Monthly Science: Audiograms

The audio test CD I used to measure my hearing for a Circuit Cellar project back in 2007 came to light, so I ran some tests:


I don’t have an absolute level calibration for any of those curves, so they can be shifted up or down by probably 10 dB without any loss of accuracy. The overall shape matters here, not the absolute level.

The brown curve shows my hearing as of nine years ago. I built and (of course) wrote about a rather chunky low-pass shelving filter that matched the 20-ish dB difference between my midrange and treble responses, then boosted the flattened result enough for me to hear what I was missing:

Board Top
Board Top

Surprisingly, it worked fairly well. That, however, was then and this is now.

The two red curves show my current response, under slightly different conditions: the “buds” curve uses the same earbuds as the 2007 curve and the “phones” curve uses over-the-ear headphones. Perhaps:

  • The previous (lack of) bass sensitivity came from the circuitry of the day
  • My bass has mysteriously improved
  • More likely, my midrange has gotten that much worse

The blue curve shows the response of a reference set of silver ears; the golden ears I used in 2007 were unavailable on short notice.

Given my limited bandwidth and the steep slope of that curve out toward the high end, simply fixing my (lack of) treble won’t suffice any longer: 50 dB is a lot of amplification. Compressing the bandwidth between, say, 200 Hz and 4 kHz to fit into 200 Hz to 2 kHz, then equalizing the result, might give me enough treble to get by, but it’d require re-learning how to hear.

That’s different from the straightforward frequency translation you get from a mixer. I don’t have enough audible bandwidth around 1 kHz to hear a 4 kHz slice of audio spectrum.

Back in 2007-ish, a real audiologist determined that I wasn’t “aid-able”. Maybe that’s changed.

The economics seem daunting. Michael Chorost gave a talk at Vassar lamenting the cost and terrible UX of his cochlear implants that reinforced my prejudices in that area. The discussion following my post on my Bose QC20 earphones includes useful links and rants.

The GNURadio project has enough signal-processing mojo for a nontrivial hearing aid, modulo having enough CPU power at audio frequencies. Battery power density remains the limiting factor, but I’m not nearly as fussy about appearances as most folks and some full-frontal cyborg wearables might be in order.