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New Developments in In-Ear Monitor (IEM) Technology for Musicians with Hearing Loss

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For musicians with hearing loss, hearing aids are the primary, and often only, option for needed amplification while performing. Even with decades of technological improvements, limitations in hearing aids for performing musicians continue to exist with respect to frequency response, distortion and restricted dynamic range. Hearing aids are primarily designed to improve speech understanding in a variety of real world situations, while at the same time being very small in size with low power consumption. Although music appreciation can be important for hearing aid users, high fidelity performance is generally considered to be of secondary design importance. Modern hearing aids use digital technology to optimize performance under a wide variety of real world conditions. Examples include the management of adaptive directional microphones, automatic wind noise reduction and adaptive noise filtering. While such circuits can significantly improve speech understanding, they do so at the expense of creating audible non-musical artifacts that are apparent while listening to music. For the performing musician the functional objectives of a hearing improvement device are quite different in that wide dynamic range and low distortion sound reproduction are of paramount importance, and to a lesser degree size and battery life. In-Ear-Monitoring (IEM) systems using low distortion transducers with wide frequency range have been available for some time and can serve as a partial solution to the needs of the hearing impaired musicians. This paper reports on performance improvements for such musicians obtainable by combining a high performance IEM, that includes binaural ambient microphones, with external electronic signal processing that address hearing threshold loss, recruitment and maximum comfortable listening levels. Detail of the process will be presented along with several case studies of musicians that currently use and help design the compensation methods.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society