Time and time again, we’ve ruminated over the exciting technological developments in the audiology field. It is certainly true that features like digital customization or seamless connectivity to smartphones have rebranded modern hearing aids as life-changing devices. But often we miss the chance to celebrate the individuals behind such contributions. In honor of Black History Month, let’s look back the incredible feats of Mr. James West, an African-American inventor and acoustician.

West was fascinated with both sound and electronics from his youth, but went on to receive a degree in physics. He spent his summers interning at Bell Labs in New Jersey, the company that later hired him as an acoustical scientist conducting audiological research. West collaborated with Gerhard Sessler to create the “electret transducer,” a device which turned mechanical energy into electric energy. The two used Teflon foil to turn this into the foil electric microphone in 1962. This microphone was the first of its kind given its small size, minimal cost and smooth response. After only a few years, it “became the industry standard,” and even today, approximately “90 percent of more than two billion microphones produced annually,” rely on West and Sessler’s technology to function.
This, of course, includes hearing aids! Up until this point, hearing aids were still quite large and hardly portable, contributing to individuals’ reluctance to wear them. Older microphones “were still too sensitive to mechanical vibrations to be contained in a small case with a receiver,” but West and Sessler’s foil electric microphone paved the way for change. Audiologist Mead Killion and Engineer Elmer Carson were drawn to West’s invention due to the fact that the microhpone was not as sensitive to vibrations; they then created a smaller version of it, which allowed for the much smaller, nearly invisible hearing aids we know today.

West remained at Bell Labs for 40 years, receiving accolades such as the Bell Laboratories Fellow award, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and New Jersey’s Inventor of the Year award. But his achievements stretched beyond science, too: from the very start of his career, West has encouraged increased diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. He co-founded the Association of Black Laboratory Employees and the Corporate Research Fellowship Program, the latter of which has granted funding for “over 500 non-white graduate students.” West belongs to the Inventor’s Hall of Fame and now works as an Electrical Engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Have you ever wondered about how animals cope with hearing loss? As you might expect, hearing assistive options for animals are fairly uncommon. But efforts to provide audiology services to dogs have been ongoing for many years.


Budding developments in the audiology field are always exciting to share with our patients and followers. Concept ideas alone often show great potential for the future, wherein technology will continue to play an instrumental role in helping individuals hear. Just a few months ago, a company called EarLens received FDA approval to introduce a new hearing aid bearing their name. This aid is particularly unique for one reason: it uses both eardrum vibration and – get this – lasers to amplify sound.

Individuals with hearing loss often experience the frustration of being unable to hear clearly on the phone. Even those who use hearing aids can have trouble making out exactly what is being said on the other line, which ultimately interrupts the flow of conversation and communication, as the user must ask the caller to repeat themselves several times. Many people give up the use of the telephone altogether, fearing that they won’t be  able to understand the caller and all the while missing out on important conversations with their loved ones. But with a CaptionCall phone, users can speak and listen with confidence.

CaptionCall is a high-quality telephone featuring a large touch screen that allows users to see what their callers are saying. CaptionCall acts as another force of support, providing additional clarity for the user. All that is needed is a high-speed internet connection and a landline phone line. A caller gives you a ring, and as said caller speaks, a CaptionCall Communications Assistant converts the words into text for you to see. And your callers don’t need to own one, either – they can call from any phone and Caption Call will simply transfer their words onto your screen. The phone also has a feature that allows users to save conversations to read again at any time. This is particularly helpful for conversations with important, need-to-remember details. The volume settings can be personalized call-to-call, or you can choose a general sephone_captioncalltting to keep.

Hearing aid wearers find the CaptionCall phone very beneficial as it adds another layer of security and clarity to their conversations. Hearing aids and CaptionCall work particularly well together in this regard, especially since the phone is so efficient and easy to use. If you are an individual who has trouble hearing over the phone, CaptionCall might be just what you need. Connecting with others can feel natural and enjoyable again, just as it should. Don’t let yourself miss out – like the makers of CaptionCall say, “life is calling.”

