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Music to One's Ears

Illustration of cochlear implant.
Photo credit: NIH

Signal Processing Improvements in Cochlear Implants Help Users Hear Music Better

UW EE professor Les Atlas, professor Jay Rubinstein of otolaryngology and bioengineering, and members of their labs have developed a technique that lets cochlear implant users perceive differences between musical instruments. This is a significant improvement from what standard cochlear implants can offer to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Right now, cochlear-implant subjects do well when it’s quiet and there is a single person talking, but with music, noisy rooms or multiple people talking, it’s difficult to hear,” Atlas said. “We are on the way to solving the issue with music.” Atlas and other researchers believe that hearing music has possible links to hearing speech better in noisy settings, another goal of this research.

Their findings were recently published in the IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. A study on eight cochlear-implant users showed that using this new coding strategy let them distinguish between musical instruments much more accurately than with the standard devices. Their goal is to integrate their research into cochlear implants already on the market so that users can enjoy “the music to their ears.” The group is also working on algorithms to help cochlear-implant users detect pitch and timbre in songs.

Co-authors are Xing Li, who recently completed her doctorate in electrical engineering at the UW; Kaibao Nie, an otolaryngology lecturer and adjunct lecturer in electrical engineering; and Nikita Imennov, who recently completed his UW doctorate in bioengineering.

This research was funded by the a Virginia Merrill Bloedel Scholar Award for Professor Atlas, the U.S. Army Research Office, the Institute of Translational Health Sciences at the UW, and the National Institutes of Health.

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More Information

Les Atlas' faculty page
Kaibao Nie's faculty page
Jay Rubinstein's faculty page

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