Musician Baha user: “Why do I get distortion from playing the piano?”

piano-baha-sound-processor

Question: I’m a musician/pianist. I now have a Cochlear Baha 4 Sound Processor that is bone anchored. The volume of some of the pianos I play approaches the 90db ceiling on my Baha 4 unit. I’m getting distortion from the music and it seems to be across the whole frequency range of the sound processor. No one frequency or band is worse than others. Any ideas on how to eliminate the distortion?

By the way, you can simulate what I’m hearing by overdriving your stereo speakers. One way to do that is turn the volume all the way up. Same with ear buds. That’s the kind of distortion I’m hearing. It’s not feedback. It’s clipping.

Thanks! /Tim

Answer: Dear Tim. Congratulations on your Baha 4 Sound Processor – as a musician you should definitely notice and appreciate the additional fidelity.

You are absolutely correct, that extra effort needs to be taken when fitting any hearing device for people with specific enjoyment of music. When we design a hearing device, we focus on speech understanding. Speech is very different to music with a dynamic range of only 30dB and a loudest sound (e.g. /a/) of around 80dBSPL. Music on the other hand, will often have more low frequency emphasis (middle C is 256Hz whereas speech carries most information around 1500Hz), a much larger dynamic range approaching 100dB and input levels often peaking above 110-115dBSPL.

This calls for three potential solutions when listening to music:

1. Dedicated Music program. Your hearing care professional can create a dedicated music program. We offer one in the Baha 4 Sound Processor. This has been tailored to music by having a flatter frequency response, linear amplification (as compression can play havoc with music) and we have turned off various speech enhancement features such as noise reduction, directional microphones and tempered the feedback cancelling algorithm so it does not become confused by musical tones. This will provide an improved listening exprience.

2. Use a connection. When listening to music use a direct audio connection or listen via the wireless accessories (e.g. Mini Mic), here you can adjust the level so that the peaks of music do not overdrive the microphones.

3. Turn your hearing device off. Depending on your hearing loss, many people will remove their hearing device when listening to music. Due to the loud peaks and low frequency emphasis music is often audible whereas speech might not be. This will also avoid overdriving the analogue/digital converter of the hearing aid “front end” which may clip sounds above around 95dBSPL. This is an unfortunate limitation in most hearing instruments.

Your hearing care professional should be able to guide you through these options.

~ Mark C. Flynn, PhD Audiologist, Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions

3 thoughts on “Musician Baha user: “Why do I get distortion from playing the piano?”

  1. I am a professional flutist who went spontaneously deaf in my right ear 17 years ago. While I still have perfect hearing in my left ear, my right ear deafness has left me unable to play in an orchestra setting since I am no longer able to hear the musicians on my right or behind me. I am considering surgery for the Baha 4 Connect. Do you know of any musicians successfully using a Baha in a musical ensemble setting? Does the music program on the Baha 4 allow for distortion free sound perception when listening to a group of instruments at one time? Thank you so much for your help.
    Lisa

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  2. Lisa, I appreciate your situation. I’m a pianist and Baha 4 Connect user. Have you tried a Baha 4 system using the Soft Band headband? If you haven’t, that should be your first action right now.

    I have a Baha 4 Connect system and have been using it for 10 weeks. What an amazing difference in my life! My hearing loss is all air conduction trouble and it’s in both ears. Using the Baha 4 connect system allows me to hear music as I used to before the hearing loss got really bad. My Baha is on the left side and I “hear” it primarily in the right ear.

    I am working with a highly skilled audiologist who has been very patient working through some issues. The biggest issue for me is distortion. Initially, when I played the piano, any two notes played simultaneously would cause the aid to distort on attack. The threshold for distortion on input for my Baha 4 is 90db. No piano gets that loud so my proximity and the combination of multiple notes puts the Baha 4 in overdrive and the aid distorts on attack. The distortion is momentary. The fix for me was to lower the volume on the aid. That would seem counter-intuitive to lower volume on the aid you are using to hear better, but it has worked. Not perfect, but much better.

    My concern for you is the conduction hearing you’re getting playing your flute. My experience tells me that if your embouchre allows the flute to rest on any bone in your head, you may have distortion. You’ll know if that’s going to happen if you try a soft band demonstration unit.

    The second area of concern is sound localization. In my ensemble playing, with one Baha 4 unit, I hear everything “mostly” with my right ear. That was a problem at first, but my brain quickly adapted. Using the Baha 4 has dramatically ENHANCED my ability to hear other musicians in ensemble playing – even at reduced volume. Your audiologist should be able to help set up your Baha 4 to maximize the hearing you have. Again, the soft band test will help you know what to expect.

    For me going forward: I am considering a bi-lateral installation to enhance sound localization. Right now, I’m just investigating because I’m doing extremely well with just one aid. I mention a bi-lateral installation for you because you have concern about hearing performers around and behind you.

    I’m not a medical person or affiliated in any way with Cochlear. I thought I might help you with some of my experiences.

    One final observation. In ensemble playing my Baha 4 has NEVER distorted unless I’m playing an acoustic piano. I hear all other instruments as they should sound. Same in a movie theater. No distortion. On rare occasions, a loud conversationalist will put the aid into distortion, but it’s momentary.

    Hope this helps.

    Tim

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    • Tim,

      Thank you so much for your feedback regarding using the BAHA 4 connect in musical ensemble playing. I did try the soft headband for several days & got no feedback from my flute. I am hopeful this advancement in technology will allow me to resume the ensemble playing I’ve missed so much the last 17 years. I’m in the process of getting insurance approval for the surgery now. I sincerely appreciate the insight you provided.
      Lisa

      Like

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