Minimum spectral contrast for vowel identification by normalhearing and hearing-impaired listeners

M. R. Leek, Michael Dorman, Q. Summerfield

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    102 Scopus citations


    To determine the minimum difference in amplitude between spectral peaks and troughs sufficient for vowel identification by normalhearing and hearing-impaired listeners, four vowel-like complex sounds were created by summing the first 30 harmonics of a 100-Hz tone. The amplitudes of all harmonics were equal, except for two consecutive harmonics located at each of three “formant” locations. The amplitudes of these harmonics were equal and ranged from 1-8 dB more than the remaining components. Normal-hearing listeners achieved greater than 75% accuracy when peak-to-trough differences were 1-2 dB. Normal-hearing listeners who were tested in a noise background sufficient to raise their thresholds to the level of a flat, moderate hearing loss needed a 4-dB difference for identification. Listeners with a moderate, flat hearing loss required a 6- to 7-dB difference for identification. The results suggest, for normalhearing listeners, that the peak-to-trough amplitude difference required for identification of this set of vowels is very near the threshold for detection of a change in the amplitude spectrum of a complex signal. Hearing-impaired listeners may have difficulty using closely spaced formants for vowel identification due to abnormal smoothing of the internal representation of the spectrum by broadened auditory filters.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)148-154
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1987

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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