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J Acoust Soc Am. 2013 May;133(5):2818-33. doi: 10.1121/1.4795783.

On the balance of envelope and temporal fine structure in the encoding of speech in the early auditory system.

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Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and Institute for Systems Research, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


There is much debate on how the spectrotemporal modulations of speech (or its spectrogram) are encoded in the responses of the auditory nerve, and whether speech intelligibility is best conveyed via the "envelope" (E) or "temporal fine-structure" (TFS) of the neural responses. Wide use of vocoders to resolve this question has commonly assumed that manipulating the amplitude-modulation and frequency-modulation components of the vocoded signal alters the relative importance of E or TFS encoding on the nerve, thus facilitating assessment of their relative importance to intelligibility. Here we argue that this assumption is incorrect, and that the vocoder approach is ineffective in differentially altering the neural E and TFS. In fact, we demonstrate using a simplified model of early auditory processing that both neural E and TFS encode the speech spectrogram with constant and comparable relative effectiveness regardless of the vocoder manipulations. However, we also show that neural TFS cues are less vulnerable than their E counterparts under severe noisy conditions, and hence should play a more prominent role in cochlear stimulation strategies.

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