conference rooms and courtrooms where confidentiality is a concern.

Another negative is the infrared’s poor flexibility. Because of the use of light for transmission, IR systems can’t be used outdoors. Sunlight affects the transmission and the large open area allows the light to disperse too quickly, degrading the signal.

An additional pitfall is that infrared systems are not compatible with one another. Different systems will operate on different frequencies and only systems working on the same frequency are compatible. This means that if you would like to take your infrared system to the movies, for example, you would have to verify which system or which “carrier frequency” the theater’s infrared system works on. The nice thing is that many theaters now have infrared systems installed and theatergoers can borrow a headset at no extra cost.

What do Infrared systems cost?
One of the benefits of Infrared systems is they are relatively inexpensive. For a system with excellent sound quality and premium transmission technology, you’ll pay $300 to $400. If you’d like to have more than one headset, plan to add another $100 or so. Other less expensive options are available but the quality of sound is sometimes poor and longevity of the product is also a common complaint with some cheaper models.

Hearing better is a great thing. Don’t be frustrated by the fact that hearing aids may not solve all of your hearing needs. Accessories are available to help improve the listening environment when your hearing aid investment falls short. Infrared systems, especially for home TV watching, can be a great asset and will improve your enjoyment of listening to the sounds you’ve been missing.