Head shadow enhancement with low-frequency beamforming improves sound localization and speech perception for simulated bimodal listeners

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Many hearing-impaired listeners struggle to localize sounds due to poor availability of binaural cues. Listeners with a cochlear implant and a contralateral hearing aid – so-called bimodal listeners – are amongst the worst performers, as both interaural time and level differences are poorly transmitted. We present a new method to enhance head shadow in the low frequencies. Head shadow enhancement is achieved with a fixed beamformer with contralateral attenuation in each ear. The method results in interaural level differences which vary monotonically with angle. It also improves low-frequency signal-to-noise ratios in conditions with spatially separated speech and noise. We validated the method in two experiments with acoustic simulations of bimodal listening. In the localization experiment, performance improved from Symbol to Symbol root-mean-square error compared with standard omni-directional microphones. In the speech-in-noise experiment, speech was presented from the frontal direction. Speech reception thresholds improved by 15.7 dB SNR when the noise was presented from the cochlear implant side, improved by 7.6 dB SNR when the noise was presented from the hearing aid side, and was not affected when noise was presented from all directions. Apart from bimodal listeners, the method might also be promising for bilateral cochlear implant or hearing aid users. Its low computational complexity makes the method suitable for application in current clinical devices.

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