From a vest pocket to behind the ear.
The basic design of electric hearing aids has remained the same since the first Phonophor came out in 1913. Like its predecessors, the 1959 Siemens Auriculette 326 consisted of a microphone, amplifier, and earphone, with a battery as a power supply. However, the components were so small and lightweight that they fit together in a single housing worn comfortably behind the ear. The receiver capsule reproduced the sound, conducting it directly into the ear canal via an acoustic tube and ear mold. The behind-the-ear (BTE) Auriculette quickly became a blockbuster, driven by demand from female wearers especially.
The Auriculette behind the ear, 1960
“We do not know of any hearing aid anywhere in the world (except perhaps the United States) ever having enjoyed this kind of success,” reads an internal Siemens note dated December 3, 1959. That was the day when the 5,000th Auriculette was produced in Erlangen – just six months after the start of production. And the unusually high demand persisted. From 400 units per week in December 1959, the number of Auriculette hearing aids produced had already risen to 700 per week by January 1960.
There were many reasons the Auriculette was such a hit. It represented a major advance in cosmetic terms. Placed behind the outer part of the ear it was barely noticeable, and longer hair could even hide it from view completely. By contrast, pocket hearing aids made many users uncomfortable with the cord running from the device hidden in the user’s pocket to the receiver in their ear. BTE hearing aids did away with these kinds of cords by enabling the entire system to be placed behind the ear. They also brought significant gains in hearing quality, eliminating the rustling interference sometimes produced by the cord rubbing against clothing. A BTE device also picks up sound from a more natural position right near the ear itself.
The Auriculette was carefully designed with the anatomy of the ear in mind, ensuring that it fit snugly without creating uncomfortable pressure, and remained firmly in place behind the ear even if the user moved their head abruptly. It was recommended that users with hearing loss on both sides wear a BTE hearing aid behind each ear. This allowed for a sense of direction and spatial relationships in their hearing, giving wearers a better sense of their bearings and a more natural way to perceive their surroundings, while also improving their ability to understand speech. With all these benefits, the Siemens Auriculette was also compact and lightweight at just under four centimeters (slightly over 1.5 inches) in length and weighing only nine grams (0.32 ounces).