Instrument Styles

The 4 Basic Types of Hearing Instruments

There are four basic types of hearing instruments common to most manufacturers. All four will help with mild to moderate losses, but if loss is more severe, choices can be more limited. While size is the most obvious difference, each style has different attributes that are important to consider.

Hearing instruments worn behind-the-ear or in-the-ear can carry more sophisticated technology and more powerful amplifiers; they are also more durable. In contrast, new smaller models reside closer to the eardrum, and that proximity to the inner ear can help deliver a more natural sound quality. Your hearing professional will provide you with a recommendation and rationale that’s based on your specific needs and physiology.

Custom Hearing Instrument Styles


Completely-in-The-Canal The newest generation of hearing instruments are those that fit completely in the canal (CIC). Barely visible—and then only if someone’s peering into your ear—the only clue to their existence is the head of a tiny plastic line with which you place or remove the instrument. CICs are popular for their aesthetic appeal, but the physiology of some individuals’ ears (i.e., a very narrow canal) may make this style unsuitable for them.


In-the-canal (ITC) instruments are smaller still, with an earmold that fits down into the ear canal, and a smaller portion facing out into the outer ear. They are discreet, yet still visible within the outer ear.


In-The-Ear In-the-ear instruments house componentry in a custom-formed earmold that fits within the outer portion of the ear. Its size and easy-to-use controls also may be helpful for those with limited manual dexterity.

Behind the Ear

Behind the Ear (BTE) Behind-the-ear instruments have a plastic housing for the components which rests behind the ear. A clear plastic tube funnels amplified sound into an earmold in the ear canal. This model, though developed decades ago, can be every bit as sophisticated as smaller hearing instruments. In fact, it can hold more circuitry and amplify sounds to a greater degree than in-the-ear types. BTE aids can be more durable than other types and a few are even waterproof.