Speech intelligibility achieved with cochlear implants (CIs) shows large variability across different users. One reason that can explain this variability is the CI user’s individual electrode nerve interface which can impact the spectral resolution they can achieve. Spectral resolution has been reported to be related to vowel and consonant recognition in CI listeners. One measure of spectral resolution is the spectral modulation threshold (SMT), which is defined as the smallest detectable spectral contrast in a stimulus. In this study we hypothesize that an algorithm that improves SMT may improve vowel identification, and consequently produce an improvement in speech understanding for CIs. With this purpose we implemented an algorithm, termed spectral contrast enhancement (SCE) that emphasizes peaks with respect to valleys in the audio spectrum. This algorithm can be configured with a single parameter: the amount of spectral contrast enhancement entitled “SCE factor”. We would like to investigate whether the “SCE factor” can be individualized to each CI user. With this purpose we used a vowel identification model to predict the performance produced by the SCE algorithm with different “SCE factors” in a vowel identification task.
In five CI users the new algorithm has been evaluated using a SMT task and a vowel identification task. The tasks were performed for SCE factors of 0 (no enhancement), 2 and 4. In general it seems that increasing the SCE factor produces a decrease in performance in both the SMT threshold and vowel identification.