Upgrade benefits and advancements in cochlear implant sound processor technology


By Camille C Dunn, PhD, CCC-A, Director of Cochlear Implants in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Iowa

Interested in talking with your patients about the benefits of upgrading their sound processor? Check out this article by Camille Dunn and share with your patients to start the conversation! 

Advancements in cochlear implant sound processor technology have significantly contributed to improving the quality of life for cochlear implant recipients. Three important improvements in technology include wear-ability, streaming/connectivity and sound processing.


Commonly, improvements in technology often result in smaller, lower profile devices that sit more comfortably on the head. Smaller devices might not necessarily improve hearing outcomes directly, but they can lead to improved wear time, which is a vital factor. Additionally, upgraded devices might offer longer battery time or different battery charging capabilities.

Some of the newer processors do not even sit on the back of the ear or have cables to manipulate. They are all-in-one processors that sit directly on the implant magnet site where the headpiece attaches to the internal device. Like the behind-the-ear processors, these devices come in multiple colors to blend with hair and skin color. It’s important to note that the all-in-one processors do not allow for combined processing for all Cochlear products. That is, the recipient will only receive electrical stimulation from their processor and not combined electrical and acoustic processing in the same ear.

Did someone say swimming? The newest sound processors also have an impressive water resistance rating which translates into sweat-proof and splash-proof capabilities especially useful in high humidity areas. For those who enjoy water activities, accessories are available that protect the sound processor while swimming, snorkeling, surfing or fishing.*

Streaming and connectivity

 People love to be connected, which is why they might want to upgrade their sound processor. Newer technology offers direct streaming capabilities with compatible Apple® or Android™ smartphones. Recipients can stream phone calls, music, movies and other media directly from a compatible smartphone to their sound processor(s) without the need for an intermediate device, such as a phone clip.

Recipients are especially enthusiastic about the technology that allows streaming to both ears – bimodal use with a compatible ReSound hearing aid and bilateral cochlear implant. This is huge! Benefits for listening with two ears can include improved ease of listening and better speech understanding.

Recipients often appreciate the versatile wireless accessories. For example, the Mini Microphone 2+ provides improved speech understanding in noisy situations or where distance from the speaker is a factor. This technology can help cochlear implant users feel less socially isolated while dining at a restaurant, riding in a car, listening to a presenter at a meeting, classroom or place of worship. Speech is streamed to the recipient via their sound processor after clipping the Mini Mic 2+ to the collar of the talker or even placed on the table. Further, the TV Streamer sends stereo sound from the television directly to the sound processor. This provides the recipient with improved understanding of what is being said without compromising the sound level to other companions who might be watching the same television program.

Sound processing

 Cochlear implant recipients benefit from advanced sound processing technology that evaluates the sound environment and automatically adjusts settings on the processor for optimal hearing. For a newly upgraded recipient, speech and sound may initially be perceived as “different.” Patience, persistence and listening practice are key as the brain adjusts to new sound processing, which in the long run, will provide better access to sound and improved speech understanding in noisy situations. As people go about their day in different listening environments, automatic adjustments optimize the user hearing experience by reducing background noise and wind noise, improving speech clarity and enhancing music.

Staying connected with loved ones and friends, relaxing to music and movies, working and homeschooling from home, while remaining informed by listening to news on a smartphone, TV and computer are more important than ever these days as we navigate social distancing and survive the many personal and economic challenges due to COVID-19. The value of upgrading to new technology and staying current with the versatile accessories can improve quality of life for cochlear implant recipients.

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This article expresses the experience and opinions of Camille Dunn.

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The Cochlear Nucleus Smart App is available on App Store and Google Play. For complete smartphone compatibility information, please visit www.cochlear.com/compatibility.

*The Nucleus 7 Sound Processor with Aqua+ is water resistant to level IP68 of the International Standard IEC60529. This water protection means that the sound processor with the Aqua+ can be continuously submerged under water to a depth of 3 meters (9 ft and 9 in) for up to 2 hours. This water protection only applies when you use a Cochlear Standard Rechargeable Battery Module or Cochlear Compact Rechargeable Battery Module. The Kanso Sound Processor is water resistant to level IP54 of the International Standard IEC60529. The Kanso Sound Processor with the Aqua+ is water resistant to level IP68 of the International Standard when used with LR44 alkaline or nickel metal hydride disposable batteries.

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