Date of this Version
Ear Hear. 2009 October; 30(5): 494–504
Objective—This study examined the effects of multichannel wide-dynamic range compression (WDRC) amplification and stimulus audibility on consonant recognition and error patterns.
Design—Listeners had either severe or mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss. Each listener was monaurally fit with a wearable hearing aid using typical clinical procedures, frequency-gain parameters and a hybrid of clinically prescribed compression ratios for DSL (Scollie et al., 2005) and NAL-NL (Dillon, 1999). Consonant-vowel nonsense syllables were presented in soundfield at multiple input levels (50, 65, 80 dB SPL). Test conditions were four-channel fast-acting WDRC amplification and a control compression limiting (CL) amplification condition. Listeners identified the stimulus heard from choices presented on an on-screen display. A between-subject repeated measures design was used to evaluate consonant recognition and consonant confusion patterns.
Results—Fast-acting WDRC provided a considerable audibility advantage at 50 dB SPL, especially for listeners with severe hearing loss. Listeners with mild-to-moderate hearing loss received less audibility improvement from the fast-acting WDRC amplification, for conversational and high level speech, compared to listeners with severe hearing loss. Analysis of WDRC benefit scores revealed that listeners had slightly lower scores with fast-acting WDRC amplification (relative to CL) when WDRC provided minimal improvement in audibility. The negative effect was greater for listeners with mild-to-moderate hearing loss compared to their counterparts with severe hearing loss.
Conclusions—All listeners, but particularly the severe loss group, benefited from fast-acting WDRC amplification for low-level speech. For conversational and higher speech levels (i.e., when WDRC does not confer a significant audibility advantage), fast-acting WDRC amplification appears to slightly degrade performance. Listeners’ consonant confusion patterns suggest that this negative effect may be partly due to fast-acting WDRC-induced distortions which alter specific consonant features. In support of this view, audibility accounted for a greater percentage of the variance in listeners’ performance with CL amplification compared to fast-acting WDRC amplification.