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HEARING AID ASSEMBLY HAVING
EXTERNAL DIRECTIONAL MICROPHONE
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED
This application makes reference to, and claims priority to, United States provisional application Ser. No. 60/173, 427 filed Dec. 29, 1999.
INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE
The above-referenced United States provisional application Ser. No. 60/173,427 is hereby incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY
SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Numerous types of hearing aids are known and are currently in use. Hearing aid users generally prefer hearing aid types that are minimally visible to third parties, but provide maximum performance in noisy environments. One common hearing aid type is worn behind-the-ear (BTE) and is quite visible to third parties. Such BTE hearing aids also generally do not perform well in noisy environments. For example, typical BTE hearing aids demonstrate Articulation-Index-weighted average Directivity Index (AIDI) values in the range of 2-3 dB (due to the high frequency shadowing of the Pinna, or earflap). For many users, BTE hearing aids simply do not provide the directivity performance sufficient to make the BTE viable in noisy environments.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid solutions that are less visible and also provide improved performance in noisy environments have therefore been developed using directional microphone technology. One directional microphone for ITE applications is the D-MIC® of Etymoic Research, Inc. The D-MIC® directional microphone in an ITE hearing aid provides typical AIDI values in the range of 5+dB, a substantial improvement over BTE applications.
Despite the fact, however, that ITE hearing aids as such are less visible and provide substantial improvement in directivity performance, ITE hearing aids still require that the entire concha of the wearer's ear be filled, and that the directional microphone be located on the near flat outer surface of the hearing aid. Such an arrangement is still quite visible.
Consequently, even less visible hearing aids have been developed for in the ear applications, namely in the canal (ITC) and completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids. ITC and CIC hearing aids are discreetly located in the resonant portion of the ear canal, and thus do not require that the entire concha of the ear be filled. Hearing aid wearers, therefore, generally prefer the less visible ITC and CIC hearing aids over ITE hearing aids.
ITC and CIC hearing aids, however, do not perform as well as ITE hearing aids, or even BTE hearing aids, in noisy environments. Directional microphones simply do not provide useful directionality in ITC and CIC hearing aid applications because of the location of the hearing aid in the resonant portion of the wearer's ear canal. The sound field at such a location has no detectable frequency dependent phase shift as is found in free space or on a surface in free space (as with an ITE hearing aid). Currently available ITC
and CIC hearing aids therefore use only omni-directional microphones, and provide typical AIDI values in the range of -0.5 to 0.2 dB. Such directionality performance is not adequate for most users in noisy environments. 5 It is thus an object of the invention to provide the improved directionality performance similar to ITE solutions for the less visible ITC and CIC hearing aids.
It is a further object of the invention to provide the improved directionality performance similar to ITE solu10 tions for BTE hearing aids with little or no visual impact or prior art BTE hearing aid designs.
It is still a further object of the invention to provide an overall improved directivity performance for ITE hearing s aid applications.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
These and other objects of the invention are achieved in a microphone system having a hearing aid housing and a
20 directional microphone mounted externally to the hearing aid housing. A link operatively couples the directional microphone to a component, such as, for example, a hearing aid amplifier or speaker, located internally to the hearing aid housing. The link may also be configured to mechanically
25 mount the directional microphone to an external surface of the hearing aid housing, which surface may be, for example, a hearing aid faceplate.
In one embodiment, the link is a mounting arm that effectively mounts the directional microphone to a hearing
30 aid faceplate and enables electrical connection of the directional microphone to the component within the hearing aid housing. For example, the mounting arm may be a rigid tube that mounts the directional microphone on one and is mounted to a faceplate on the other. Wires connecting the
35 directional microphone to the internal component may therefore travel through the tube and faceplate.
The directional microphone may be configured externally to the hearing aid housing such that, when the hearing aid housing is inserted into the ear of a wearer, the microphone
40 is located between the helix and tragus portions of the ear. The directional microphone may comprise a directional microphone cartridge having a front inlet tube and a rear inlet tube both operatively coupled to the microphone cartridge. In one embodiment, the front tube is empty. In
45 another embodiment, an acoustical impedance, such as, for example, a plurality of rods are placed longitudinally in the front inlet tube to improve the polar performance of the directional microphone. The rods may be, for example, monofilament fishing line.
50 These and other advantages and novel features of the present invention, as well as details of an illustrated embodiment thereof, will be more fully understood from the following description and drawings.
55 BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL
VIEWS OF THE DRAWING
FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a hearing aid assembly of the present invention. 60 FIG. 2 is one embodiment of the hearing aid assembly of the present invention for ITC and CIC hearing aid applications.
FIG. 3 is another embodiment of the hearing aid assembly of the present invention for BTE hearing aid applications. 65 FIG. 4 illustrates an exploded side view of one embodiment of a directional microphone assembly for use in the hearing aid assembly embodiments of FIGS. 2 and 3.
FIG. 5 is an end view of the front tube portion of the microphone assembly of FIG. 4 having rods placed longitudinally in the front tube portion.
FIG. 6 is a plot of the frequency response for each of the directional microphone assembly embodiments of FIGS. 4 5 and 5.
FIG. 7 illustrates plots of the polar response of the directional microphone assembly of FIG. 4.
FIG. 8 illustrates plots of the polar response of the directional microphone assembly of FIG. 5. 10
FIG. 9 depicts an upper mounting portion and tube portion of a link or mounting arm according to the present invention.
FIG. 10 illustrates the directional microphone assembly of FIG. 4 mounted in the upper mounting portion of FIG. 9.
