Evaluation of Loudspeaker-Based Virtual Sound Environments for Testing Directional Hearing Aids

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Abstract

Background:

Assessments of hearing aid (HA) benefits in the laboratory often do not accurately reflect real-life experience. This may be improved by employing loudspeaker-based virtual sound environments (VSEs) that provide more realistic acoustic scenarios. It is unclear how far the limited accuracy of these VSEs influences measures of subjective performance.

Purpose:

Verify two common methods for creating VSEs that are to be used for assessing HA outcomes.

Research Design:

A cocktail-party scene was created inside a meeting room and then reproduced with a 41-channel loudspeaker array inside an anechoic chamber. The reproduced scenes were created either by using room acoustic modeling techniques or microphone array recordings.

Study Sample:

Participants were 18 listeners with a symmetrical, sloping, mild-to-moderate hearing loss, aged between 66 and 78 yr (mean = 73.8 yr).

Data Collection and Analysis:

The accuracy of the two VSEs was assessed by comparing the subjective performance measured with two-directional HA algorithms inside all three acoustic environments. The performance was evaluated by using a speech intelligibility test and an acceptable noise level task.

Results:

The general behavior of the subjective performance seen in the real environment was preserved in the two VSEs for both directional HA algorithms. However, the estimated directional benefits were slightly reduced in the model-based VSE, and further reduced in the recording-based VSE.

Conclusions:

It can be concluded that the considered VSEs can be used for testing directional HAs, but the provided sensitivity is reduced when compared to a real environment. This can result in an underestimation of the provided directional benefit. However, this minor limitation may be easily outweighed by the high realism of the acoustic scenes that these VSEs can generate, which may result in HA outcome measures with a significantly higher ecological relevance than provided by measures commonly performed in the laboratory or clinic.

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