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The Effect of Hearing Aid Technologies on Listening in an Automobile
06 August 2020 (online)
Background: Communication while traveling in an automobile often is very difficult for hearing aid users. This is because the automobile/road noise level is usually high, and listeners/drivers often do not have access to visual cues. Since the talker of interest usually is not located in front of the listener/driver, conventional directional processing that places the directivity beam toward the listener's front may not be helpful and, in fact, could have a negative impact on speech recognition (when compared to omnidirectional processing). Recently, technologies have become available in commercial hearing aids that are designed to improve speech recognition and/or listening effort in noisy conditions where talkers are located behind or beside the listener. These technologies include (1) a directional microphone system that uses a backward-facing directivity pattern (Back-DIR processing), (2) a technology that transmits audio signals from the ear with the better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) to the ear with the poorer SNR (Side-Transmission processing), and (3) a signal processing scheme that suppresses the noise at the ear with the poorer SNR (Side-Suppression processing).
Purpose: The purpose of the current study was to determine the effect of (1) conventional directional microphones and (2) newer signal processing schemes (Back-DIR, Side-Transmission, and Side-Suppression) on listener's speech recognition performance and preference for communication in a traveling automobile.
Research Design: A single-blinded, repeated-measures design was used.
Study Sample: Twenty-five adults with bilateral symmetrical sensorineural hearing loss aged 44 through 84 yr participated in the study.
Data Collection and Analysis: The automobile/road noise and sentences of the Connected Speech Test (CST) were recorded through hearing aids in a standard van moving at a speed of 70 mph on a paved highway. The hearing aids were programmed to omnidirectional microphone, conventional adaptive directional microphone, and the three newer schemes. CST sentences were presented from the side and back of the hearing aids, which were placed on the ears of a manikin. The recorded stimuli were presented to listeners via earphones in a sound-treated booth to assess speech recognition performance and preference with each programmed condition.
Results: Compared to omnidirectional microphones, conventional adaptive directional processing had a detrimental effect on speech recognition when speech was presented from the back or side of the listener. Back-DIR and Side-Transmission processing improved speech recognition performance (relative to both omnidirectional and adaptive directional processing) when speech was from the back and side, respectively. The performance with Side-Suppression processing was better than with adaptive directional processing when speech was from the side. The participants' preferences for a given processing scheme were generally consistent with speech recognition results.
Conclusions: The finding that performance with adaptive directional processing was poorer than with omnidirectional microphones demonstrates the importance of selecting the correct microphone technology for different listening situations. The results also suggest the feasibility of using hearing aid technologies to provide a better listening experience for hearing aid users in automobiles.