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How do you train a hearing aid?

Practice. Practice. Practice.

It sounds like a joke, but it is true. The way we train hearing aids to recognize the thousands of sound situations you hear every day – and respond appropriately to them – is to expose them to those situations.

It is a tough job, but someone has to do it. That is where Widex engineer Jesper Theill comes in. During his workdays, he took flights to Germany, sat on buses and in train stations, dined at busy restaurants, walked in the forest, and took a stroll through a shopping mall – all in the name of good sound.

“I’m pretty much the real-life test dummy for Widex hearing aids,” he says. “I spent several months recording and archiving every sound I could think of to make sure that our hearing aids performed well.”

Real World Training

It was all done to create the Widex Sound Class Library, a catalogue of real-life sound situations that are used to train hearing aids to detect different listening environments. Widex uses the library to develop and test Widex UNIQUE hearing aids’ sound class recognition system, which can detect specific sound environments and react according to those situations.

“UNIQUE hearing aids do something different – and better- than other hearing aids,” says Jesper. “Instead of just detecting if an environment is loud or quiet, these hearing aids detect your actual listening environment.”

So if you are with a group of people, they will know to focus on speech rather than background noise – but if you are in the forest, there will be more focus on the little things, like the leaves crunching beneath your feet.  Here are a few examples:

Creating a Sound Library

The first step toward making Widex hearing aids so smart started about 5 years ago, when Jesper received the task to create a sound sample library.

“I was basically told to compile a collection of all the sound situations a person could find himself in – whether they’re driving, shopping, eating, or just hanging out.”

Jesper did this by wearing two hearing aids with microphones attached to them to record exactly what he heard in any given situation. The result was over 500 sounds in 100 different sound environments. These sounds went into a database, which Widex used to create UNIQUE hearing aid sound technology.

“It’s about training the hearing aids to detect an environment you can relate to,” says Jesper.

Once UNIQUE hearing aids were tested against the sound files, Jesper was given another task: Do it again. He then returned to the mall, the airplane, the car, the train station, and all those other places he recorded to confirm that UNIQUE hearing aids could understand and interpret those environments.

The results? A hearing aid that is smarter than ever before.

“As with most things, it takes a lot of practice and training to develop hearing aids,” says Jesper. “With this sound library we were able to create a hearing aid that can react to specific sound situations.”