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The Benefits of Increased Sensation Level and Bandwidth for Spatial Release From Masking

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Abstract

Objective:

Spatial release from masking (SRM) can increase speech intelligibility in complex listening environments. The goal of the present study was to document how speech-in-speech stimuli could be best processed to encourage optimum SRM for listeners who represent a range of ages and amounts of hearing loss. We examined the effects of equating stimulus audibility among listeners, presenting stimuli at uniform sensation levels (SLs), and filtering stimuli at two separate bandwidths.

Design:

Seventy-one participants completed two speech intelligibility experiments (36 listeners in experiment 1; all 71 in experiment 2) in which a target phrase from the coordinate response measure (CRM) and two masking phrases from the CRM were presented simultaneously via earphones using a virtual spatial array, such that the target sentence was always at 0 degree azimuth angle and the maskers were either colocated or positioned at ±45 degrees. Experiments 1 and 2 examined the impacts of SL, age, and hearing loss on SRM. Experiment 2 also assessed the effects of stimulus bandwidth on SRM.

Results:

Overall, listeners’ ability to achieve SRM improved with increased SL. Younger listeners with less hearing loss achieved more SRM than older or hearing-impaired listeners. It was hypothesized that SL and bandwidth would result in dissociable effects on SRM. However, acoustical analysis revealed that effective audible bandwidth, defined as the highest frequency at which the stimulus was audible at both ears, was the best predictor of performance. Thus, increasing SL seemed to improve SRM by increasing the effective bandwidth rather than increasing the level of already audible components.

Conclusions:

Performance for all listeners, regardless of age or hearing loss, improved with an increase in overall SL and/or bandwidth, but the improvement was small relative to the benefits of spatial separation.

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