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What are the best hearing aid microphones for children?

free roger pen for university students

Hearing aid microphones, or FM systems, can offer people with hearing loss access to sounds that were previously unavailable to them. Children with hearing loss, especially, can benefit from remote microphone technologies, as it helps direct sounds directly to their hearing aids.

However, parents of today are faced with a much wider choice of remote microphone technologies than ever before. In addition, the way that children are taught today has changed over the years. No longer do children sit in rows of desks with the teacher primarily presenting the material. So, what are the best hearing aid microphones for children?

Types of hearing aid microphones

Tips for using the Phonak Roger Pen

The types of remote microphones available can be classified into two main categories:  Roger, which is an adaptive digital transmission, and Bluetooth which is a nonadaptive digital system.

Adaptive systems continuously monitor the room noise and adjust the gain so that the teacher’s voice is always above the room noise levels.  Bluetooth microphones do not adapt to the room noise, and as a result, do not always deliver the talker’s voice above the room noise.

Some of the choices for remote microphone technology include the following:

  1. Adaptive Remote Microphone Systems
    1. The Phonak Roger Touchscreen
    2. Phonak Roger Select
    3. Phonak Roger Pen
  2. Nonadaptive Bluetooth Microphone Systems
    1. Phonak Partner Mic
    2. Oticon Edumic
    3. Resound Multi Mic.

Why does your deaf child need a remote microphone?

School-aged children need to hear in a variety of settings in the classroom. Many times, these situations are noisy, such as a cafeteria, open classroom, playground, and gymnasium.

A remote microphone that pairs to your child’s hearing aids allow audio to stream directly from a speaker into the child’s ears, so they can block out background noise and focus on the sounds that matter most.

Here are some things your child needs to hear during their school day:

  1. A teacher’s voice over a distance in a noisy environment
  2. The ability to adapt to changing classroom noise levels
  3. Multiple teachers at once
  4. Classmate discussions
  5. Group work in noisy classrooms
  6. Multi-Media systems (video, computer audio, iPad, etc.)
  7. Seated social situations, such as in a cafeteria
  8. Speakers in gymnasium and assemblies
  9. Technologies like sound-field systems, which a voice streams through speakers placed around the room to let all children hear the teacher
  10. Universal compatibility with all hearing instruments

How to choose a hearing aid microphone for a child with hearing loss

Based on the above list, let’s examine how the different microphone choices meet the needs of your child with hearing loss in school.

I am basing my review on empirical evidence, and manufacturer product specifications. In addition, I have drawn on my own personal experiences both as an audiologist who has worked with remote microphone technologies for 20 years at Phonak and my own utilization of this technology as a person with profound hearing loss.  In fact, when I attended the University of Toronto again between 2017-2019, I used this technology extensively during my classes.

1.  Comprehend teacher over distance and noise

It is well documented that classrooms are noisy environments. As your child moves farther away from the teacher, the volume of the teacher’s voice decreases while at the same time the noise levels tend to stay the same. This makes it very difficult for your child to comprehend the teacher.  This is why we have a need to use remote microphones.

All wireless systems reviewed have the capacity to transmit the teacher’s voice over distance.  However, adaptive digital systems such as Roger Touchscreen, Pen, or Select perform better since these mics constantly measure and adapt to the classroom noise levels.  The Bluetooth mics will provide reasonable performance but only at low classroom noise levels.

Read more: Teens get real about their experience with Phonak Roger 

2.  Adapts to changing classroom noise levels

Let’s examine the adaptive feature of the Roger Microphones further.

First, your child’s classroom noise levels are constantly changing.  One study found that classroom noise levels range from 52 dB SPL during silent reading up to 77 dB SPL during group work.  The remote microphone system needs to be able to handle all levels of classroom noise.

Published studies by Dr. Linda Thibodeau and Dr. Jace Wolf have shown significantly greater speech understanding with an adaptive digital system such as Phonak Roger compared to non-adaptive systems.  In fact, one hearing instrument manufacturer published speech perception results at various noise levels and only showed around a 32 percent word identification score at 75 dB compared to almost 70 percent word identification when using an adaptive system such as Roger.

These results clearly indicate that Roger systems with adaptive gain can address the problem of fluctuating classroom noise levels far better than the Bluetooth mics.

3. Team Teaching

Some classrooms use team teaching either on a regular basis, or intermittently such as when a special speaker comes to class or during student presentations.  Your child also has a right to hear and understand any person who addresses the class.  The remote microphone system needs to have the capability of being able to use multiple microphones that can capture all talkers in the classroom.

Returning to our review of the six microphone systems, all the Phonak Roger microphones can have 10 or more microphones working together in a network.  None of the Bluetooth mics have this capability.

When I returned to university between 2017-2019, I used 14 microphones during my classes. Two Touchscreen mics for the two professors, and 12 Pass-around Mics for my classmates.  For the first time, I was able to fully comprehend every single person.  It was an incredible experience to finally be on a level playing field with my classmates.  This should be the standard for all students with hearing loss.

Read more: How Roger helps with my child’s listening fatigue

4. Understanding Classmates

Today’s classrooms are highly interactive environments in which participation from other classmates is encouraged. Your child with hearing loss needs to be able to comprehend classmates as well as the teacher in order to have a fulsome educational experience.

Consider what an exchange between a teacher and a student would be like for a student with hearing loss.  The table below compares a single vs a multiple microphone system.

Single Microphone System (Bluetooth)Multiple Microphone System (Roger)

Teacher: What year did Canada become a country

Student: %@&%??

