Using a Personal FM System to Hear More Clearly

June 6, 2016

Hearing aid technology keeps getting better, but hearing aids alone do not make listening easier in all situations. Many things can interfere with listening, such as: background noise, a far distance from the sound source, and sound reverberation. Most hearing aids perform best in quiet environments or when sitting close to your conversation partner. Using a Personal FM system (with or without hearing aids) makes it easier to hear in noisy environments or when conversing at a distance. They are also very helpful for watching TV or listening to other audio devices.

What are Personal FM Systems?
Personal FM Systems are devices that can help those with hearing loss function more normally in day-to-day conversation. An FM system is often an accessory to hearing aids bu can be used without hearing aids as well. FM systems work like small radio stations. There is a small radio transmitter attached to a microphone, and a small radio receiver worn by the listener. For hearing aid users, the most convenient receivers are at ear level. The microphone is placed on or near the person or device the listener wants to hear. The transmitter can also be connected directly to an audio device by using a stereo cord. This means the transmitter is plugged in to the TV’s audio output jack, or into an MP3 player or iPod for easy ear-level hearing, without removing the hearing aids. The transmitter sends the radio signal to the receiver and essentially decreases the listening distance to merely inches instead of several feet.

Where Would I Use an FM System?
Large distance between listener and sound source: The further away you are from a speaker, the harder it is to hear the conversation, because the loudness of a sound decreases rapidly as it travels over a long distance. So, while you may have no difficulty hearing someone close by, you may have considerable difficulty hearing the same person from across the room.

Noise in the environment: Most rooms have background noise that competes with the sound of interest. Background noise can make hearing very challenging. For optimal hearing, speech should be louder than the noise. This isn’t possible in some situations, such as at a large cocktail party or in a busy restaurant. Background noise can also make hearing in the car more difficult. Television program producers often include background noise to create a dramatic effect. For those with hearing loss, the noise often means a missed punch line or that the volume is so loud the conversation is drowned out.

Poor room acoustics and reverberation:
Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces such as windows, walls without coverings and hard floors. This creates a reverberation that the ear experiences as an echo. The result of excessive reverberation is a mixed message in the brain, followed by miscommunication.

Any one of these conditions can create communication problems. Add them together and the effects can be debilitating. Personal FM systems are a great way to overcome these issues.

What is the expected cost of a Personal FM system?
Buying an FM system for personal use is an additional expense beyond personal hearing aids. An FM package, including the transmitter/microphone and ear-level receivers may cost from $2,500 to $3500. For use without hearing aids, a Personal FM system can be as little as $200 up to $1000, depending on the complexity of the system. New hearing aid systems, such as the ReSound Alera allow for a “companion” microphone accessory that transmits sound from a microphone worn by the communication partner directly to the hearing aids. This accessory can be added to the hearing aid purchase for as little as $400.

The new technology in hearing aids is phenomenal. Advancements allow for better control of noise in the background and for better speech enhancement. Still, there will be times when an environment is too noisy or a hearing loss is too great to overcome the difficult listening environment. Personal FM systems are a great way to combat this issue and are a great companion accessory to a hearing system. If you think you might benefit from an FM System, call our office for a free demonstration and see what an FM system can do for you.