Using listening effort assessment in acoustical design of rooms for speech
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This study addresses the issue of an enhanced acoustical design of rooms for speech, which besides targeting high speech intelligibility also ensures minimal effort in speech reception. Speech-in-noise tests in the Italian language were proposed to normal-hearing young adults, both in situ, within an existing university classroom, and via headphones, using auralized signals obtained from acoustic simulations of the same environment. Later, auralization was used to investigate the effect of realistic modifications to the room acoustics (acoustical treatment of a wall, change of the room size) by altering the virtual model of the classroom. The speech reception performance was characterized by using both the number of words correctly recognized (speech intelligibility, IS) and two estimates of listening effort: the behavioral measure of response time (RT) and a subjective judgement on a rating scale (LE). Firstly, the correspondence between the IS, RT and LE results in situ and in auralized conditions was considered and discussed. Then, the effectiveness of the three metrics in outlining the effect of the acoustic changes of the room was analyzed. The results showed that there were no differences between the compared acoustic conditions in terms of IS. The effects of the characteristics of the room acoustics were instead discriminated when RT and LE were considered, with the greatest number of significant differences observed by using RT. Using RT therefore seems to be an effective and promising strategy to better discern the effects of the room acoustics and to enhance the acoustical design of rooms for speech.