Teacher:  That’s right!  And what year did Newfoundland join Confederation?

Student: #*4@

Teacher: Yes!  And what is the law that made Canada a country?

Student: The ^*&#$ &)((%$ ()(^ !#@

Teacher:  Well done!  All these will be on you next test.

Teacher: What year did Canada become a country

Student: 1867

Teacher:  That’s right!  And what year did Newfoundland join Confederation?

Student: 1949

Teacher: Yes!  And what is the law that made Canada a country?

Student: The British North America (BNA) Act

Teacher:  Well done!  All these will be on your next test.

Therefore, a multiple microphone system is a mandatory requirement.  Only the Roger microphone systems reviewed meet this need, compared to none of the Bluetooth microphones.

Read more: What is a Roger Pen and is it worth it?

Hearing Loss at School: The Best Hearing Technology for the Classroom

5.  Group Work in Noise

Group work, in which students complete tasks in small groups of 4-5, is an important part of the student’s day and is by far one of the most challenging listening situations.  Given that there are multiple conversations occurring simultaneously, the noise levels within the classroom are at their highest at this time. Students report this is one of the most challenging listening situations they encounter.

To address this need, Phonak developed a rotating directional microphone system that created six microphone beams that automatically changes its directivity based on the person who was speaking.  This feature is available in the Roger Touchscreen and Roger Select microphones.  The Roger Pen and none of the Bluetooth microphones have this feature.

6. Multimedia Content

Technology is an extremely important part of your child’s classroom.  These include whiteboards, computers, tablets, and television.

With the exception of the Phonak Partner Mic, all the remote microphones reviewed have some audio input capability that can transmit this multimedia content.  However, the Phonak Touchscreen mic can be combined with a Multimedia Hub which will allow the teacher to continue to use the Touchscreen Mic to make comments on material while the Multimedia hub will deliver a high-quality signal to your child 

7. Social Situations

School is more than just about learning in the classroom.  Communication with peers during non-class activities is crucially important for your child’s emotional development.  An ideal wireless mic system should be able to be used in multiple listening environments, not just the classroom.

If the student is simply having a one-to-one discussion with a peer, then all of the remote microphones reviewed can meet this need.  However, if there are multiple talkers in a small group, then only the Touchscreen mic and Select have automatic rotating directional microphones that will make these conversations easier.

Read more: How my Phonak Roger connected me with my hearing peer

8. Gymnasium/Large Assemblies

During assemblies in the school gymnasium or auditorium, the distance between the talker and your child is even greater than in the classroom making it even harder to comprehend.  The issue here is the transmission distance of the selected remote microphone system.

Generally, Bluetooth microphones have a transmission range of only 20 meters making them ineffective in large gymnasiums or auditoriums.  Roger Touchscreen has a range of 50 meters in general, and 100 meters when used with a Marvel hearing aid.  If greater range is required, then additional range extenders called the Roger Repeater can be added to the room.

9.  Soundfield Compatibility

Some schools use classroom amplification systems, also known as sound field systems.   Some may have a place to plug in your child’s remote microphone.  However, when you do that, the Roger microphones lose their adaptive features resulting in poor speech comprehension when the classroom noise levels increase.  Moreover, some of these Soundfield systems have a poor frequency bandwidth resulting in a reduction in the audibility of the very important high-frequency consonants.

The only microphone system reviewed that is compatible with both personal hearing aids and soundfield systems is the Touchscreen microphone.  Phonak makes an excellent sound field speaker called the DigiMaster that can easily be added to your child’s classroom.

10.  Universal Compatibility

An ideal system should be compatible with all hearing instruments.  The Phonak Roger microphones have receivers compatible with almost all hearing instruments currently available.

Contrast this with Bluetooth microphones that are to be compatible with only one manufacturer.  There is no Bluetooth microphone for all makes of hearing aids. In the event that there are several students in the class, or school with hearing loss using different makes of hearing aids, the teacher will be required to wear multiple microphones simultaneously.

With the three Roger remote remotes reviewed, the teacher only needs to wear one microphone to transmit to any number of students with hearing loss.

A summary of the remote microphones can be seen in the chart below

Comparing Phonak Roger microphones

The best hearing aid microphone for children with hearing loss

Roger Touch Screen Mic

After evaluating the needs of hard of hearing children in the classroom, I’ve determined the Phonak Roger Touchscreen remote microphone system is the best solution.

The Roger Select and Pen microphones can meet most of the needs, but not all.  However, the three Bluetooth microphones reviewed cannot adequately meet the needs as these are designed primarily to be used for only one talker.

However, they certainly can help in one-on-one situations such as a car or storytime.

Read more: This listening simulation shows why your child should use multiple remote microphones in the classroom

What if a hearing aid isn’t enough? A look at Phonak Roger Microphones

Author Details
Peter Stelmacovich is a trained audiologist with over 25 years of experience. For the past 14 years he has held progressive leadership positions at Phonak Canada, first as the FM Product Manager and more recently as the Director of Power and Pediatric Sales for Canada. This current position involves managing the latest hearing aid technologies for children with hearing loss, as well as wireless technologies used in educational facilities. In addition, Peter also manages the product lines used by adult patients with severe to profound deafness. Peter recently completed a Master in Health Administration degree from the University of Toronto. His interests have expanded to include strategy, change management, marketing and patient engagement. As a cochlear implant recipient and hearing aid wearer himself, Peter blends his audiological and management training, sales experience, and personal patient experiences in his work. Peter has been consistently recruited to speak at both Canadian and International conferences to share this unique perspective