I Have A Dream

Nacht und Traume

One day, in a far-off digital future, all hearing aid users will be able to tune their hearing aids to their own specifications, all by themselves. Instead of just being able to choose between programmes which suit listening to the tv in quiet, conversing in a noisy restaurant, or trying to tune into a non-functioning loop, they will have access to multiple programmes tailored to individual activities in different types of acoustic spaces. They will be able to swap effortlessly between an open or closed fitting, and they will be able to prioritise music over speech if they feel like it.

Cookiebiters and reverse slopers will benefit most from this brave new world. Instead of being forced to endure a badly modified version of an algorithm designed to fit high frequency losses, they will have specially designed algorithms which will allow access to minute adjustments across the entire frequency spectrum, with smooth transitions in amplification which, for me, will mean no more terrifyingly loud keys in the C6 area of the piano keyboard. I will enjoy full harmonic resonance on the mid to lows when playing Schubert, and spend hours playing low notes with the left hand just because it sounds wonderful.

bass bung

Until that historic moment arrives, I am making do with my latest hearing aid hack for digital piano playing. The Kookybite Bass Bung® (pictured) transforms an open dome to sort of semi-closed for home musical purposes. Carved from a 60p eraser from WH Smith, it may be a little eccentric, but it works. By turning down the volume switch on my music programme, and trapping the previously lost low frequencies in my ear with the bung, the troublesome C6 zone is dampened, whilst resonance returns to the previously thin bass notes. My piano no longer sounds like the speakers are stuffed with cotton wool, and I have fallen back in love with it again after a rather prolonged playing hiatus. Naturally, speech is pretty incomprehensible with this arrangement, and your breathing becomes a bit Darth Vader, but this doesn’t matter unless you’re playing your piano in a crowded cocktail bar whilst suffering from a lung infection.

One day, when I find someone who knows anything about fitting cookie bite hearing loss, I shall get them to set up my hearing aids to do this properly, so that I can enjoy playing Schubert without the unfortunate downside of being deafened by passing cars…


Update: After finding little bits of coloured rubber everywhere, the spouse recently asked me to consider the possibility that I was going a bit mad. I am vindicated, however, by this article which very clearly and succinctly explains the shortcomings of hearing aids in relation to listening to music, and notes how important those low frequencies are. The bit in the article about the high proportion of keys on the piano sitting below the 1kHz threshold  also illustrates why the reverse sloper/ cookiebiter may be on a hiding to nothing with their piano and a default Autofit NHS hearing aid fitting…

5 Responses to “I Have A Dream”

  1. 1 Markismus September 10, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Love and share your dream. I recognize the rather sharp keys in the C6 range. My hearing loss is worst at mid range–the speech area. So without hearing aids all the mid tones on the piano sound rather dull.

    I am actually programming my own Bernafon Chronos for playing my acoustic piano. I drove my audiologist crazy, then empathized that it was indeed rather a niche and they couldn’t specialize for that small market and he gave me his obsolete Hi-pro and cables and software to do my own programming.

    I tried to put power-domes on my Spira flex cables, which indeed dramatically improves the piano sound. I got canal molds last week. Haven’t been able to fine tune them yet, so I don’t know whether they work as well, but normal hearing is greatly improved over power domes.

    If you have or find more info on programming your hearing aids for piano, could you please let me know?

  2. 2 Markismus September 10, 2014 at 8:04 am

    I just read in your about that cookie bite hearing loss is indeed the same as mid range hearing loss. Seems we are going to the same thing at approx. the same age.

    • 3 moiradancer September 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Hi Markismus, lovely to hear from another cookie bite pianist who understands what I’m talking about, I always wonder if it’s just me when I notice weird things about what I’m hearing through aids. That’s great that you’ve got a chance to try programming your own, would love to hear how you get on with that, I’m sure other people on here would be interested, too.

      The dulling of the piano is a great disappointment, and I was quite shocked at how much I had been missing when I first got aids, despite not having too big a bite out of my cookie. The increased resonance I heard brought back memories of playing my piano teacher’s lovely baby grand as a child, and enjoying the thrill of playing the low notes. My delight at having the musical mid-frequencies restored by aids quickly faded once I realised the downsides, but small tweaks like switching dome type can actually make a huge difference to the enjoyment of playing music. It’ll be interesting to see what a more fine-tuned approach with the software can achieve.

      If I find any more info I’ll definitely let you know and there are sure to be more posts on here in future about my bad piano playing 🙂

      In the meantime, Marshall Chasin is a world expert on hearing aids and music, his blog on the subject is here


      you can find lots of other interesting stuff just by googling him. Happy reading!

      (love your wrinkly dog avatar pic btw)

  3. 4 Markismus September 10, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    I used Chasin’s article “Hearing Aids and Music” (2004) to counter the audiologists reply that I would be better of using headphones than trying to get such a lot of sound out of such small hearing aids. Especially the reduction of the compression factor to maximally 1.3 was helpful for better tuning of the piano program.

    When I suggested to my current audiologist that I was thinking of tuning my aids myself, he smiled and said that the equipment costs well over 1000€. I told him that the Hi-pro was about 300€ on ebay. He said that if I was willing to work with such old equipment, he would look on his mother’s attic for his old Hi-pro. He got me the Hi-pro, cables and software and I’ve been tuning ever since.

    The software is an expert system. If you explore all the features—this takes some time— than it basically replaces most activities of an audiologist.

    You start out making an in-situ audiogram. Using your own hearing aids you establish your hearing level thresholds and comfort levels for each frequency. Then the software generates the amplification curves for the programs of your choice. You should then measure the feedback and minimize it and your ready to program your hearing aids for the first time.

    After that the fine tuning starts. In the interactive part of the software they have _a lot_ of typical problems and corresponding solutions. Identify what is troubling you and apply the solution and reprogram. Rinse and repeat.

    For the piano program you will have to be a lot more creative. For starters you will have to get into the amplification table and check the compression ratios. Reducing those ratios means that the loud sounds get louder. The next problem usually is the maximum power output. When an amplified sound would pass this maximum it is reduced and that gives strange sound effects.

    To get a better grip on things I use a real time frequency analyser. It turns out that when you hit a key on the piano not only that pitch is generated, but also all the multiples (C4 is approx. 262Hz, so you also see frequencies around 524, 1048, etc.) and the sound of the fingers hitting the key. So when you have a problem it is seldom in one frequency band.

    Nowadays I have rather nicely tuned hearing aids as long as I don’t play too loud as the result of the first programming. Hopefully, I will have some time the coming days to fine tune my aids with the new canal molds for fortissimo.

    If you’re interested there is a ton of fitting software available as a torrent: http://torrentz.eu/c18d6e8ba040507d8e4ba9ca46e0cf2c151229db

    And ebay still offers Hi-pro programming hardware:

    Best of luck from Holland and keep playing that piano!!

    • 5 moiradancer September 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      I think my brain is too feeble for self-programming, but I’m sure your info and links will be really useful for others who would like to have a go. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to post them. Perhaps one day, user-friendly self-programming software will arrive and I can join in! The bit about the frequency multiples makes a lot of sense, and explains how a little hearing loss can go a long way in interfering with music. Hope your new molds and programming tweaks bring distortion free fortissimo 🙂

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