If you are a musician who suffers hearing loss as I have, your first thought is "it's all over; I'm done." And that was my first thought when I woke up one morning in 2010 and realized that I could no longer hear high frequencies out of my left ear. Fortunately, new technology developed within the past year now allows musicians with hearing loss to compensate for their loss in a musical way that far exceeds the performance of conventional hearing aids. I suffered Sudden Hearing Loss (SHL) in my left ear. Nobody really knows what causes this. It's not necessarily related to loud noise exposure, though it can be. I just woke up one morning with loud tinnitus and couldn't hear anything above 3 kHz in the left ear. That means if I plug my right ear, I can't tell whether the drummer is playing a ride cymbal or not on a recording. I also have some damage in my right ear from my years as a rock musician. So I now have what is characterized as "mild to moderate high frequency loss" in both ears, the left ear being significantly worse.
When something like this happens your first stop is the Ear, Nose, Throat doctor who probably won't be able to help or give any advice other than to tell you to get a hearing aid. And then the next stop is the audiologist who measures your hearing and adjusts a conventional hearing aid to compensate. Of course, the first thing a musician says is "will this work with music." Most audiologists I've met just sort of laugh when I mention that I would like to get a hearing aid that makes corrections for music. They are strictly concerned with enhancing speech intelligibility. I tried out the top-of-the-line 3,000 dollar model that did make speech more intelligible but sounds like really nasty digital audio. Then I went to a 2,000 dollar model that strangely enough sounds a lot better. But even the best of these make music sound terrible with all kinds of compression and artifacts.
Fortunately, I remembered seeing something about a "hearing restoration system" on an audio software website. So I got in touch with this guy, David McClain. He has hearing loss himself and created this system for himself initially. It is to musical hearing what spectacles are to sight. In November of 2010, I bought his entry-level System 2000 for $5,000 dollars which includes the hardware, the software, the consultation fee, and a trip to his Tucson, AZ office. This was sort of a beta system and at that time only about 25 people in the world had it. McClain recently sold his software to a new company called Acudora which is planning to produce a number of hearing restoration products using his code. He is still the Chief Technical Officer for that company. I'm really excited to see what they are going to come out with. Right now the system I have requires most of the processing power of a single personal computer. But when I met David, he explained that one of his goals is to put this into hardware optimized to run the code so they can make it small enough to carry around in a shirt pocket and then eventually in the ear like a conventional hearing aid.
My corrected hearing using this system is pretty good. I can hear adjustments when I'm mixing up to 10 kHz, which is good enough to do basic mixing. There are some issues that can't be completely resolved with this system, but my perception is that I get a fully balanced, usable audio spectrum. I mixed Mongrel on this system and the mastering engineer told me there were no obvious problems with frequencies being too loud or too soft. My mixes were in the ballpark using this system. I'm hearing music better than I have in years. I've had a 6 kHz notch since I was 24 that I've always had to work around, and it's been nice to finally get some idea of what's happening in that area.
A big dose of steroids can sometimes cure Sudden Hearing Loss, but it's only effective during a 10 day window after the onset of symptoms. So at the first sign of SHL, you should make haste to the doctor and insist on immediate treatment. I encourage musicians to wear ear protection. But that's not always going to help. I've been pretty careful about using earplugs in every band or live concert situation I've been involved in over the past 25 years. And I used in-the-ear monitors at low volume in my last two bands. At least if something happens to your hearing now, you may be able to get some more useful years from your ears with these new musical hearing aids from Acudora.