Improving Speech Intelligibility in Reverberant Environments

 

Backgrounds

In public spaces (e.g. multiple-purpose halls, train stations and airports) where public address systems transmit speech signals via loudspeakers, we receive the speech signals with reverberation. It is sometimes difficult to understand speech in such reverberant environments, especially for people with hearing impairments, elderly people, and non-native listeners. Reverberation masks speech segments that follows (i.e. overlap-masking (Nabelek et al., 1989)), and this degrades speech intelligibility. It is pointed out that when a previous segment has strong energy (e.g. a vowel), the following segments (e.g. a consonant) can be significantly smeared in reverberation (Arai et al., 2001, 2002). When we compare an original and a reverberant speech signals in Figure 1, we can see the envelope of the reverberant speech signal is smeared by reverberation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. Original (left) and reverberant (right) speech signals

 

 

Approaches

The goal of this study is to achieve gbarrier-free listening environmentsh in reverberant environments, which means providing intelligible speech signals not only for young people but for elderly people, people with hearing impairments and non-native listeners in public spaces. We have studied this from two approaches: the public address system side and the talker side (See Figure 2).

 

Figure 2. Two approaches to provide gbarrier-free listening environmentsh

 

As an approach of the public address system side, we have proposed gpre-processingh (i.e. processing a speech signal before we send it from loudspeakers). Pre-processing might be beneficial in public spaces where different kind of people listen to speech signals because we donft need to attach special listening devices to reduce the effect of reverberation.

We have proposed two pre-processing approaches: modulation filtering (e.g. Kusumoto et al., 1999, 2005) and steady-state suppression (Arai et al., 2001, 2002; Hodoshima et al., 2006). Modulation filtering alters the temporal dynamics of speech (i.e. temporal modulation). This approach enhances particular low-frequency components of the temporal modulation (i.e. below 16Hz) which are important for speech perception (Houtgast and Steeneken, 1985).

Steady-state suppression effectively suppresses steady-state portions of speech (e.g. vowel nuclei) that have high energy in order to reduce overlap-masking (See Figure 3). The information in steady-state portions of a speech signal is relatively unimportant compared to transitions (Furui, 1986), therefore this approach can minimize the effect of overlap-masking without degrading speech intelligibility as much as possible.

aka_woax sss20_aka_woax
 

 

 

 


Figure 3. Original (left) and steady-state suppressed (right) signals of the word /aka/

 

As an approach of the talker side, we have studied speech signals which are robust to reverberation. Speech intelligibility changes by talkers as well as by speaking style (e.g. clear, conversational) or speaking rate (slow, normal, fast) within an individual talker. This approach seeks characteristics of intelligible speech signals as well as the effect of clear speech and slowed speaking rate in reverberation (e.g. Hodoshima et al., 2007).

 

 

Major findings

Different public spaces have different room conditions, and the optimum approach would be different in different public spaces. So, we have studied from the public address system side and the talker side under various listening conditions.

 

Below are our major findings:

1) The public address system side

- Modulation filtering improved consonant identification for young people with normal hearing in reverberation (Kusumoto et al., 2005).

- People with severe hearing loss preferred processed speech signals by modulation filtering as easier to hear compared to unprocessed speech signals in reverberation (Kusumoto et al., 1999, 2000).

- Steady-state suppression significantly improved consonant identification (e.g. Arai et al., 2007; Hodoshima et al., 2005, 2006, 2008a; Miyauchi et al., 2005; Nakata et al., 2006)

- both in simulated reverberant environments and in a lecture hall

(reverberation times of 0.7-1.3 s),

- both for young people with normal hearing and for elderly people,

- in both normal and slowed speaking rate.

2) The talker side (Hodoshima et al., 2007, 2008b)

- "Clear" speech had higher speech intelligibility than "conversational" speech by grouping young listeners' hearing impression of speech signals uttered by talkers who were told as if they spoke in reverberation.

 

Future works

We believe that our research contributes to realizing gbarrier-free listening environmenth for elderly people, people with hearing-impairment and non-native listeners as well as designing an algorithm for hearing aids (Kobayashi et al., 2008).

 

 

Speech demos (to be updated soon)

 

 

References

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A. K. Nabelek, T. R. Letowski and F. M. Tucker, gReverberant overlap- and self-masking in consonant identification.h J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 86(4), 1259-1265, 1989.

 

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