The human pinna introduces spatial acoustic cues in terms of direction-dependent spectral patterns that shape the incoming sound. These cues are specifically useful for localization in the vertical dimension. Pinna cues exist at frequencies above approximately 5 kHz, a frequency range where people with hearing loss typically have their highest hearing thresholds. Since increased thresholds often are accompanied by reduced frequency resolution, there are good reasons to believe that many people with hearing loss are unable to discriminate these subtle spectral pinna-cue details, even if the relevant frequency region is amplified by hearing aids.
One potential solution to this problem is to provide hearing-aid users with artificially enhanced pinna cues – as if they were listening through oversized pinnas. In the present study, it was tested whether test subjects were better at discriminating spectral patterns similar to enlarged-pinna cues. The enlarged-pinna patterns were created by transposing (T) generic normal-sized pinna cues (N) one octave down, or by using the approach (W) suggested by Naylor & Weinrich (2011). The experiment was cast as a determination of simulated minimum audible angle (MAA) in the median sagittal plane. 13 test subjects with sloping hearing loss and 11 normal-hearing test subjects participated. The normal-hearing test subjects showed similar discrimination performance with the T, W, and N-type simulated pinna cues, as expected. However, the results for the hearing-impaired test subjects showed only marginally lower MAAs with the W and T-cues compared to the N-cues, while the overall discrimination thresholds were much higher for the hearing-impaired compared to the normal-hearing test subjects.