Music perception with hearing aids: compression differentially affects musical scene analysis and musical sound quality

Authors: Robin Hake1, Michel Bürgel1, Christophe Lesimple2, Matthias Vormann3, Kirsten Wagener 3, Volker Kühnel2, Kai Siedenburg1

1Department of Medical Physics and Acoustics, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
2Sonova AG
3Hörzentrum Oldenburg GmbH

Background: Hearing aids have traditionally been designed to mainly facilitate speech perception. Regarding music perception, previous work indicates that hearing aid users frequently complain about music sound quality. Yet, the effect of hearing aid amplification on musical perception abilities are largely unknown. To complement subjective ratings, the goal of this study was to test the effects of hearing aid amplification and compression on musical scene analysis abilities alongside sound quality ratings.

Methods: Thirty-three hearing-aid users with moderate to severe hearing loss (M = 73.9 yrs, σ = 10.2 yrs) engaged in two music-based tasks: the Musical Scene Analysis (MSA) test (a test of selective listening in music) and sound quality ratings. These tasks were conducted in three conditions: one without hearing aids and two with hearing aids employing either a slow or fast signal compression approach. Additionally, pure-tone hearing thresholds and speech reception thresholds in noise (SRT) were measured.

Results: Overall, MSA abilities and quality ratings significantly improved with the use of hearing aids compared to the unaided condition. Notable differences were also observed by the choice of compression mode. Fast compression yielded higher MSA scores (improved selective listening) compared to slow compression, whereas slow compression elicited more favourable sound quality ratings compared to fast compression. In addition, a moderate correlation was observed between performance on the MSA and SRT, suggesting some shared underlying resources for extracting information in scenes featuring speech and music.

Conclusions: These findings suggest a nuanced trade-off between scene transparency (indexed by MSA scores) and sound quality, indicating that different criteria are important for optimizing selective listening in music and sound quality perception, respectively. Fundamentally, our results underscore the potential of hearing aids for music perception.