BTE vs. RIC Hearing Aids: What’s the Difference?

Last update on May, 22, 2019
Heather Hellberg

Heather Hellberg

Miracle-Ear Audiologist

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When it comes to hearing solutions, the options are plenty. You can choose from many different types of hearing aids, including RIC (Receiver-in-the-Canal) and BTE (Behind-the-Ear) hearing aids. While these two popular styles may look similar on the outside, there are several key differences worth understanding. Let’s dive deeper into their defining features and benefits.

First things first: The similarities

Both RIC and BTE hearing aids feature a hard case, or shell, that rests behind the ear. This case houses most (or in some cases, all) of the hearing aid’s electronic components, such as the microphone, amplifier, digital chip and speaker.

Both styles also feature an earpiece that’s placed in the ear—this earpiece can be either a custom ear mold or a non-custom ear dome. The earpiece connects to the hearing aid via tubing, an ear hook or a thin wire, depending on the style.

In terms of technology, both BTE and RIC hearing aids are equipped to make the most of modern living. You can find the following capabilities in both styles, depending on the model:

  • Direct streaming from your smartphone
  • Tinnitus treatment/relief
  • Fully rechargeable (no batteries to replace)
  • Remote adjustment of volume/programs via mobile app

BTE vs. RIC: Three key differences

1. Speaker location

One of the most important differences between RIC and BTE hearing aids is the location of the speaker (or receiver). In Behind-the-Ear hearing aids, the speaker is inside the hard case along with the other electronic components.

Receiver-in-the-Canal hearing aids, on the other hand, place the speaker at the end of a thin electrical wire connected to the case. The speaker is then enclosed inside a flexible ear dome or ear mold placed in the ear.

2. Size

Since all electronic parts have to be housed inside the case, BTE hearing aids have traditionally been the larger style. The bigger case can also accommodate larger batteries for more amplification power (see more below). However, the big-and-bulky reputation of BTE styles is slowly fading: many models today now boast a slimmer, sleeker design similar to RIC hearing aids.

 

3. Amplification

The traditionally elongated shape of BTE hearing aids allows them to house a strong amplifier and large battery. They can substantially magnify sounds in both the high-frequency and low-frequency ranges. RIC hearing aids can also offer considerable range, but those with severe hearing loss will still need the bigger boost from a BTE style.

BTE hearing aids: Benefits and drawbacks

Benefits: Behind-the-Ear hearing aids offer the most powerful sound amplification out of any style, making them suitable for all levels of hearing loss—particularly those with profound and/or high-frequency hearing loss.

Since all sensitive electronics rest in the case outside of the ear, BTE styles are less susceptible to moisture and wax—the two leading causes of hearing aid damage. Even when those pests are present, they can often be easily cleared out of the tubing with an air blower or washed from the ear mold by detaching and soaking it in warm, soapy water. The result? Fewer repairs and longer lifespan.

BTE hearing aids’ traditionally larger size also makes them easier to insert/remove, adjust settings and replace the battery—a big benefit for those with dexterity concerns.

Drawbacks: Traditional BTE models—particularly those that offer maximum amplification—still tend to be bigger and thicker. Besides being more visible, the larger case may feel heavier or more uncomfortable for some wearers. And while ear domes are available for select BTE styles, many BTE hearing aids still require an ear mold, which are typically more noticeable and can lead to a more plugged-up feeling.

RIC hearing aids: Benefits and drawbacks

Benefits: Since the RIC’s case doesn’t need to house the speaker, it’s typically slimmer and smaller than most BTE models. RIC styles also boast a thin, electrical wire instead of an ear hook or tubing, which when combined with a small, translucent ear dome makes them barely visible to others.

Sounds tend to be clearer and more intact with RIC hearing aids, as the speaker rests closer to the ear canal. And distancing the speaker from the microphone minimizes another common complaint: feedback.

RIC hearing aids’ open and semi-open fit ear domes also allow low frequency sounds to escape, resulting in a more natural sounding speaking voice.

Drawbacks: The smaller size of RIC hearing aids may make them more difficult to insert/remove, adjust settings and clean—especially for those with limited fine motor skills. And while it can accommodate a range of hearing loss levels, it does not offer as much amplification as the BTE. The placement of the speaker in the ear canal also makes it more vulnerable to moisture and wax buildup, thus requiring regular maintenance to minimize damage or sound issues.

BTE vs. RIC: Which one is right for me?

Both types of hearing aids come in a variety of models to suit different lifestyles and listening needs. That said, here are a few things to consider:

If you love staying active and outdoors: BTE

Active living often means more moisture and sweat, which can be easily removed from the ear hook or tubing with an air blower. The BTE’s custom ear mold also easily detaches and can be soaked in warm, soapy water. Custom molds offer a secure, snug fit—a good choice for those on the move.

If you’re social or do public speaking: RIC

RIC’s smaller, more discreet design makes it less noticeable to others. And RIC styles typically offer a more pure, natural sound experience—both for outside sounds and your own speaking voice.

If you have severe hearing loss: BTE

A more traditional BTE hearing aid with a custom ear mold will give you the biggest boost in sound at both the high and low frequencies. Both the case and ear mold BTE come in a variety of colors to suit your preference.

If you’re always on your phone or tablet: Both

Both BTE and RIC hearing aids are available in models that offer direct streaming of phone calls, video and music from your favorite Bluetooth devices.
Expert tip:
Always have a licensed hearing professional evaluate your hearing before purchasing any hearing solution

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