Why Can't I Understand the Television Clearly Even With Hearing Aids?

Television Sound Waves Austin, TX


Why Can't I Undestand the Television Clearly?

Living with Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids


     Well, this is a very good question, and unfortunately not one with a super easy answer. If you have hearing loss or hearing aids you are already behind the 8 ball, and this has to be the #1 complaint my patient's have and always makes the Top 5 things people in Austin want to hear clearly. 

How does television process speech signal?

In a perfect world the entire signal would be processed and come out your television's speakers. But we don't live in that world. A normal human ear at birth can hear between 20-20,000 Hz. That is a very broad range. When we test hearing we look at 250- 8,000 Hz because that is the range in which all of the parts of speech fall. Vowels are in the lower frequencies, giving volume to what we hear. While the higher frequencies are the endings of words, or high frequency consonants. Think /s/, /t/, /p/, /sh/, /ch/ sounds. A high frequency hearing loss will affect the clarity of sound and not so much the volume. When you think about it, even reducing the range to 250- 8,000 Hz is still a pretty big range, so we have to cut it down further. 

Now, in order for an auditory signal to go from Point A (broadcast station, satellite, server) to Point B (your living room T.V.) at some point it has to travel along an electrical cord. In the U.S our electrical outlets are 110v, 120 Hz with 15 amp of resistance. So, the signal has to travel at a multiple of 60Hz. Telecommunications standardly cut out everything above 2,500 Hz. Poof, gone. That would be most of the consonants that tell us the difference between "tear," "care," "fare," "pair," & "share." Couple that with an English accent from British programming or dramatic sound effects (which are low frequency heavy) and we have a recipe for disaster on the undertanding front.

Will hearing aids help me understand the television better?

Yes. Will it be perfect, no. Will the overall volume decrease? Yes. Please remember, a hearing aid is a therapy tool. It is the cornerstone of an amplification SYSTEM. Albiet the most important, but if you still aren't hearing the television as clearly as you would like but everyting else sounds better, it might be time to look at an assistive listening device. Most hearing aid manufacturers have a device that will transmit television signal directly into your hearing aid(s). 

Why are some television channels louder than others?

Quite simply, it is based on average age of viewing demographic. Certain stations are louder. For example, PBS, HGTV, Food Network, TCM and network television tend to be louder (from personal experience) than Comedy Central, TBS, USA, and TNT. My husband is always asking me if I have my ears in after I've been watching say The Big Bang Theory marathon on TBS and he changes the channel to network TV. The volume goes up and he instantly has to turn things down. I usually have him set the volume to where he can hear it and then instruct him to hit the "back" button. And 9 times out of 10 he has to turn it up too. For added measure I'll then point out that YES I am wearing my ears. I'll admit, I still use closed captions from time to time.


At the end of the day, if you are constantly having difficulty understanding speech on the television, at home or in noise it is a good idea to have a baseline audiogram. Believe it or not, they are actually used for more than selling hearing aids. Chances are, if you're having that much trouble, you are missing out on a lot more than just Downton Abbey.



Paige Peterson, AuD, PhD