The performance of an adaptive beam-former in a 2-microphone, behind-the-ear hearing aid for speech understanding in noisy environments was evaluated. Physical and perceptual evaluations were carried out. This was the first large-scale test of a wearable real-time implementation of this algorithm. The main perceptual research questions of this study were related to the influence on the noise reduction performance of (1) the spectro-temporal character of the jammer sound, (2) the jammer sound scene, (3) hearing impairment, and (4) the basic microphone configuration in the hearing aid. Four different speech materials were used for the perceptual evaluations. All tests were carried out in an acoustical environment comparable to living room reverberation.
The adaptive beamformer was implemented in Audallion, a small, body-worn processor, linked to a Danasound 2-microphone behind-the-ear aid. The strategy was evaluated physically in different acoustical environments. Using speech reception threshold (SRT) measurements, the processing was evaluated perceptually and the different research questions addressed with three groups of subjects. Groups I, II, and III consisted of 10 normal-hearing, 5 hearing-impaired, and 7 normal-hearing persons, respectively. The tests were carried out in three spectro-temporally different jammer sounds (unmodulated and modulated speech weighted noise, multitalker babble) and in three different noise scenarios (single noise source at 90°, noise sources at 90° and 270° relative to speaker position, diffuse noise scene). Two microphone configurations were compared: a device equipped with two omnidirectional microphones and a device equipped with one hardware directional and one omnidirectional microphone. In each of these conditions, the adaptive beamformer and the directional and omnidirectional microphone configurations were tested.
The improvement in signal-to-noise ratio from the use of the adaptive beamformer did not depend on the spectro-temporal character of the jammer sounds and the speech materials used, although the absolute levels of the SRTs varied appreciably for different speech-noise combinations. The performance of the adaptive noise reduction depended on the jammer sound scene.
No difference in signal-to-noise ratio improvement was observed between hearing-impaired and normal-hearing listeners, although individual SRT levels may differ. On average, an SRT improvement of 7.7 and 3.9 dB for a single noise source at 90° and 5.9 and 3.4 dB for two noise sources at 90° and 270° was obtained for both normal-hearing and hearing-impaired listeners, using the adaptive beamformer and the directional microphone, respectively, relative to the omnidirectional microphone signal. In diffuse noise, only small improvements were obtained.