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J Am Acad Audiol. 2014 Oct;25(9):791-803. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.25.9.2.

Left-right and front-back spatial hearing with multiple directional microphone configurations in modern hearing aids.

Author information

ExpORL, Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Belgium; Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, University Hospitals Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
ExpORL, Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Belgium.
Amplifon Belgium NV, Belgium.



Several studies have demonstrated negative effects of directional microphone configurations on left-right and front-back (FB) sound localization. New processing schemes, such as frequency-dependent directionality and front focus with wireless ear-to-ear communication in recent, commercial hearing aids may preserve the binaural cues necessary for left-right localization and may introduce useful spectral cues necessary for FB disambiguation.


In this study, two hearing aids with different processing schemes, which were both designed to preserve the ability to localize sounds in the horizontal plane (left-right and FB), were compared.


We compared horizontal (left-right and FB) sound localization performance of hearing aid users fitted with two types of behind-the-ear (BTE) devices. The first type of BTE device had four different programs that provided (1) no directionality, (2-3) symmetric frequency-dependent directionality, and (4) an asymmetric configuration. The second pair of BTE devices was evaluated in its omnidirectional setting. This setting automatically activates a soft forward-oriented directional scheme that mimics the pinna effect. Also, wireless communication between the hearing aids was present in this configuration (5). A broadband stimulus was used as a target signal. The directional hearing abilities of the listeners were also evaluated without hearing aids as a reference.


A total of 12 listeners with moderate to severe hearing loss participated in this study. All were experienced hearing-aid users. As a reference, 11 listeners with normal hearing participated.


The participants were positioned in a 13-speaker array (left-right, -90°/+90°) or 7-speaker array (FB, 0-180°) and were asked to report the number of the loudspeaker located the closest to where the sound was perceived. The root mean square error was calculated for the left-right experiment, and the percentage of FB errors was used as a FB performance measure. RESULTS were analyzed with repeated-measures analysis of variance.


For the left-right localization task, no significant differences could be proven between the unaided condition and both partial directional schemes and the omnidirectional scheme. The soft forward-oriented system and the asymmetric system did show a detrimental effect compared with the unaided condition. On average, localization was worst when users used the asymmetric condition. Analysis of the results of the FB experiment showed good performance, similar to unaided, with both the partial directional systems and the asymmetric configuration. Significantly worse performance was found with the omnidirectional and the omnidirectional soft forward-oriented BTE systems compared with the other hearing-aid systems.


Bilaterally fitted partial directional systems preserve (part of) the binaural cues necessary for left-right localization and introduce, preserve, or enhance useful spectral cues that allow FB disambiguation. Omnidirectional systems, although good for left-right localization, do not provide the user with enough spectral information for an optimal FB localization performance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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