1 Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark2 Hearing Systems, Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark3 University College London4 Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg
The audibility of important sounds is often hampered due to the presence of other masking sounds. The present study investigates if a correlate of the audibility of a tone masked by noise is found in late auditory evoked potentials measured from human listeners. The audibility of the target sound at a fixed physical intensity is varied by introducing auditory cues of (i) interaural target signal phase disparity and (ii) coherent masker level fluctuations in different frequency regions. In agreement with previous studies, psychoacoustical experiments showed that both stimulus manipulations result in a masking release (i: binaural masking level difference; ii: comodulation masking release) compared to a condition where those cues are not present. Late auditory evoked potentials (N1, P2) were recorded for the stimuli at a constant masker level, but different signal levels within the same set of listeners who participated in the psychoacoustical experiment. The data indicate differences in N1 and P2 between stimuli with and without interaural phase disparities. However, differences for stimuli with and without coherent masker modulation were only found for P2, i.e., only P2 is sensitive to the increase in audibility, irrespective of the cue that caused the masking release. The amplitude of P2 is consistent with the psychoacoustical finding of an addition of the masking releases when both cues are present. Even though it cannot be concluded where along the auditory pathway the audibility is represented, the P2 component of auditory evoked potentials is a candidate for an objective measure of audibility in the human auditory system.