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What is an Ear Trumpet?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An ear trumpet, or ear horn, is a type of amplifying cone which was historically used as a hearing aid. Most hearing-impaired individuals prefer to use more accurate and discreet devices as hearing aids, and ear trumpets generally only pop up in old-fashioned novels and cartoons nowadays. At one time, however, they were very useful tools, and some museums have some excellent and interesting examples of antique ear trumpets, which varied widely in size, shape, and design.

The basic design of an ear trumpet includes a cone which amplifies ambient sounds, and a tube which is inserted into the ear. When the user directs the ear trumpet at a source of sound such as a concert or someone who is talking, the cone picks up the noise, amplifies it, and directs it into the tube. Ear trumpets were historically often used by the elderly, who tend to lose their sense of hearing over time. The amplification abilities of ear trumpets were not always ideal, which is why some historical novels poke fun at ear trumpet users who have difficulty following conversations.

The first mention of an ear trumpet appeared in the mid-1600s, when the devices were originally used by sailors and other people who wanted to amplify long-distance communications. Ear trumpets were probably developed as a logical extension of the practice of cupping your hands around your ears to hear more easily. Over time, the ear trumpet was also picked up by people who were hard of hearing.

In the 20th century, ear trumpets were supplanted by electronic hearing aids, which use different techniques to amplify and transmit sound to the user. An electronic hearing aid can be extremely small and the amplification quality is much better than that of an ear trumpet, allowing the user to hear more clearly. Modern hearing aids have gotten quite sophisticated, using technology which can do things like allow the deaf to hear, in the case of a Cochlear implant.

The concept of an ear horn might seem quaint, but there might be a point in your life when you wish you had an ear trumpet handy to follow a distant conversation or event. If you want to quickly improvise an ear trumpet, roll a sheet of paper into a cone and stick the narrow end in your ear; be careful not to enter the ear canal, as you do not want to penetrate your ear drum. While you might look slightly silly, you will find that your sense of hearing is greatly improved with your makeshift ear trumpet.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1004221 — On Dec 13, 2020

Design of ear trumpets has been sadly neglected. Any one who designs speaker cabinets can probably design an acoustic hearing tube which is superior in all ways to the guesswork designs available before the thermionic valve and transistor were used for ear amplification.

We now have 3D printers and there still are no effective ear trumpet designs. I have thought that multipath ear trumpets could be individuated for the patient. How the ear canal communicates with the trumpet orifice needs investigation. The collector shape, traditionally round like a music instrument, needs investigation for what shape is actually the most effective. For all we know the ear trumpet can be an effective noise reducer.

By anon146924 — On Jan 27, 2011

i am grateful i don't have one of these.

By anon135044 — On Dec 16, 2010

Can anybody recommend a good, reasonably priced, ear trumpet?

By Planch — On Sep 25, 2010

I bet hearing aid repair has changed a lot too since the ear trumpet days too -- not to mention buying hearing aids!

By TunaLine — On Sep 25, 2010

I once saw a hearing aid sale advertised with an ear trumpet -- I thought that was pretty clever. They were trying to sell those behind the ear hearing aids, and the text read, "And you thought these were noticeable!"

I don't know how effective it was for their business, but I got a chuckle out of it.

By googlefanz — On Sep 25, 2010

I bet people with hearing problems are so grateful for the improvements in ear aids. They're just so much more discreet. I wonder if it's even possible to get an ear trumpet. Can you buy those things anymore? I know that people don't manufacture them widely anymore, but could you find an antique one anywhere, I wonder? Of course, I'd imagine you'd have to clean it pretty well first...

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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