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Man with behind-the-ear hearing aid

Breaking Down the BTE: Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aid

Published 06-08-2019
Last Updated 09-08-2019

We know there are many different types of hearing aids available, each with their own features and some with their own acronyms, but how do you know which options to choose? We break down one of the more powerful assistive hearing devices: the behind-the-ear hearing aid, or BTE.
Written by Annie L. Messmer, Doctor of Audiology

For anyone starting to experience hearing loss, it's understandable to feel a bit overwhelmed at first. You may be wondering how extensive the loss might be, how it can be corrected and whether you're going to need a hearing aid. That’s why glad you’re reading this article and taking steps towards learning more about the options available to you.

The BTE is one of the most versatile hearing aids as it can be used with all types of hearing loss. BTEs are often recommended due to its durability and performance.  However, it is not as discreet as the RIC, or smaller in-the-ear models that go inside the ear canal. BTE hearing aids are often recommended for individuals with severe to profound hearing loss.


The shell of a BTE is typically made of plastic and acts as a container for all the electrical components that go into it. The shell goes behind the ear and is masked by the top of the ear which gives BTEs their name "behind-the-ear".

This mechanical storehouse, or shell, houses the components that enable hearing aids to work. It is here that sound is processed to bring the gift of sound back to your ear. A tube then connects the shell component to a custom earmold or receiver inside your ear, where the processed sound is inserted.

What's Inside

Inside a hearing aid is a medley of mechanical components, hardware and software, that receive, analyze, and process sound – trying to replicate normal hearing which our ears do naturally.

Traditional BTE

As mentioned, a larger case size allows the BTE to hold more electrical components than the smaller models. These components include the sound processor, the receiver, microphone, amplifier, and battery. When it comes to hearing aids, size is a determining factor of performance. That is, there is a positive relationship between hearing aid size and hearing aid performance. Individuals with a moderate-to-severe hearing loss would gain greater advantages from a larger- as opposed to a smaller- hearing aid.


You may also come across a different style of hearing aid in your search for a better hearing solution. The mini-BTE or mini-behind-the-ear-hearing-aid is such a device. The mini version of a BTE still packs that louder volume, just into a smaller shell than traditional BTE hearing aids. It is often recommended for children or those with smaller ears. This model can also be connected to a very slim discreet tube for certain types of hearing loss.


Another modification of the BTE hearing aid, more commonly built for individuals with a severe to profound hearing loss, is the Power-BTE. In terms of volume, these are some of the most powerful hearing aids available. Because of this, they are fairly larger than the traditional models. If the results of your audiogram, after you've had your hearing tested by a professional, show a significant loss of hearing loss - it's possible they may recommend this style of hearing aids.

BTE hearing aids come in a variety of sizes depending on your individual hearing loss and performance needs. Although different manufacturers will vary on their naming conventions for differentiating their devices, it helps to know that you have different sizes available to choose from.

Easy to Use

Since BTE hearing aids have buttons on the outside of the device, sound programs can easily be cycled through. BTE's are available in a number of colors so they can match your skin tone, outfit, or individual style.

Overall, BTE hearing aids are a powerful assistive device that comes in a plethora of sizes. A hearing care professional will suggest the type of hearing aid based on your specific degree of hearing loss.

Did you find the information you were looking for? If you or someone you love experiences hearing loss and is considering hearing aids we urge you to speak to a hearing professional. 

About the Author

Annie L. Messmer, Au.D.
Dr. Annie Messmer is a certified audiologist with a degree from Northwestern University and over 10 years of experience working with patients of all ages. She has also trained numerous hearing care professionals on audiology best practices and the latest hearing technology.