Technology seems to spark more and more innovative ideas every day. Five years ago—which is truly a long time in this context, given the torrent of advancements since then—the Babelfisk Visual Hearing Aid was conceptualized. Designer Mads Hindhede aimed to integrate visualbabel and auditory capabilities in a single pair of glasses for users with a visual impairment and difficulty hearing. The glasses contain an internal listening device that can dictate conversations via text displayed on the inner sides of the lens. Users can effectively “lip-read” just by using their spectacles (though one does have to wonder if the screened text is distracting). Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much on the concept’s status since 2010, but it does mirror the synergy behind many modern hearing aids with multiple capabilities – aids that sync with your smartphone, TV and more.

Another very unique hearing aid concept is the (h)earing aid. Ear piercings are taken to the next level with this idea, which incorporates the “gauge” piercing style – a stretched hole in the ear lobe – with the aid. The device is aimed toward individuals with a mild hearing loss and an interest in the gauged appearance. audiA thin wire loops up from the piercing and into the ear, retaining the near-invisible quality of many hearing aids on the market. The developers are particularly enthusiastic about the TriMic system, which appears to feature three horizontally-positioned microphones for optimal hearing. The (h)earing aid PLUG, to be inserted into the gauge itself, would also be made available as an add-on purchase for individuals with a more severe hearing loss.

Although many of these types of developments are still in concept phase, the creativity behind them is what makes them so exciting. Hearing health continues to gain momentum with the help of technological innovation.

If you’ve ever been to a hockey game (or seen some of our previous posts!) you’ve probably seen a similar image before. The noise meter is an infamous component of nearly every professional sports game out there these days; up on the big screen, it encourages fans to support their team and “get loud” – as loud as possible! But this year, the stages on the meter have changed slightly: from “rumblings,” to “kinda’ loud,” “very loud,” “wicked loud” – and right before the “bear growl” on top, “insert earplugs.”

Who ever said hearing aids can’t get in the Halloween spirit?! While it’s important to remember to be cautious during trick-or-treating time, this doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate to the fullest extent – and get your hearing aids involved, too!

We are always announcing new developments and improvements in the hearing aid world – and this isn’t too difficult to do, given the many exciting changes technology brings us on a daily basis. While there is certainly much to be celebrating and perhaps even more to anticipate, it can be eye-opening to take a look back at the early hearing aids.

Considering the practical invisibility of today’s aids, you may be surprised that they started out so bulky, large and obtrusive. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison somewhat accidentally developed hearing improvements through the telephone, but they were so minimal that users could not find them particularly helpful. The vacuum tube is perhaps one of the most famous stages of the hearing aid: Lee De Forest manufactured it in 1907 – just over 100 years ago. The tube amplified sound, but it was still impractical; it was very large and weighed 220 pounds! This is a far cry from the near weightless aids we have now. The next leap came in 1927, when a (significantly smaller) box was made for those with hearing difficulties. Users had to hold the adhered receiver up to their ears – once more disrupting daily lives and social situations. We can see where the negative misconceptions about hearing aids have their roots. big1

1938 marked the year the first viable hearing aid was created; still, its wearer had to deal with a battery pack strapped to his or her leg! The 40s and 50s brought along similar, slight advancements, but users still longed for less aid visibility. During the latter half of the 50s, however, progress was made through aids which had their electronic connections concealed along a pair of eyeglasses. Check out The Otarion Listener here.

The 1960s and Zenith Radio brought along the behind-the-ear (BTE) aids we are now familiar with. Of course, these early models were still quite bulky, despite their portability and convenience. The technological discoveries of the 80s and 90s, along with the advancements in computers, ultimately paved the way to the millennial hearing aids we know and love for their practicality, quality, and near-invisibility.


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Hearing Solutions 2019