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Music Preferences With Hearing Aids: Effects of Signal Properties, Compression Settings, and Listener Characteristics

Croghan, Naomi B. H.; Arehart, Kathryn H.; Kates, James M.

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000056
e-Research Articles

Objectives: Current knowledge of how to design and fit hearing aids to optimize music listening is limited. Many hearing-aid users listen to recorded music, which often undergoes compression limiting (CL) in the music industry. Therefore, hearing-aid users may experience twofold effects of compression when listening to recorded music: music-industry CL and hearing-aid wide dynamic-range compression (WDRC). The goal of this study was to examine the roles of input-signal properties, hearing-aid processing, and individual variability in the perception of recorded music, with a focus on the effects of dynamic-range compression.

Design: A group of 18 experienced hearing-aid users made paired-comparison preference judgments for classical and rock music samples using simulated hearing aids. Music samples were either unprocessed before hearing-aid input or had different levels of music-industry CL. Hearing-aid conditions included linear gain and individually fitted WDRC. Combinations of four WDRC parameters were included: fast release time (50 msec), slow release time (1,000 msec), three channels, and 18 channels. Listeners also completed several psychophysical tasks.

Results: Acoustic analyses showed that CL and WDRC reduced temporal envelope contrasts, changed amplitude distributions across the acoustic spectrum, and smoothed the peaks of the modulation spectrum. Listener judgments revealed that fast WDRC was least preferred for both genres of music. For classical music, linear processing and slow WDRC were equally preferred, and the main effect of number of channels was not significant. For rock music, linear processing was preferred over slow WDRC, and three channels were preferred to 18 channels. Heavy CL was least preferred for classical music, but the amount of CL did not change the patterns of WDRC preferences for either genre. Auditory filter bandwidth as estimated from psychophysical tuning curves was associated with variability in listeners’ preferences for classical music.

Conclusions: Fast, multichannel WDRC often leads to poor music quality, whereas linear processing or slow WDRC are generally preferred. Furthermore, the effect of WDRC is more important for music preferences than music-industry CL applied to signals before the hearing-aid input stage. Variability in hearing-aid users’ perceptions of music quality may be partially explained by frequency resolution abilities.

Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

This research was funded by a grant from GN ReSound to the University of Colorado. Portions of this work were presented in the first author’s PhD dissertation at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The authors declare no other conflict of interest.

Received June 28, 2013; accepted March 27, 2014.

Address for correspondence: Naomi B. H. Croghan, Denver Research & Technology Labs, Cochlear Ltd., 13059 E. Peakview Ave., Centennial, CO 80111, USA. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins