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What is a Hearing Trumpet?

By Mike Biscoe
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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A hearing trumpet is a device used to amplify sound. Also referred to as a hearing horn or ear trumpet, these devices are designed to allow persons coping with hearing loss to more effectively hear audio waves. The hearing trumpet was a precursor to the modern hearing aid.

The hearing trumpet is considered to be one of the world's earliest means of dealing with hearing loss. Originally, a hearing trumpet was made from natural sources like the hollowed out horns of cows and rams; sea shells were also commonly used. Not long afterward, hearing trumpets were created using wood and metal. Beethoven, the composer famous for both his musical genius and gradual hearing loss, was known to have used a variety of hearing trumpet models. The popularity of the hearing trumpet diminished slowly with the advent of the electrical hearing device in 1899.

Hearing trumpets consist generally of a singular, conical-shaped tube — essentially a narrow funnel. One end of the hearing aid is narrow and often the sides of this end are covered in a soft material for greater comfort. The opposite end of the device has a flaring end to better receive sound. These ear trumpets were often painted in such a way that they would be as unobtrusive as possible.

Simple to use, hearing trumpets have no electrical or battery-driven components to contend with. The small narrow end of the hearing trumpet is gently held in place inside the ear. The larger, flaring end is then directed towards the source of sound.

Hearing trumpets are designed in a variety of styles and shapes. Those with greater hearing loss will use a larger hearing trumpet for louder amplification. Hearing trumpets have been designed since the 18th century to be aesthetically pleasing as well. In addition to the use of varying materials and finishes, hearing trumpets have been designed in the past to resemble miniature musical horn instruments.

Ear trumpets have been made of different materials and shapes not only for aesthetic reasons, however. The design and materials were often chosen to take advantage of the varying acoustical properties they provide. The London dome trumpet, for example, was designed to pick up the frequencies of speech.

Modern technological advances have rendered the hearing trumpet virtually obsolete. Though not as common today as they were during the 18th and 19th centuries, hearing trumpets are still produced.

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