Hearing Assistance in Practice

The story of the Community Church at Chapel Hill UU (NC) congregation is taken from their web page to seed this section of the SED Technologies in Congregations wiki. Please add your experiences! Questions may be best addressed at the UUA Accessibility listserver (request access from here).

Short History of one Congregation

Since 1998, C3HUU has provided a hearing impaired visitors with a hearing assist technology that is attached to the sound system in the church sanctuary. The Phonic Ear Easy Listener FM rebroadcast system has been a part of the sound system since its purchase. This system has served its purpose well, but does require maintenance such as replacing batteries, headsets and receivers that break, etc.

The Phonic Ear Easy Listener system has 3 parts:

  1. One transmitter that attaches to the soundroom soundboard audio output
  2. 8 receivers each about the size of a bar of soap with on/off and volume controls, two AA rechargable batteries, and a charger plugged into the headset jack when not in use
  3. 8 headsets either the "stethoscope" version which fits around one's neck and sits on the outside of the lister's ear canal, a foam padded headset such as those used in Walkman type devices, or foam padded ear buds as are used with iPods and other MP3 players

This Phonic Ear system has been very reliable for almost two decades, but is showing its age. During the past year (2011) or so 4 of the 8 receivers have failed as have 3 of the stethoscope style headsets. Both the headsets and receivers have replacements available.
Sample Audio Loop System
Sample Audio Loop System

Requests for Alternatives

In the summer of 2011, some members asked about the possibility of installing technology that can activate a hearing aid without need for a separate receiver and headset. The issue popped up again when one of our long time members noted that the audio just wasn't working for her in one of the receivers. Troubleshooting the Phonic Ear Easy Listening PR-300T FM transmitter and PR-300R receivers the past year+ has been required every few months, this time it was discovered that one of the old "stethescope" style headsets was the culprit. This is but one in a long line of minor headaches with the Easy Listener system where the 18 year old receivers have failed for individual users in different ways.

Several people who advocate all congregations support induction telecoil, also known as "T coil" or "audio loop", attended the Eastern NC Cluster UUA Technologies in Congregations workshop in March 2012[1] More details on audio loop or T coil systems may be found in the references below.

Planning for Upgrade

Some things to consider as C3HUU Soundroom team works with the board to plan on an upgrade to the Hearing Assistance capabilities at C3HUU:
  • FM systems with a transmitter attached to the Sound System and individual receivers can work well, and each problem with the Easy Listener devices so far has been failed headsets or bad receivers. The church could purchase several new FM receivers at approximately $80 each and new audio headsets for approximately $6 apiece.
    • the Phonic Ear Easy Listener system is still sold today. The updated receivers are still analog FM receivers and a single matching FM transmitter to attach to the Sound System
    • many alternative technologies are available in the $150-$250 per receiver range including spread spectrum receivers and transmitter that are far more resistant to noise
    • as noted below, the Phonic Ear can be retained and move to Audio Loop system in addition to the Phonic Ear FM system
  • Induction loop/telecoil devices can be purchased to use with FM hearing assist devices, we have one such induction headset that works with the Easy Listener audio receivers, but I don't know that anyone has tried it in years! Each audio induction loop headset that plugs into an FM receiver costs on the order of $65. After testing, if induction loop headsets work well, the church can go forward and investigate the estimated $800-$1000 audio induction loop system.
  • An audio induction loop system as diagrammed above, can be used separately from the FM system as well. This would be about $800-$1000 to purchase including one induction loop receiver for those who don't have induction loop equipped hearing aids called "telecoil", "T loop", "T coils", or "audio loop" support since they were originally invented to work with old style telephone handsets with large magnetic coil speakers). Induction loop systems require a coil of wire to enclose the space where users sit who have telecoil equipped hearing aids, see the drawing above from reference #1 below.
  • Over time a telecoil system which encloses the whole meeting space can completely replace a FM system by replacing the FM receivers with Telecoil receivers for those who don't have telecoil hearing aids.

Hearing Impaired System Upgrade

Approximate costs for the various options are summarized in the table below:
Type of
Audio System
Example vendor/
Part name/number
New analog audio FM transmitter & 4 receivers
Transmitter: Williams PPA 375/377[2] Additional receivers PockeTalker Ultra
New telecoil "necklace" for FM receiver/transmitters
(one "necklace" per FM receiver loop enabled)
Sennheiser EZT 1011 Induction Necklace
Williams Sound NKL001
Replacement Phonic Ear FM receivers
(per receiver cost)
Phonic Ear Easy Listener
New telecoil/audio loop system
Phonic Ear PL300 amplifier
+ installation


  1. Introduction to Loop Audio systems: (http://www.ovalwindowaudio.com/loopintro.htm)
  2. Reference to other area sites which have audio loop system including an interactive map
  3. Personal accounts of impact loop systems have on hearing impaired from NM newspaper article here.
  4. UUA Accessibility listserver (request access from here)
  5. May, 2010 article from Technologies for Worship magazine outlining Audio Loop technology
  6. Powered audio loop "necklace" for any device with iPod style audio output
  7. C3HUU Hearing Assistance link

  1. ^ Technologies in Congregations content is detailed on this web site: http:/sed-tech.wikispaces.com
  2. ^ Williams Sound PPA 375 or PPA 377 Pro are high end systems using multiple channels and wide or narrowband settings with 4 matching receivers. More receivers may be purchased from several suppliers. There is no practical limit to the number of receivers that can be used with one transmitter. The Williams Sound manufacturer web site is here: http://www.williamssound.com/catalog/ppa-377.455

    Price quotes are from Google search at this supplier: http://www.proavmax.com