This study tests the hypothesis that it is possible to find tone or noise vocoders that sound similar and result in similar speech perception scores to a cochlear implant (CI). This would validate the use of such vocoders as acoustic models of CIs. We further hypothesize that those valid acoustic models will require a personalized amount of frequency mismatch between input filters and output tones or noise bands.
Noise or tone vocoders have been used as acoustic models of CIs in hundreds of publications but have never been convincingly validated.
Acoustic models were evaluated by single-sided deaf CI users who compared what they heard with the CI in one ear to what they heard with the acoustic model in the other ear. We evaluated frequency-matched models (both all-channel and 6-channel models, both tone and noise vocoders) as well as self-selected models that included an individualized level of frequency mismatch.
Self-selected acoustic models resulted in similar levels of speech perception and similar perceptual quality as the CI. These models also matched the CI in terms of perceived intelligibility, harshness, and pleasantness.
Valid acoustic models of CIs exist, but they are different from the models most widely used in the literature. Individual amounts of frequency mismatch may be required to optimize the validity of the model. This may be related to the basalward frequency mismatch experienced by postlingually deaf patients after cochlear implantation.