Sight, Sound and Beyond

What is an FM System?

Sound Waves by Ofelia Uz

I thought that I would write this article to raise some awareness.about FM Systems. Many people do not know what an FM system is and wouldn’t even recognize one. In fact, I have been asked if it is some type of recording device. This is pretty normal because you don’t really hear the topic of FM systems com up on everyday conversation.  Although, it did happen to come up in a conversation this past week while I was at work.

Before I get into the specifics, let me start with a story that happened several months ago wnile I was at handbell choir rehearsal (I am in my church’s handbell choir).  Some of the members were wondering what our music director, Nadia, was wearing around her neck and what it does. Nadia directed the question to me to answer since it was my listening device that she was wearing. “Nadia is wearing a microphone around her neck so that I can hear her when she talks. You see, when she speaks, the sound of her voice goes directly to my hearing aids.” I said while pointing to one of my hearing aids. One of the members was very impressed with this type of technology.

The is what an FM system is on a very basic level. An FM system consists of two components: a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is what Nadia wears around her neck. It has a microphone which picks up her voice as she speaks. The sounds of her voice travel wirelessly to two receivers which are attached to each of my hearing aids. Some receivers easily snap on a hearing aid for easy application and removal. However, my receivers are permanently attached to my hearing aids and are located where the battery door is. When I am not using my FM system the receivers are powered off and I am just listening to sounds through the hearing aid mics alone. I am literally like a human radio because an FM system operates the same way as a radio, using frequency modulation (FM) waves.

This is my FM transmitter. The built-in microphone is located on the upper-left side.

Here is what my receiver looks like. It is attached to my hearing aid.

FM transmitters come in many varieties. There are some that work with a person’s hearing aids. This is how mine works. Both my hearing aids and FM system are made by Phonak and are compatible with one another. There are some FM systems that work independently. That is, you don’t need to wear a hearing aid to use it. The person receiving the sounds would wear a headset.

 Why is an FM system so beneficial? For starters, it allows a person to hear at far distances and in noisy situations. Let’s use handbell choir as an example. Rehearsals are held inside a church, so there is the added echo when hearing someone speak. Plus, the music director stands at least two feet away from me. For some that may seem like not much, but when you are in a church and have a hearing loss, that can be quite a distance.

 As Nadia talks, I can hear her as if she were standing a few inches away from me. My receivers pick up her speech and the microphones on my hearing aids pick up the other sounds around me like the sounds of our music making. If someone next to me says something to me, I can hear that, too, but no matter how noisy it gets around me, I can always hear Nadia’s instructions.

Another benefit of having an FM system is that It can plug the transmitter into audio devices via an aux cable. You simply plug one end of the cable into the FM transmitter and the other end into a headphone jack of your audio source. I often have a hard time hearing the television so I sometimes hook my FM transmitter up to it for easier listening. If I am watching television with other people in the room, I just turn the transmitter on, and place it near the speaker of the television so that the microphone pics up and amplifies all the sounds. Now I can enjoy watching television with other people.

An FM system is very helpful in situations where I feel that I need a “third ear”. I have used it in noisy settings, music rehearsals, listening to far away sounds and more.

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Comments on: "What is an FM System?" (2)

  1. I used the FM system throughout elementary and high school. This technology has improved drastically since I first started using it. My first receiver was a headset I wore over my hearing aids and a battery. My teacher’s transmitter was a microphone powered by a rechargeable battery. Later in high school, the receiver was a fragile plastic “boot” that attached to my hearing aids. The teacher’s microphone was much smaller still he/she had to clip on the battery component on pants/skirt or put it in a pocket. Although it was helpful for me to hear the teacher’s voice (especially if teacher was not within view) the FM quality was poor; often crackling and making a ssh noise as it amplified the teacher’s voice. The boot part drained my batteries quickly and it would break easily when I put it on or removed it from my hearing aids. It is a good/useful device but it had it’s drawbacks. Maybe in future FM models these problems were resolved. I am glad to read that you benefited from the FM system and are satisfied with the product. For me it was frustrating to use and a big expense/annoyance for the school case-workers who had to replace the boot receiver every time it snapped. From the pics of your FM system, it appears that the boot is much more durable. Sound quality also seems to have improved. It makes sense that a technology designed to eliminate background noise would not be accompanied by feedback when the wearer speaks into the microphone. Overall, this is a good review about what the FM system does and when it can be used.
    PS- I also used a Phonak FM system in high school-a different iteration of the one pictured above.

    • Hi Izzy,
      Thank you for visiting and reading my blog. Yes FM systems have changed over the years. You are so lucky you got to use one in school! That is awesome! Thank you for your wonderful comment!

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