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Assistive listening devices

There are five general types of assistive listening devices: audio induction (also called a hearing) loop, FM system, infrared system, personal amplified system and Bluetooth systems. The right device for you can depend on your hearing loss and where you need communication access.

This page provides a brief description of how each device works. You can also schedule a Hearing Loss Assistive Technology Demonstration with us to see how some assistive listening devices work.

Audio induction or hearing loop

  • Transmits sound via a microphone, an amplifier and wiring that encircles the seating (or listening!) area. It can also be used at counters and other smaller spaces to improve one-on-one communication.
  • Loops work by eliminating background noise, allowing the listener to hear the speaker's voice clearly, at a comfortable listening level. This is especially helpful in large spaces with poor acoustic features, such as hard floors, high ceilings and open space, but it is also helpful in settings where many people may be speaking at once, like an airport check-in desk or a bank.  
  • To pick up the signals, hearing aid users use the T (telecoil) switch or program on their hearing aids and sit or stand within or near the wired area. However, even individuals without hearing aids or without a telecoil program can benefit from loop systems by using a portable device with headphones.
  • You can learn more about hearing loops and advocating for loop installation at Loop Minnesota.

FM system

  • Transmits sound wirelessly via radio waves.
  • The speaker wears a compact transmitter and microphone and the listener wears a portable receiver.
  • The receiver may have a headphone, neckloop or other accessories.
  • Commonly used for group meetings, church settings, conferences and classes. It may be used both indoors and outdoors.

Infrared system

  • Transmits sound wirelessly via invisible light beams.
  • The receiver must be in direct line of sight of the light beam from the transmitter.
  • Commonly used in churches, theaters and auditoriums. It can only be used indoors; sunlight may interfere with transmission.
  • There are infrared devices made just for home television listening. The transmitter is placed on the TV and plugs into an electrical outlet. The user wears a battery-powered headset (receiver) with volume control. The TV volume can then be set at a comfortable level for other listeners.

Personal amplified system

  • A portable device that transmits sound via a microphone and transmitter to headphones, an earphone or a neck loop.
  • Useful for one-on-one conversations or TV listening.
  • Can be used indoors or outdoors.

Bluetooth system

  • Transmits sound via Wi-Fi.
  • Works directly with hearing aids that have Bluetooth.
  • Individuals with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids can use a smartphone or tablet with earphones to connect to the wirelessly transmitted sound.

Where to buy assistive listening devices

Generally, most assistive listening devices are only available from specialty retailers. You can find some specialty retailers on these two vendor lists: 

As with all technology, prices vary widely. Consider the features and benefits that are important to you, as well as your budget.

Fact sheets

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