Preliminary notes on Harmony and Hi-Res 120.

So I’ve been wearing my Harmony processor with Hi-Res 120 for about a week now. These are just preliminary notes written in some haste late at night.

I’ve got three maps –

1. Electrodes 5-16, IDR = 60; my “default” program
2. Electrodes 5-16, IDR = 45; for noise
3. Electrodes 1-16, IDR = 80; for music

Why do I only use electrodes 5-16 in the first two maps? The other four, toward the apex of my cochlea where low frequencies are encoded, seem to mask my perception of the high frequencies. Speech sounds hollow and fuzzy when they’re on, simpler and crisper when they’re off. But for music, I want as much frequency resolution as I can get, so program 3 uses them all.

IDR stands for “input dynamic range.” In practical terms, what it means is sensitivity. A high IDR means that I hear lots of things, all the way from very soft to very loud. In theory, that should be good for music. On a low IDR the world “goes away” – I stop hearing air-conditioners, my own breathing, the ambient hum of machines. In theory, that should be good for conversing in noise.

I took three pieces I know well (Ravel’s Bolero, Gloria Estefan’s Live for Loving You, and Dulce Pontes’ Caminho do Mar) and listened to them all carefully with the three maps. I also listened to them with my old processor, which runs Hi-Res 16 and uses electrodes 5 through 16. There were some surprises.

Let’s start with Gloria Estefan as heard on HR 120 map #3 versus HR 16. I found her speech more difficult to understand on HR 120, which doesn’t surprise me because it happened the last time I tried it, back in 2005. Speech doesn’t seem to benefit that much from high frequency resolution. It can seem worse, in fact, because there’s more coming in over and above the naked phonemes, so to speak. This may well change as my brain learns how to use the extra information. I remember that back in 2005 it took a month for me to feel that I was matching my performance on 16.

But in every other respect, HR 120 wins hands down for music. In Live for Loving You with HR 16 there are passages where there’s so much voice and music going on that I get a “whiteout” effect – it sounds like a hash of undifferentiated sound. In HR 120, that doesn’t happen. I’m able to distinguish the voice from the music; it’s obvious that I’m getting better frequency resolution.

There is another difference, which is both subtle and crucial. It took me a couple of listens on both 16 and 120 before I could put my finger on it. On HR 16, after a while I start asking myself, “Why am I listening to this?” I can hear that it’s music, but it’s uninvolving; it’s data. On HR 120, I get interested; I want to listen to the end. It’s hard for me to point to a single technical reason that explains this. It feels more a global aspect of the strategy.

This is important, because I’m not sure that if I listened to a three-second excerpt played through both that I could identify which was which. At first blush the 16 can actually sound better. It’s simpler, so at first it seems clearer; it’s also more familiar. The 120 can seem fuzzy by comparison, which is easy to interpret as being worse. When I listened to Bolero, the 16 actually sounded better at first – which surprised me. But as I listened to it in both 16 and 120 at length, I realized that in 120 it’ s more involving; it holds my interest in a way the 16 never did.

Another way of putting it is that listening via 16 is an intellectual experience. Listening via 120 is an emotional experience.

There’s a couple of other noteworthy effects. Laughter sounds like laughter again, which is a great relief. On HR 16, it sounded like an aluminum sheet being banged with a hammer. I’d grit my teeth and wait for it to go away. On 120, it sounds like human beings having fun again. That’s definitely an effect of superior frequency resolution.

I can’t say yet that I hear better in noise with an IDR of 45 compared to 60. The issue right now seems to be that I don’t hear well in noise with either of them, so I can’t prefer one to the other yet.

I have some notes on how the three HR 120 maps sound different from each other for both speech and music, but that’s for another time when I have more conclusions. I’ve also been listening to pieces I’m not familiar with. It’s only been a week. I’m still listening and learning. Stay tuned.

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