“Loudness is subjective . . . so not everybody who has the same hearing loss that I do is going to want to hear music the same way,” asserts Dr. Natan Bauman, a New Haven, Connecticut, audiologist with four decades of clinical experience plus a background in electro-acoustics and a passion for music.
In this second article of our series on how to customize your hearing aids for playing and performing music, GRAND PIANO PASSION™ is pleased to bring you Dr. Bauman’s unique perspective on creating the ideal music program, and why a final layer of individualized adjustments should be made.
Dr. Bauman played mandolin, guitar, and violin during high school, and although he no longer considers himself a musician, he is “one of those people who feels life is worth very little without music,” and it shows in his in-depth approach to working with musicians. Similarly to our first expert, Dr. Marshall Chasin, he maintains that the music programs offered by hearing aid manufacturers “are just totally ignorant,” so the task of customization falls to you and your audiologist.
For that customization process, Dr. Bauman agrees with most of the items on Dr. Chasin’s checklist of recommended adjustments, with a few differences, as detailed below.
Dr. Bauman’s Recommended Adjustments to Create the Best Music Program for Your Hearing Aids
Purely Linear Compression Ratio
Dr. Bauman strongly recommends a pure 1 to 1 compression ratio for musicians (instead of the 1.7 to 1 ratio from Dr. Chasin’s checklist). This means that the gain of hearing aid will remain the same regardless of the input.
The human auditory system is already a non-linear amplifier, explains Dr. Bauman; by itself it changes the gain based on how much sound comes into it. Matching a non-linear amplifier with another non-linear amplifier leads to distortion of sound, so keeping the hearing aid as linear as possible helps with music perception.
Adjust Gain for Each Frequency
Dr. Bauman always gives less gain for music than for speech, since music is a continuous stream of sound information and the total amount of energy is much greater than speech. Otherwise you risk overamplifying.
In general, he reduces gain for higher frequencies (starting at 1500 Hz), but not for lower and mid frequencies. When adjusting the gain for each frequency, he considers the following questions:
- What kind of musical instrument do you play? What is the range of frequencies?
- Where is the hearing loss? How much sound are you going to hear with the hearing aid versus your naked ear if you have an open ear?
Personalize Further Based on Subjective Phenomena
Finally, one of the most important, but little talked about, factors for Dr. Bauman is the concept that loudness is subjective. Rather than being driven by objective measures such as decibels or the volume setting on a stereo, humans make decisions based on our personal perception of loudness. And that loudness can be different based on emotional components including our upbringing, culture, and all the things that make us appreciate certain sounds over others. For example, he says, “If I like country music, I will have a tendency to increase the volume and say this sounds just great. But if I hate country music, the same volume is going to make me say this is just too loud.”
Your perception of sound can also change based on factors such as your outlook on life, your mood, and even the brightness of a room at any given time. The more detail you can share with your audiologist about your unique perception of certain sounds, the closer you can get to the best music program for you.
Dr. Bauman holds seminars through the Tinnitus Practitioners Association to teach other audiologists about sound sensitivity issues and the “subjective loudness” phenomenon; he considers it his legacy to the field.
Disclosure: After I interviewed Dr. Bauman, I was so impressed with his approach to creating music settings, that I returned a few months later to buy a new pair of hearing aids. I received no payment or benefits for this article.