FIG. 11 illustrates a side cross-sectional view of one 15 embodiment of connection of the link or mounting arm of FIG. 2 with a hearing aid faceplate.
FIG. 12 is a top view of one embodiment of an elbow and nut depicted in FIG. 11.
FIG. 13 illustrates one embodiment of the hearing aid 20 assembly of the present invention inserted into the ear canal of a wearer.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a hearing aid assembly of the present invention. Hearing aid assembly 1 comprises a hearing aid 3 that is mechanically and electrically connected to an external directional microphone 5 via a link 7. Directional microphone 5 may be a first or higher order directional 30 microphone. Directional microphone 5 may comprise, for example, a single directional microphone cartridge as shown in FIG. 1 or an array microphone as described in copending application Ser. No. 09/517,848 of Soede et al., which application is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety. 35 Directional microphone 5 may also comprise a dual omnidirectional directional microphone. Directional microphone 5 may also incorporate an omni-directional microphone for switching between directional and omni-directional modes. Hearing aid 3 may be a BTE, ITE, ITC or CIC hearing aid, 40 and may include internal components such as an amplifier 9 and a receiver 11, as is known in the art.
During operation of the hearing aid assembly 1, sound energy impinges on the externally located directional microphone 5, and is transduced by the directional microphone 5 45 into electrical signals. The electrical signals are then transmitted to the hearing aid 3 via the link 7, where the signals are amplified by the amplifier 9, transduced to sound energy by the receiver 11, and then transmitted into the ear canal of a wearer. 50
FIG. 2 is one embodiment of the hearing aid assembly of the present invention for ITC and CIC hearing aid applications. Hearing aid assembly 13 comprises a directional microphone 15 that is mechanically and electrically connected to an ITC hearing aid 17 via link (or mounting arm) 55 19. Alternatively, directionally microphone 15 is mechanically and electrically connected to a CIC hearing aid 21 (shown smaller by a dotted outline) via the links 19. As can be seen, the CIC hearing aid 21, as well as the additional length of the link 19 needed for the location of the CIC 60 hearing aid 21 further in the ear canal (relative to ITC hearing aid 17), are depicted by dashed lines. In either the ITC or CIC application, the directional microphone 15 is located, as generally shown in FIG. 2, in the notch between the helix 18 and tragus 20 portions of the ear, with a front 65 sound inlet port 23 of the microphone 15 facing generally forward.
FIG. 3 illustrates another embodiment of the hearing aid assembly of the present invention for BTE hearing aid applications. Hearing aid assembly 25 comprises a directional microphone 27 that is electrically and mechanically connected to a BTE hearing aid body 29 via a link (or mounting arm) 31. BTE hearing aid body 29 is also acoustically connected to an earmold 33 via a tube 35. Connection between BTE hearing aid body 29 and tube 35 is not shown in FIG. 3 because the connection is located behind, and is obscured by, directional microphone 27 and link 31. However, connection between BTE hearing aid bodies and earmolds are known in the art.
As can be seen from FIG. 3, the directional microphone 27 is located on the side of the head near the notch between the helix and tragus portions of the ear like the directional microphones in the embodiments illustrated in FIG. 2. Such a location of the directional microphone provides the desired results, as will become more apparent below. However, other locations of the microphone are also possible, such as, for example, in the space 36 below the tragus of the ear. In general, acceptable results may be achieved by, for example, locating the directional microphone with the front sound entry port positioned over the occluded ear canal, and the rear sound entry port positioned approximately in the range of 4-9 millimeters toward the back of the head, in the "bowl" or concha 34 of the ear.
FIG. 4 illustrates an exploded side view of one embodiment of a directional microphone assembly for use in the hearing aid embodiments of FIGS. 2 and 3. Directional microphone assembly 37 comprises a directional microphone cartridge 39 having a front sound inlet port 41, a rear sound inlet port 43 and electrical terminals 45. The directional microphone cartridge may be, for example, a variation of a Model TM directional microphone cartridge available from Knowles Electronics.
Directional microphone assembly 37 further comprises a hollow tube 47. Tube 47 may be, for example, #15 hypodermic tubing having an inner diameter of 0.054 inches, and may have, for example, an overall length of approximately 0.23 inches. Tube 47 has saddle notch 49 cut or formed therein, forming a front sound inlet tube portion 51 on the front end of the tube 47, and a rear sound inlet tube portion 53 on the rear end of tube 47. Saddle notch 49 may be, for example, 0.070 inches long (see dimension A in FIG. 4), front sound inlet tube portion 51 may be, for example, 0.110 inches long (see dimension B in FIG. 4), and rear sound inlet tube portion 53 may be, for example, 0.050 inches long (see dimension C in FIG. 4). While a notch 49 is shown in single tube 47 to form the tube portions 51 and 53 (for ease of assembly), it should be understood that two separate tubes could be attached on either side of microphone cartridge 39 to form front and rear sound inlets.
During assembly of the microphone assembly 37, the microphone cartridge 39 is placed in the saddle notch 49 so that the front sound inlet port 41 communicates with the front sound inlet tube portion 51 of the tube 47, and the rear sound inlet port 43 communicates with the rear sound inlet tube portion 53 of the tube 47. Rear sound inlet tube portion 53 may also have an acoustic resistor 55 placed therein for determining, for example, the polar pattern of the directional microphone assembly 37. Epoxy may also be used on surface(s) in the saddle notch 49 to seal around edges of tube portions 51 and 53 that mate with microphone cartridge 39, to solidify the microphone assembly 37.
In the embodiment of FIG. 4, front sound inlet tube portion 51 of the tube 47 is shown as an open tube. In an