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Telecoils: What are they and why are they important?

By: Paul Harrison Updated: 4th December 2019 in: Latest News, Articles
Telecoils: What are they and why are they important?

Although hearing aids are instrumental in helping people hear better, relying on the device’s in-built microphones is not the best option for every occasion. The two million people in the UK who wear hearing aids can still face challenges understanding speech in public places. Let’s take a visit to a church as an example. A minister’s sermon will likely sound muddled for a hearing aid wearer because a cavernous church will easily reverberate and mix speech sounds with the surrounding background noise, obscuring the minister’s words.

What if I told you that a decades-old, widely available technology could remove all the background noise from the church and make the words of the minister immediately clearer? This is what’s possible with a telecoil.

What is a telecoil?

A telecoil is a small coil which is inside many hearing aids. It functions just like an antenna to pick up magnetic signals and relay them as audio to your hearing aids. Typically, a hearing aid picks up sound using a microphone and then amplifies it. A telecoil works differently - with this feature the hearing aid "hears" a magnetic pulse and then amplifies that sound signal.

What is a loop system?

In order to be able to use your hearing aid’s telecoil feature, you need to enter an area that contains a loop system. 

Loop systems are composed of three parts— a microphone, a loop amplifier, and a loop of wire. The loop of wire is positioned around the circumference of a physical space. The space  may be very large, such as a concert venue or a church, or rather small, such as a living room or even a chair. A loop can even be mounted around a person's own head (called a neck loop).

How do they work together?

Here is how the hearing loop works in conjunction with a telecoil to send sound directly into your ear:

  1. An audio signal is identified from a sound source, such as your TV, stereo or public PA system via a microphone. 
  2. This signal is amplified and travels along the loop of wire which goes around the entire area. 
  3. As the signals travels through the loop of wire, a magnetic field is produced in the area that mimics the original sound signal.
  4. A telecoil fitted inside a hearing aid converts this magnetic field into sound you can hear.  When you toggle your hearing aid from the microphone to its telecoil feature, it connects a small wire coil (the telecoil) to the input of the hearing aid amplifier, as opposed to the microphone. This tiny wire coil is attuned to nearby magnetic fields, such as the one generated by the loop system.
  5. The magnetic field produced in the room loop triggers the same electrical signal in the telecoil.
  6. The hearing aid amplifier then boosts this signal, letting you experience an accurate reproduction of the sound signal in your ears.

Why should you use the telecoil feature?

There are a number of benefits to using the telecoil feature in a hearing aid.  Here are some of them:

Better speech comprehension

Hearing aid microphones have a limited range, but the telecoil offers greater audibility for people with hearing aids when listening to speech, sometimes even better than people with normal hearing! It does this by cutting out unwanted background noise.

More inconspicuous

When a loop system is in place, hearing aid wearers don’t have to risk an embarrassing situation by asking for an extra device, which could mark them out as someone saddled with hearing loss. Plus, there is no need to use bulky, expensive receivers when the telecoil is already within the hearing aid itself.

More accessible

Anyone with a compatible hearing aid can use the system, and they will serve everyone who can stand inside the loop.

However, there are some instances where telecoils might not be the best option.  Here they are:

Not optimised for music

Telecoils are designed for speech signals, so music may sound distorted as a result. This is based on the fact that music is often made up of higher frequencies than the bandwidth of the telecoil can manage.

Non-portable

Using telecoils within a venue needs a fixed loop to be mounted in the space. The loop can not be transported easily to other locations, and the power of the sound signal is limited to the boundaries of the loop itself. For example, if a loop is installed for a TV in the living room, the signal strength decreases significantly when the user leaves the living room.

A widely available technology

Ever since the Equalities Act was passed in 2010, those who have hearing loss are classed as having a disability and are therefore protected by law against discrimination. This means that businesses and other organisations must provide hearing loop systems to main accessibility for all. 

Hearing loops are therefore common in public spaces across the UK, such as:

  • Churches
  • Concert halls
  • Universities
  • Black cabs
  • Airports
  • Museums (for guided tours)

If you’re unsure whether a particular venue provides hearing loop services, just look for the loop logo.  Here is an example below.

Telecoil Article

Are telecoils in all hearing aids?

Not all hearing aids have telecoils, but the number is increasing. Broadly speaking, the smaller the unit, the less likely it is to contain a telecoil. This is because the telecoil is usually too large to fit into the smallest devices.

In 2014, the U.S. hearing aid report found that 323 of 415 hearing aid models (71.5 per cent) were equipped with telecoils, as well as 81% of models larger than the two smallest hearing aid types (Completely-in-canal and Invisible-in-the-canal). 

Telecoils are most likely found in two styles of hearing aids: In-The-Ear (ITE) and Behind-The-Ear (BTE). As a rule of thumb, if the hearing aid uses a size 10 battery, it wont include a telecoil. 

Some hearing aid models will indicate the presence of a hearing loop in the name. For example, the Phonak Audéo M-312 T has a Telecoil, as indicated by the ‘T’ in its name. 

Hearing aid wearers who want to make use of telecoil technology should talk to a local audiologist. This is because telecoils often need to be activated before they can be used. They can then be easily toggled to enable dramatically improved hearing in a range of public venues. 

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Paul Harrison
Hearing Aid Advisor
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