The best neurofeedback system is the one that fits your budget and your experience level.
Your neurofeedback software and hardware are your work tools. Your choice of configuration will determine what you're able to do with your equipment, so getting the right tools matters.
Let’s start with your software.
Your neurofeedback software is your main tool - the interface between the brainwave data and the feedback. At its core, all neurofeedback software is signal processing software. It allows you to make a series of arguments to control the feedback.
For example, the software lets you say; 'When this brainwave frequency in this spot increases, play this video'.
Each of these logical arguments is called a 'metric'. If you set your software to train one frequency band in one spot, is one metric. Two frequency bands in two spots are 4 metrics, and so on.
The various neurofeedback configurations are best described in terms of what they can do; how many metrics they can train, what type of metrics (power, coherence, phase etc.), and what general capabilities they have.
Your training options increase exponentially with the number of sensors you use.
With one sensor, you can train the local area under the sensor, one or two metrics at a time.
For example you could say 'when this brainwave frequency increases in this spot, activate the feedback'. Decreasing activity is done in reverse. This is called 'absolute' training; training the total power (amplitude) of the brainwave.
A single sensor also lets train the ratio between two frequencies. You could say 'when this brainwave decreases relative to that one, activate the feedback'. As you would guess, this is called 'ratio' training.
Prices: $100 to $500 all in.
Two sensors may sound like a small difference from single sensor neurofeedback, but it amounts to a big step up.
With two sensors, you can train 5 or 6 metrics at a time. You can train absolute and ratio (see above) in two locations at once, or train the difference between the two areas. Training the deference between two areas is called 'coherence' training.
Coherence training lets you say 'when these two areas work together more, activate the feedback'. Alternatively, you can encourage the areas to disconnect, and mind their own business.
Prices: $1000 to $2000 all in.
The more sensors you have, the more areas you can train at any one time. With 8 to 10 individual sensors, you will often find yourself training 15 or 20 metrics at a time.
Multiple sensors allow you to train Alpha up over two areas at the rear, while at the same time encouraging fewer Betas in the front. You train more complex coherence and ratios, which naturally expands the possible combinations.
Multi-sensor systems often have built-in biofeedback capability, allowing you to integrate heart rate variability, galvanic skin response, or peripheral blood flow to your training.
Prices: $2500 to $5000 all in.
19 sensors or more
Nineteen sensors gives you coverage over the entire scalp, which vastly increases your training options.
Along with being able to train power, coherence, and ratio in any (or all) areas of the brain, it also makes possible phase training (the speed at which different areas connect to each other).
Using a 19 sensor system, you might train as many as 150 metrics at a time.
Prices: $10,000 to $20,000 all in.
With 19 sensors, you can move below the surface. LoRETA neurofeedback (short for Low Resolution electromagnetic Tomography) gives you a 3D image of brainwave activity, allowing you to train brain networks and deep brain structures in a wide variety of ways.
Using LoRETA software, you can say 'when the brain's entire default network is operating at its best, in absolute power, coherence, and phase, activate the feedback'.
Using this method, you will generally train between 50 and 1000 metrics at a time. It's an investment that will impact your session prices, but it sure makes a difference.
Prices: $17,000 to $25,000 all in.
Things to avoid
There are a few things to avoid when choosing your software; the major considerations are compatibility and flexibility.
If your software is compatible with several different amplifiers, you will have greater flexibility to upgrade or change later on. You don’t want to end up stuck with one type of amplifier just because your software is incompatible with any other type, and vice-versa.
Bearing in mind that much of the neurofeedback software out there is built by engineers rather than therapists, it's important to get an interface that is flexible enough to suit any training requirement. If you want to do a certain type of training and your software can’t do it, the training is not at its best.
Package systems (pre-configured or trademarked neurofeedback packages) are notorious for inflexibility and incompatibility. Restricting your options is one of the ways that they lock you into their way of doing things.
If you are shopping around and talking to sales teams, keep a sharp eye out for any and all sales double-speak. Whatever their claims, there is nothing new under the sun. If the product is relatively expensive, is 'uniuqe', and the team are evasive about exactly what it does and how it does it (trade secret, patented method etc.) then look elsewhere. It's neuro-hooey.
Most of the long-termers in the field use very fancy equipment - better tools improve the quality of their work. However, if you start out with this level of equipment you never learn the basics.
I suggest starting with an inexpensive two sensor system ($1000 to $2000), using open market software that is universally compatible. It will allow you to learn the basics and give you a better idea as to where you want to go from there.
When upgrading, be aware that the transition from individual sensors to 19 sensor / LoRETA training is seldom smooth. Investing 10 to 15 times the amount on equipment for a third the number of sessions per client takes a strong business base, and careful planning.
Once you have chosen your basic approach, it is time to move on to Brain mapping and session planning