Assistive listening devices?


Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist

Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist


Last week I tried to give an overview and introduce you to terms used with headphones and earbuds. This week I’m going to discuss two special cases — headsets for telephone use and assistive listening devices.

First, headsets and headphones to use for telephone calls. Why this topic? I’ve seen far too many good headphones declare they work really well for phone calls. In certain circumstances that may be true, but unless they have a boom microphone, or at least have something that protrudes toward your mouth, they probably pick up a lot of the sound around you or deaden those sounds and also occasionally deaden your voice so the person on the other end of the line can’t understand you.

Examples? With a boom microphone, use this wireless headset (https://go.ttot.link/WirelessBoomMic) or this wired headset (https://go.ttot.link/WiredBoomMic). No boom like this wireless headset (https://go.ttot.link/WirelessNoBoom). Sure, there are some very pricey headsets that don’t have a boom or a protrusion toward your mouth that perform really well, but those are few and far between and often hard to find.

Do you absolutely need to have a headset specifically for phone calls? Of course not, but if you make more than a few calls a week (and that includes doing web conferences, Facetime, Duo calls or anything else like it) I would strongly suggest considering it. There is one surprising exception to the boom rule — those old earbuds that used to come with your phone? The ones that plugged in to your phone? They had a microphone on the cable and if you aimed the mic at your mouth they did a decent job of picking up your voice and pretty much nothing else.

What are “assistive listening devices?” Unsurprisingly, they are devices that help you hear better. They are not hearing aids. Hearing aids are registered with, approved and regulated by the FDA and tend to cost thousands of dollars. Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can cost anywhere from tens of dollars to several hundred. PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) are a type of ALD do just that — amplify sound, often enhancing or reducing certain frequencies based on an user administered hearing test. Some higher-end headphones have hearing tests built in to their associated app to do some equalization specific to the user.

Why would you want or use an ALD or PSAP? Well, there are several use cases. For one, I have a mild hearing loss and I usually need the TV to be a bit louder than is comfortable for some people. So, I often use a headset like this (https://go.ttot.link/TVHeadphones). It plugs in to the TV sound output and transmits the sound to the headphones over FM. There is no lag (or latency, remember?) so the sound is synchronized with their lips. Unfortunately, these are on-ear headphones so it makes it difficult to hear that I’m being spoken to.

Other alternatives for TV listening are low latency transmitters and open ear headphones (look for a transmitter that supports aptX-LL for Low Latency and make sure your headphones also support aptX-LL) but be aware that there may be lip sync issues even with low latency bluetooth. And if you have a newer TV, it might even have Bluetooth built-in so you don’t need a transmitter. But if you do need one, here are two, one with a display so you can select the bluetooth device with which it will connect (https://go.ttot.link/TransmitterWithDisplay) and one without if you’re just going to use one headset all the time (https://go.ttot.link/TransmitterNoDisplay).

Another example — I can’t hear higher frequencies very well. Sure, I could use an equalizer to raise the volume of some higher frequencies, but, among many other things, it’s hit-or-miss depending on whether the equalizer handles the frequencies I need adjusted and how well the equalizer handles the adjustments. A good PSAP will not only measure your hearing but also faithfully apply the adjustments. Bluetooth PSAPs can often apply those adjustments to not only the music you listen to but also to your phone calls. Some have a transparency mode which brings outside sound in through the device and applies the adjustments to that sound as well. And some even have provisions to provide directionality (focus on sounds directly in front of you, for instance) and even adjust for different environments (crowds, outdoor, indoor, etc).

Being the nerd that I am, I have many different headsets for many different applications. I have several open ear headsets that do aptX-LL quite well and I often switch between them to watch TV. Two examples I’m particularly fond of are https://go.ttot.link/TVOpenEar1 and https://go.ttot.link/TVOpenEar2. But the one that I rely on for TV as well as general purpose use (including listening to high quality music) is https://go.ttot.link/BeHearAccess. It does all the things I’ve written about, including a good hearing test. It can slow speech on a phone call, can change its attibutes depending on your environment (crowd, outdoor, indoor, etc), and can help those of us with ringing in the ears (tinnitus). It even has a Telecoil receiver — something that isn’t all that common here in the USA but is more common in Europe.

I haven’t discussed Telecoil before because it’s so uncommon but, for completeness, I’ll just say that some venues (churches, theaters, for instance) run a wired loop around the inside of the building and will transmit sound through the wire. A Telecoil receiver can pick that up and relay it to your ears.

I have not given an exhaustive discussion of special cases like phone headsets and PSAPs, but hopefully I have given you enough information and terminology that you can seek out additional help if you’re interested.

Note that my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at [email protected] and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L. It should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the former Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a maker with both leadership and technical skills. He’s been in the computing arena since his graduation from Miami University with a bachelor’s dgree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley which feeds his love for all things tech.

Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2022/06/web1_Summrall-Tony-mug-4.jpgTony Sumrall Contributing columnist