Bilateral cochlear-implant (BiCI) users are less accurate at localizing free-field (FF) sound sources than normal-hearing (NH) listeners. This performance gap is not well understood but is likely due to a combination of compromises in acoustic signal representation by the two independent speech processors and neural degradation of auditory pathways associated with a patient's hearing loss. To exclusively investigate the effect of CI speech encoding on horizontal-plane sound localization, the present study measured sound localization performance in NH subjects listening to vocoder processed and nonvocoded virtual acoustic space (VAS) stimuli. Various aspects of BiCI stimulation such as independently functioning devices, variable across-ear channel selection, and pulsatile stimulation were simulated using uncorrelated noise (Nu), correlated noise (N0), or Gaussian-enveloped tone (GET) carriers during vocoder processing. Additionally, FF sound localization in BiCI users was measured in the same testing environment for comparison. Distinct response patterns across azimuthal locations were evident for both listener groups and were analyzed using a multilevel regression analysis. Simulated implant speech encoding, regardless of carrier, was detrimental to NH localization and the GET vocoder best simulated BiCI FF performance in NH listeners. Overall, the detrimental effect of vocoder processing on NH performance suggests that sound localization deficits may persist even for BiCI patients who have minimal neural degradation associated with their hearing loss and indicates that CI speech encoding plays a significant role in the sound localization deficits experienced by BiCI users.
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- cochlear implant
- sound localization