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The Cocktail Party Phenomenon: A Review of Research on Speech Intelligibility in Multiple-Talker Conditions

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It is in most cases relatively easy to understand one talker even if other persons are talking at the same time. Over the last decades, this so-called cocktail party phenomenon has been the subject of a considerable number of studies. In the present paper, an overview is given of part of this research, specifically those studies dealing with the intelligibility of speech presented against a background of competing speech. In the first section of the review, the properties of speech are considered that are relevant when it acts as an interfering sound: the long-term average frequency spectrum, and the modulation spectrum. In the middle sections, speech intelligibility data are reviewed for monaural and binaural listening and with one or multiple interfering voices (or speech-like sounds). It appears from these data that speech intelligibility depends in a complex manner on the properties of the interfering signal(s), the number of signals, the spatial configuration of the sources, and the acoustic environment. This dependency can be predicted in part by existing models. For the prediction of effects of voice similarity and interferer modulations, however, no suitable models are available. The fifth section of the review is devoted to research on effects of hearing impairment and the use of hearing aids. These studies demonstrate that speech intelligibility in conditions involving interfering speech is significantly poorer for the average hearing-impaired listener than for the normal hearing. Hearing aids can only be effective when they yield both selective amplification and an increase of the signal-to-noise ratio at the ears (e.g. by using directional microphones). The review ends by pointing out areas of interest for future research.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • Acta Acustica united with Acustica, published together with the European Acoustics Association (EAA), is an international, peer-reviewed journal on acoustics. It publishes original articles on all subjects in the field of acoustics, such as general linear acoustics, nonlinear acoustics, macrosonics, flow acoustics, atmospheric sound, underwater sound, ultrasonics, physical acoustics, structural acoustics, noise control, active control, environmental noise, building acoustics, room acoustics, acoustic materials, acoustic signal processing, computational and numerical acoustics, hearing, audiology and psychoacoustics, speech, musical acoustics, electroacoustics, auditory quality of systems. It reports on original scientific research in acoustics and on engineering applications. The journal considers scientific papers, technical and applied papers, book reviews, short communications, doctoral thesis abstracts, etc. In irregular intervals also special issues and review articles are published.
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