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News & Music Contributors
Sounds of song
Mon October 14, 2013
Hear What a Familiar Tune Sounds Like with a Hearing Implant
Cochlear implant, a bionic inner ear that allows deaf or hearing-impaired people to hear speech—albeit in kind of a robot voice, can be a lifesaver for people without hearing. But when it comes to music, this very practical device can’t carry a tune to save its life.
Here’s what a familiar tune by Simon and Garfunkel sounds like to someone with a conventional cochlear implant:
Can you guess what it is? The answer:
But thanks to University of Washington engineering professor Les Atlas and his colleagues, listening to music just got a little more pleasant for those with cochlear implants.
The implants simply aren’t sensitive to pitch and what’s called timbre—the qualities of a sound that make, say, a guitar sound different from a harp. But Atlas has come up with a different way for the implant to process sound, turning those monotones into this:
It may not sound pretty to a hearing person’s ears, but it conveys basic changes in pitch. And that, says Atlas, is much better than nothing.