Cochlear implant (CI) users suffer from a range of speech impairments, such as stuttering and vocal control of pitch and intensity. Though little research has focused on the role of auditory feedback in the speech of CI users, these speech impairments could be due in part to limited access to low-frequency cues inherent in CI-mediated listening. Phantom electrode stimulation (PES) represents a novel application of current steering that extends access to low frequencies for CI recipients. It is important to note that PES transmits frequencies below 300 Hz, whereas Baseline does not. The objective of this study was to explore the effects of PES on multiple frequency-related characteristics of voice production.
Eight postlingually deafened, adult Advanced Bionics CI users underwent a series of vocal production tests including Tone Repetition, Vowel Sound Production, Passage Reading, and Picture Description. Participants completed all of these tests twice: once with PES and once using their program used for everyday listening (Baseline). An additional test, Automatic Modulation, was included to measure acute effects of PES and was completed only once. This test involved switching between PES and Baseline at specific time intervals in real time as participants read a series of short sentences. Finally, a subjective Vocal Effort measurement was also included.
In Tone Repetition, the fundamental frequencies (F0) of tones produced using PES and the size of musical intervals produced using PES were significantly more accurate (closer to the target) compared with Baseline in specific gender, target tone range, and target tone type testing conditions. In the Vowel Sound Production task, vowel formant profiles produced using PES were closer to that of the general population compared with those produced using Baseline. The Passage Reading and Picture Description task results suggest that PES reduces measures of pitch variability (F0 standard deviation and range) in natural speech production. No significant results were found in comparisons of PES and Baseline in the Automatic Modulation task nor in the Vocal Effort task.
The findings of this study suggest that usage of PES increases accuracy of pitch matching in repeated sung tones and frequency intervals, possibly due to more accurate F0 representation. The results also suggest that PES partially normalizes the vowel formant profiles of select vowel sounds. PES seems to decrease pitch variability of natural speech and appears to have limited acute effects on natural speech production, though this finding may be due in part to paradigm limitations. On average, subjective ratings of vocal effort were unaffected by the usage of PES versus Baseline.
1Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and
2Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: C. J. L. receives grant and research support from Advanced Bionics Corporation and MED-EL Corporation; serves as a consultant for Advanced Bionics, MED-EL, and Oticon Medical; and serves as the Chief Medical Officer of Spiral Therapeutics. The other authors have no other conflicts of interest to disclose.
Address for correspondence: Charles J. Limb, 2233 Post Street, 3rd Floor, Rm 325, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA. E-mail: Charles.Limb@ucsf.edu
Received June 7, 2017; accepted October 19, 2018.