Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

FM system is the name given to ‘radio aids’. FM stands for Frequency Modulation (FM) – the same as for radio stations.

With a FM system the sound is wirelessly transmitted by radio waves. The frequency bands used by a FM system are free and don’t require a licence.

FM systems are not installed into buildings in the way that infrared systems and hearing loops are. They are small portable devices that involve a small transmitter (typically a microphone worn by a speaker) and a receiver (typcially a device worn round the neck of the user).

FM receivers and your hearing aids

For sound to go straight from the FM receiver into your hearing aids then you’ll probably have to purchase your own FM equipment (or borrow from a sensory loss centre) so it is the sort compatible with your hearing aids.

FM systems are a bit like mobile phones and different accessories – you have to use the ones that match the make and model of the hearing aid you have.

The FM systems involve a transmitter, which is essentially a microphone, and a receiver, which could be a headset, a neck loop, a streamer of some kind, or your hearing aids (if they are able to receive the FM signal directly).

The FM transmitter will send a signal only to your receiver.  Lots of people can operate FM systems in the same space if they wish, they won’t interfere with each other (or shouldn’t!).

It is also possible for a single FM system to serve multiple people. For example, a tour guide might attach your FM transmitter (i.e. the wireless microphone that sends a signal to your ‘receiver’) and at the same time also attach a second one that belongs to the tour company that sends a signal to others who use the tour company’s receivers attached to headsets or neck loops.

Use one of these receivers to access the sound:

  • Headphones or ear buds.
  • A neck loop that sits round your neck and directs sound into the hearing aids. Your hearing aids must have a T-setting (most do, ask your audiologist).
  • An ear hook or audio input shoe attached to the hearing aid and the sound goes into it then into your hearing aids.
  • Hearing aids that are of a type that can receive the sound directly.

How it works

  1.  Give your FM transmitter (i.e. microphone) to whoever you want to listen to (e.g. a tour guide or lecturer).
  2.  Keep hold of the receiver.
  3.  Sound goes into the transmitter … across to your receiver … into your hearing aids (nice and clearly).


So what’s a neck loop?

This is simply a thin cable that is used to hang the FM receiver round your neck. It passes a signal directly to hearing aids so long as they have a T-setting.

Possible problems to watch for: the neck loop may not pass a strong enough signal to make it effective. Or the position of the telecoil in the user’s hearing aids may mean the neck loop doesn’t work unless it is held very close to the hearing aids.

Neck loop graphic by Ideas for Ears

So what’s a telecoil or T-setting?

A telecoil is a tiny device placed inside most hearing aids to receive the signal given by a hearing loop or by a compatible telephone. Most hearing aids have a T-setting to allow the telecoil to be used.

Not sure if your hearing aids have a T-setting?Ask your audiologist or hearing aid provider. It’s usually very easy for them to get this set up for you.

Got a T-setting but not sure if you can use a neck loop? Try one and see if your hearing aids pick up the sound. Lift the loop up close to your ears and see if the sound you hear alters. If it does, explain this to your audiologist or hearing aid provider and ask for advice. If you hear nothing, the neck loop or the T-setting in your hearing aids could be faulty.

The drawbacks to FM Systems

  • Users have to borrow the equipment from the venue, which requires additional time and effort.
  • To have the sound go straight from the receiver to the hearing aids, users must purchase their own FM system and must ask the venue to make use of it for their personal use.
  • There is the issue of wearing a listening device, which might be conspicuous (although some devices can be hidden under light clothing without a problem).
  • If using an FM system supplied by a venue, either a neck loop or a head set must be used. The user has to borrow the equipment from the venue, which requires additional time and effort. There is also the issue of wearing a conspicuous listening device and potential hygiene concerns over shared headphones or ear buds.

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Advice & training

Ideas for Ears provides advice and training to facility managers and customer care teams to assist them in assessing the needs of customers and service users.

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