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Cochlear Implant Education Center

What is a CI?
Decision Making
Language and Communication
Deaf Community
Speech Processor
Versión en Español (muy pronto)


What is a Cochlear Implant?

Developed by Debra Berlin Nussbaum, Coordinator, Cochlear Implant Education Center, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

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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 HiRes 90K® Implant (the surgically implanted component of the device), the Harmony™ Sound Processor worn at ear level, and the Neptune bodyworn Processor.
     Auria Harmony
  2. Cochlear Corporation is the manufacturer of the Nucleus 5 System which features the Cochlear Nucleus CP810 Sound Processor, the Cochlear Nucleus CI512 Cochlear Implant, and the Cochlear Nucleus CR110 Remote Assistant. Older generations from this manufacturer include the Nucleus® Freedom™ body-worn and ear-level devices, the Esprit and 3G BTE processors, and the Sprint and Spectra body-worn devices.
    hearing device: Nucleus 5
  3. 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 speech processors is called OPUS. Previous generations of the speech processor are known as the TEMPO+.           MED-EL
  4. Neurelec is another manufacturer of cochlear implants. Headquartered in the south of France, this manufacturer is new to the cochlear implant market in the United States.

Neurelec Saphyr

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:


Revised May 2012