Michal Fereczkowski, Raul H. Sanchez-Lopez, Stine Christiansen, Tobias Neher

Amplitude Compression for Preventing Rollover at Above-Conversational Speech Levels

  • Speech and Hearing
  • Otorhinolaryngology

Hearing aids provide nonlinear amplification to improve speech audibility and loudness perception. While more audibility typically increases speech intelligibility at low levels, the same is not true for above-conversational levels, where decreases in intelligibility (“rollover”) can occur. In a previous study, we found rollover in speech intelligibility measurements made in quiet for 35 out of 74 test ears with a hearing loss. Furthermore, we found rollover occurrence in quiet to be associated with poorer speech intelligibility in noise as measured with linear amplification. Here, we retested 16 participants with rollover with three amplitude-compression settings. Two were designed to prevent rollover by applying slow- or fast-acting compression with a 5:1 compression ratio around the “sweet spot,” that is, the area in an individual performance-intensity function with high intelligibility and listening comfort. The third, reference setting used gains and compression ratios prescribed by the “National Acoustic Laboratories Non-Linear 1” rule. Speech intelligibility was assessed in quiet and in noise. Pairwise preference judgments were also collected. For speech levels of 70 dB SPL and above, slow-acting sweet-spot compression gave better intelligibility in quiet and noise than the reference setting. Additionally, the participants clearly preferred slow-acting sweet-spot compression over the other settings. At lower levels, the three settings gave comparable speech intelligibility, and the participants preferred the reference setting over both sweet-spot settings. Overall, these results suggest that, for listeners with rollover, slow-acting sweet-spot compression is beneficial at 70 dB SPL and above, while at lower levels clinically established gain targets are more suited.

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