Superposition of masking releases

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Abstract

We are constantly exposed to a mixture of sounds of which only few are important to consider. In order to improve detectability and to segregate important sounds from less important sounds, the auditory system uses different aspects of natural sound sources. Among these are (a) its specific location and (b) synchronous envelope fluctuations in different frequency regions. Such a comodulation of different frequency bands facilitates the detection of tones in noise, a phenomenon known as comodulation masking release (CMR). Physiological as well as psychoacoustical studies usually investigate only one of these strategies to segregate sounds. Here we present psychoacoustical data on CMR for various virtual locations of the signal by varying its interaural phase difference (IPD). The results indicate that the masking release in conditions with binaural (interaural phase differences) and across-frequency (synchronous envelope fluctuations, i.e. comodulation) cues present is equal to the sum of the masking releases for each of the cues separately. Data and model predictions with a simplified model of the auditory system indicate an independent and serial processing of binaural cues and monaural across-frequency cues, maximizing the benefits from the envelope comparison across frequency and the comparison of fine structure across ears.

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