What is a Cochlear Implant?

Versión en Español

Navigating a Forest- 4 Trees
Back to Full Paper

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is a technological device designed to enhance the hearing of individuals who are deaf. Experience and research suggest that a cochlear implant can bring a greater awareness to a broader range of sounds for many deaf children in comparison to traditional hearing aids. Use of this device requires participation in an often-rigorous pre-implantation protocol to determine candidacy, surgery to implant a portion of the device, an activation process to program the externally worn portion of the device called a speech processor, participation in an auditory habilitation program and involvement in an educational program that uses and values spoken language.

There are three manufacturers of cochlear implants commonly used in the United States. There is also a fourth (French) manufacturer new to the United States cochlear implant market. Each of these manufacturers provides extensive resources (at no charge) about their specific brand of cochlear implant as well as general information about cochlear implants.

  1. Advanced Bionics Corporation is the manufacturer of the HiFocusTM Electrode Family (the surgically implanted component of the device), the Naída CI Q70 (Naída CI) earlevel processor and  NeptuneTM bodyworn sound processor.  These devices offer updates from previous generations of the devices in related to water resistance, wireless connectivity, and sound processing strategies.

    Neptune Sound Processor Naida CI Q70 Naida CI Q70                                                                                                            


  1. Cochlear Corporation is the manufacturer of the Nucleus 6.  This generation of the devices offers upgrades from previous generations of the speech processor in relation to water resistance, wireless connectivity, and sound processing. Older generations from this manufacturer include the Nucleus 5,  Nucleus® FreedomTM body-worn and ear-level devices, the Esprit and 3G BTE processors, and the Sprint and Spectra body-worn devices.
Nucleus  6
Nucleus 6

  1. MED-EL Corporation is the manufacturer of the MAESTRO® system, which is composed of two options in speech processor design, several different wearing configurations, two different internal implant housing designs, and a wide variety of electrode arrays. The newest generation of  their behind the ear speech processors is called OPUS 2.  Med el also has the only single unit speech processor called the Rondo. Previous generations of the speech processor are known as the TEMPO+.    
Opus 2
Opus 2


Components of the Device

A cochlear implant is composed of surgically implanted and externally worn components. The surgically implanted components include:

  • a receiver/stimulator housed in a bio-compatible case that is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear and contains a magnet that couples to the magnet in the transmitter worn externally; and
  • an electrode array inserted into the cochlea to provide direct electrical stimulation to remaining nerve fibers.

The externally worn, non-implanted components of the device include:

  • a microphone similar to the microphone of a hearing aid,
  • a speech processor that can be worn on the body (pager style, connected to the headpiece by a cable) or behind the ear (similar to a hearing aid), and
  • a transmitting coil (a small disk about the size of a quarter) that adheres to the skin behind the ear via a magnet and is connected to the microphone by a small cable.

How a Cochlear Works

For More Information

For more information about how a cochlear implant works:

For websites that provide sound simulations that approximate the experience of listening through a cochlear implant:

For fact sheets describing basic information about cochlear implants:

For more information comparing the impact manufacturer technologies:

Cochlear Implants Online-Brand Comparison Chart ©2013 Cochlear Implant Online, Last Updated 10/27/2013 (PDF)

Developed by Debra Berlin Nussbaum at the Cochlear Implant Education Center, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center; last revised November 2013

This site was supported by federal funding. Publication of this material shall not imply approval or acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education of the findings, conclusions, or recommendations herein. Gallaudet University is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, hearing status, disability, covered veteran status, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, place of business or residence, pregnancy, childbirth, or any other unlawful basis.