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Am J Audiol. 2017 Dec 12;26(4):507-518. doi: 10.1044/2017_AJA-17-0013.

Validating a Rapid, Automated Test of Spatial Release From Masking.

Author information

National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, VA Portland Health Care System, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, OR.
Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.



To evaluate the test-retest reliability of a headphone-based spatial release from a masking task with two maskers (referred to here as the SR2) and to describe its relationship to the same test done over loudspeakers in an anechoic chamber (the SR2A). We explore what thresholds tell us about certain populations (such as older individuals or individuals with hearing impairment) and discuss how the SR2 might be useful in the clinic.


Fifty-four participants completed speech intelligibility tests in which a target phrase and two masking phrases from the Coordinate Response Measure corpus (Bolia, Nelson, Ericson, & Simpson, 2000) were presented either via earphones using a virtual spatial array or via loudspeakers in an anechoic chamber. For the SR2, the target sentence was always at 0° azimuth angle, and the maskers were either colocated at 0° or positioned at ± 45°. For the SR2A, the target was located at 0°, and the maskers were colocated or located at ± 15°, ± 30°, ± 45°, ± 90°, or ± 135°. Spatial release from masking was determined as the difference between thresholds in the colocated condition and each spatially separated condition. All participants completed the SR2 at least twice, and 29 of the individuals who completed the SR2 at least twice also participated in the SR2A. In a second experiment, 40 participants completed the SR2 8 times, and the changes in performance were evaluated as a function of test repetition.


Mean thresholds were slightly better on the SR2 after the first repetition but were consistent across 8 subsequent testing sessions. Performance was consistent for the SR2A, regardless of the number of times testing was repeated. The SR2, which simulates 45° separations of target and maskers, produced spatially separated thresholds that were similar to thresholds obtained with 30° of separation in the anechoic chamber. Over headphones and in the anechoic chamber, pure-tone average was a strong predictor of spatial release, whereas age only reached significance for colocated conditions.


The SR2 is a reliable and effective method of testing spatial release from masking, suitable for screening abnormal listening abilities and for tracking rehabilitation over time. Future work should focus on developing and validating rapid, automated testing to identify the ability of listeners to benefit from high-frequency amplification, smaller spatial separations, and larger spectral differences among talkers.

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