Produced by

With Cochlear Implants, Music Is Harder To Hear Than You Think

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cochlear Implant Soundcheck Cochlear implants can help the deaf hear speech. (Ars Electronica/flickr)

Since the 1970's, more than 200,000 people have received cochlear implants, which allow deaf patients to hear speech, and sometimes even talk. But not all auditory signals are created alike: While people with cochlear implants can hear speech, those patients can't hear music.

But now, a team from the University of Washington is making strides towards changing this: They've developed an algorithm for existing cochlear implants that allows them to process some of the building blocks of music, namely, pitch and timbre. 

In an interview with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Johns Hopkins' professor Dr. Charles Limb explains why music is harder to process than speech, why cochlear implants aren't a silver bullet, and how even with the newest cochlear implants, music still won't sound quite the way you expect. 


Dr. Charles Limb

Comments [3]

SeattleGirl from Seattle

Whoops, forgot the Bloedel lab link:

Nov. 16 2013 02:51 PM
SeattleGirl from Seattle

Hi Peter Devlin,
I also have bilateral cochlear implants. I live in Seattle and I am participating in this research study (and a few other related ones) with the University of Washington's Bloedel Hearing Research Center lab. UW scientists choose their research subjects from a pool of volunteers. You'll need to sign up to join the pool before you can participate in the research studies. It also helps if you live in/near Seattle because many of the studies I have participated in thus far have required several separate visits to the lab. My experience has been that they'll test you for a few different things (my tests have all been about 3 hours in duration), send you home for a few days or weeks while they crunch data, then call you back again for Round Two or Three or Four, etc. Also bilateral subjects are desirable to them because they get the opportunity to test each ear separately. We're like a two-for-one deal to them. Overall my experience as a participant in these studies has been rather fun and the people there are very nice and are excited to explain the details of their various studies to you if you ask. It's a cool experience. I hope you consider doing it. They also pay you $15/hr for your time! Bonus!

Here is the link to sign up for UW's research study participant pool:

Here's the link to UW's Bloedel Research lab page where all the University's cochlear research is done. The list of Labs down the left side of the page are the different scientists who are actively running different and related studies involving cochlear implants at UW. I've been mostly participating in the Rubinstein Lab for the last two years, but I believe all the Bloedel scientists pull their research subjects from the same pool of volunteers. You could get a call from any of them.
Good luck!

Nov. 16 2013 02:39 PM
Peter Devlin from California

Hi, I enjoyed the talk about this topic, I'm a bilateral cochlear implant user. Do you have a transcript on this topic? There were a few minor piece in the conversations that I did not quite get.

Also, if you need subjects to test and support this research effect is it possible to sign up/participate in the study?

I'm very interested in music and love listening to all kind of music, so I'm keen on being able to enjoy the best possible musical experience, thank you.

Nov. 16 2013 01:18 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.