Seeking the magic number of sound

Seeking the magic number of sound

  • Graphic showing soundwaves reaching the ear

How many is too many, and how few is too few? There is a number, yet to be identified, that could be key to an improvement in hearing for millions of people.

There are ten million people in the UK who suffer from some form of hearing loss, which equates to one in six. Two per cent of the population is affected by hearing loss by the time they reach their teenage years and almost 100 per cent of people over the age of 70 have some form of hearing loss.

Professor Brian Moore, Emeritus Professor of Auditory Perception, is trying to supply the next number, the missing number. He is a world-leading scientist in the field of auditory perception and his work was fundamental to the development of the modern multi-channel hearing aid. These devices work by dividing sounds into different channels and within those channels amplifying the weaker sounds, much like turning up the bass or treble on a stereo.

This gives hearing impaired people a wider range of sounds than the older single-channelled hearing aids. The industry response was to adopt the philosophy of ‘more is better’ and to manufacture hearing aids with more and more channels. However, evidence suggests that with too many channels sound quality can decrease. Thanks to a grant from the HB Allen Charitable Trust, Professor Moore and his Auditory Perception Group are conducting research to determine the optimum number of channels in hearing aids, or how many is enough.

The work will make it easier for hearing-impaired people to hear and understand speech better and increase the enjoyment of listening to music.

Professor Brian Moore, Emeritus Professor of Auditory Perception

More information

The Cambridge Hearing Instrument Research Programme consists of a group of scientists and clinicians working together to improve treatment for deaf and hard of hearing patients.

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