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Effects of Noise, Nonlinear Processing, and Linear Filtering on Perceived Speech Quality

Arehart, Kathryn H.1; Kates, James M.1,2; Anderson, Melinda C.1

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e3181d3d4f3
Research Articles
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Objectives: The purpose of this study was to measure subjective quality ratings in listeners with normal hearing and listeners with hearing loss for speech subjected to a wide range of processing conditions that are representative of real hearing aids.

Design: Speech quality was assessed using a rating scale in a group of 14 listeners with normal hearing and 15 listeners with mild to moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss. Controlled simulations of hearing aid processing were used to process speech that included speech subjected to (1) noise and nonlinear processing, (2) linear filtering, and (3) combinations of noise, nonlinear processing, and linear filtering. The 32 conditions of noise and nonlinear processing included stationary speech-shaped nose, multitalker babble, peak clipping, quantization noise, spectral subtraction, and dynamic range compression (in quiet, with babble, and with spectral subtraction). The 32 linear filtering conditions included high-pass filtering, low-pass filtering, band-pass filtering, positive and negative spectral tilt, and resonance peaks. Subsets of these conditions were used for the 36 conditions that combined noise and nonlinear processing with linear processing.

Results: Both listeners with normal hearing and listeners with hearing loss gave consistent (reliable) ratings. In both listener groups, sound quality was significantly affected by the noise, nonlinear processing, and linear filtering conditions. Compared with the listeners with normal hearing, the listeners with hearing loss showed significantly lower ratings of sound quality in nearly all of the processing conditions. For the conditions included in the current hearing aid simulation, noise and nonlinear conditions had a greater effect on quality judgments than did the linear filtering conditions.

Conclusions: The data reported here provide a comprehensive dataset of speech quality ratings for simulated hearing aid processing conditions. The results indicate that quality ratings by listeners with hearing loss are significantly lower than quality ratings by listeners with normal hearing. In addition, quality ratings by listeners with hearing loss are impacted by signal processing at least as much as, and often more than, the quality ratings by listeners with normal hearing. Finally, quality ratings for speech processed with a simulated hearing aid are impacted more by noise and nonlinear signal processing than by linear filtering.

This study reports subjective quality ratings in listeners with and without hearing loss for speech subjected to noise, nonlinear and linear processing representative of hearing aids. Results indicated that quality ratings by listeners with hearing loss were significantly lower than quality ratings by listeners with normal hearing. Quality ratings by listeners with hearing loss were impacted by signal processing at least as much as, and often more than, quality ratings by listeners with normal hearing. Quality ratings for speech processed with a simulated hearing aid were impacted more by noise and nonlinear signal processing than by linear filtering.

1Department of Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado and 2GN Resound Corporation, Glenview, Illinois.

James M. Kates is an employee of GN Resound Corporation.

Address for correspondence: Kathryn H. Arehart, PhD, Department of Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309. E-mail: Kathryn.arehart@colorado.edu.

Received January 16, 2009; accepted December 13, 2009.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.