Assistive Listening Devices (ALD)

There are few product names as on-the-nose as “assistive listening device (ALD).” It’s like calling a vacuum cleaner a “cleanly dirt inhaler,” or a bowl a “curved consumable receptacle.” As far as names go, it’s right up there with “walkie-talkie.”

Despite how objective this name may be, you might not actually know what an ALD is. How do they differ from hearing aids? And are they worth the investment? Let’s take a look!

If you’re wondering if an ALD is for you, we can only tell you so much. For the real scoop, you can do no better than going to see a qualified hearing healthcare professional for free – they’ll be able to assess your hearing, and see if you’re eligible for hearing aids or ALDs.

What are assistive listening devices?

Upon hearing the name, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “assistive listening device” is just another phrase for “hearing aid.” Hearing aids, after all, are just devices that assist your listening – they’re categorically the same thing, right?

Well, your logic is sound – but unfortunately, the answer is never that simple. 

Hearing aids are complex digital devices that isolate and amplify certain frequencies and sounds based on the specifications of the listener.

Meanwhile, ALDs are handy devices for anyone who needs a small boost in their hearing capabilities, whether they use hearing aids or not. Since they’re less complex and costly than hearing aids, they’re a nice stopgap for anyone worried about hearing loss and in need of a bit of hearing help.

“ALD” is more of a category than a specific thing. The ALD category includes the following kinds of tech:

Bluetooth

Bluetooth has exploded onto the hearing aid scene recently, with most recent models being equipped with Bluetooth capabilities. Bluetooth obviously expands beyond hearing aids, though – wireless Bluetooth headsets, for instance, are a versatile way to listen to music or television.

Woman using Bluetooth

While not created as ALDs, Bluetooth headsets can be a big help for people suffering from hearing loss. Rather than listening to the TV or your iPad without headphones – risking interference from external influences, like people talking in the same room – you can listen through noise cancelling headphones, and focus fully on the sound you want to hear.

Personal amplifiers

A personal amplifier is a great idea for an intimate setting, like a dinner or a one-on-one conversation. It’s a pretty simple device, consisting mostly of a mic, amplifier, and listening cord. The listening cord goes into the listener’s ear, while the individual being spoken to attaches the mic to their clothing.

This might sound a bit limiting to you, since you’re essentially tethered to whomever you’re talking to, but it’s a cheap and simple little gadget that might come in handy in loud social settings or occasions where you’ll be seated.

Since they’re so simple, personal amplifiers are also very cheap – in fact, they can easily be found on Amazon for mid-range double digit prices (around $50–$70).

FM systems

You are right, though – a personal amplifier can be a bit restricting. It means you’re effectively limited to speaking with people who are within reaching distance of the listening cord. This is where FM systems come into play.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more range, then you’re in luck. An FM (frequency modulation) system uses radio waves instead of cords, meaning that you can be much farther away from the person you’re listening to – as well as move around independently while they’re talking.

Headsets

This is an ideal device for use in a lecture hall or a sports team, where you’ll be some way away from your speaker, or constantly on the move. However, since an FM system is more advanced, it will run you a fair amount more than a personal amplifier, reaching anywhere between $400–$800 depending on quality.

Infrared systems

It’s no surprise that sound can be sent over radio waves – after all, that’s what radio is. But now, we’ve come far enough that sound can be sent over light – or more specifically, infrared light. This is for peak privacy situations – light can’t pass through solid surfaces like walls, meaning it can’t be intercepted.

This is very handy in confidential proceedings, like courtroom briefings. On the slim chance that you’re a spy with hearing loss, you’d probably use one of these to receive your missions.

These can also be used for watching TV or films, since you’re remaining stationary but sat further away from the thing you’re trying to hear. The only problem is, since light can’t pass through anything solid, if something or someone walks in front of you, you’ll have a brief gap in the signal. 

Infrared systems aren’t too pricey, averaging at around $200.

Overall

ALDs can help those with less severe hearing loss, who could still do with a bit of hearing help every now and then.

If you’d like to assess your need for such tools, then a free hearing test is right up your street. To arrange such a test, the best course of action would be to fill out our quick and easy form, which will allow you to book a free consultation with a hearing specialist near you.

Duncan Lambden

Duncan Lambden

Writer

Duncan is an Australian-born American-raised creative writer with a passion for healthy ears. He continues to build upon his audiology qualifications with research and various courses. Duncan has been working alongside Florida-based audiologist Lindsey Banks, Au.D., to make sure that Everyday Hearing has the most up-to-date content.