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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2013 Feb;14(1):149-57. doi: 10.1007/s10162-012-0358-8. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

Effects of noise reduction on AM and FM perception.

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Ecole normale supérieure, Institut d'Etude de la Cognition, Paris Sciences et Lettres, 75005, Paris, France.


The goal of noise reduction (NR) algorithms in digital hearing aid devices is to reduce background noise whilst preserving as much of the original signal as possible. These algorithms may increase the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in an ideal case, but they generally fail to improve speech intelligibility. However, due to the complex nature of speech, it is difficult to disentangle the numerous low- and high-level effects of NR that may underlie the lack of speech perception benefits. The goal of this study was to better understand why NR algorithms do not improve speech intelligibility by investigating the effects of NR on the ability to discriminate two basic acoustic features, namely amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM) cues, known to be crucial for speech identification in quiet and in noise. Here, discrimination of complex, non-linguistic AM and FM patterns was measured for normal hearing listeners using a same/different task. The stimuli were generated by modulating 1-kHz pure tones by either a two-component AM or FM modulator with patterns changed by manipulating component phases. Modulation rates were centered on 3 Hz. Discrimination of AM and FM patterns was measured in quiet and in the presence of a white noise that had been passed through a gammatone filter centered on 1 kHz. The noise was presented at SNRs ranging from -6 to +12 dB. Stimuli were left as such or processed via an NR algorithm based on the spectral subtraction method. NR was found to yield small but systematic improvements in discrimination for the AM conditions at favorable SNRs but had little effect, if any, on FM discrimination. A computational model of early auditory processing was developed to quantify the fidelity of AM and FM transmission. The model captured the improvement in discrimination performance for AM stimuli at high SNRs with NR. However, the model also predicted a relatively small detrimental effect of NR for FM stimuli in contrast with the average psychophysical data. Overall, these results suggest that the lack of benefits of NR on speech intelligibility is partly caused by the limited effect of NR on the transmission of narrowband speech modulation cues.

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