What does a cochlear implant sound like?

People considering getting a cochlear implant (CI) often wonder what it’s like to have one. How exactly does a CI work? MED-EL tells you what it’s like to hear through a CI.

What is a CI?

Cochlear implants are designed for people with severe to profound hearing loss. The hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) are often damaged. A CI consists of two parts: a part on the outside just above the ear and a part in the head, near the cochlea. The part on the outside picks up sound through a microphone. This device sends the sound in electronic signals to the cochlea. From there, the signals are sent to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as a sound. This is how you can hear through a CI.

How does the cochlea work?

You can think of the hair cells in the cochlea as a piano. Each pitch (frequency) makes other hair cells vibrate. The high-pitched whistle of a bird vibrates a group of hair cells at the entrance to the cochlea. A lower sound, such as a dog’s bark, vibrates a group of hair cells deep in the cochlea.

Like a piano, the same key always plays the same sound. With a CI you have a cable in your entire cochlea, an electrode. That electrode is so long that it can stimulate all hair cells with sound.

An image showing the cochlea.  On the outside of the cochlea are the hairs that pick up high tones.  You hear the deeper tones inside the cochlea.

What does a CI sound like?

What does a CI sound like? That is the question of many people who consider a cochlear implant (CI) as the next step towards better hearing.

Videos can be found online that try to represent what a CI sounds like. But these videos are often not that good. They sound loud, robotic and unpleasant to listen to.

Michael Dorman, professor of speech and hearing sciences in Arizona, USA, explains: ‘If you google “cochlear implant simulation”, you will find simulations with vocoders [een soort robotstemmen]. I’m happy to say that a cochlear implant doesn’t sound like a vocoder. It would be painful if you had to listen to something like a vocoder all your life. No, fortunately it doesn’t sound like a vocoder.’


Hearing is not just perceiving sounds or understanding words. Hearing encompasses all the sounds of life: the joy of laughter, the crackling of leaves and the enjoyment of music. Hearing means more than just understanding a sound. Hearing is connected to emotions and experiences.

That is why MED-EL wants to get as close as possible to natural hearing through CIs. For more than 30 years, MED-EL has been designing CIs with unique technologies that mimic nature’s design as closely as possible.

Learn more about getting closer to natural hearing on MED-EL’s website:

CI users’ experiences about hearing with a cochlear implant can also be found in the blog What does hearing with a cochlear implant sound like?

Would you like to know more about MED-EL implants?

Send an email to [email protected]. You can also register for one of these CI information meetings via this email:

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