Benefit of binaural listening as revealed by speech intelligibility and listening effort
In contrast to the well-known benefits for speech intelligibility, the advantage afforded by binaural stimulus presentation for reducing listening effort has not been thoroughly examined. This study investigated spatial release of listening effort and its relation to binaural speech intelligibility in listeners with normal hearing. Psychometric functions for speech intelligibility of a frontal target talker masked by a stationary speech-shaped noise were estimated for several different noise azimuths, different degrees of reverberation, and by maintaining only interaural level or time differences. For each of these conditions, listening effort was measured using a categorical scaling procedure. The results revealed that listening effort was significantly reduced when target and masker were spatially separated in anechoic conditions. This effect extended well into the range of signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) in which speech intelligibility was at ceiling, and disappeared only at the highest SNRs. In reverberant conditions, spatial release from listening effort was observed for high, but not low, direct-to-reverberant ratios. The findings suggest that listening effort assessment can be a useful method for revealing the benefits of spatial separation of sources under realistic listening conditions comprising favorable SNRs and low reverberation, which typically are not apparent by other means.