Media - Sonova News Room

“There’ll be a lot of music making”

The possibility to experience and enjoy music clearly increases the quality of life of cochlear implant recipients. Stefan Launer, Vice President Science & Technology from Sonova, answers questions about existing possibilities, innovative approaches and latest developments.

Stefan Launer, Vice President Science & Technology in interviewTo what extent is it currently possible to listen to music with a cochlear implant?

While every recipient’s hearing and anatomy is unique, many recipients are able to enjoy music. Most implant recipients can hear the rhythm of music. However, their ability to hear pitch, intensity fluctuations, and the spectral relationships required for true music listening is limited by both the implant system and their impaired inner ears. Our brand Advanced Bionics (AB) provides the only implant system that has the capability of delivering a wide dynamic range and detailed frequency cues through its HiRes Fidelity 120* sound processing strategy.

How does HiRes Fidelity 120 sound processing work?

Using current steering, AB’s implant can stimulate up to 120 places along the cochlea, which, in turn, gives users the opportunity to hear more spectral information. Moreover, current steering has the capability to deliver stimulation beyond the end of the electrode, where the low frequencies necessary for pitch perception are normally processed by the inner ear. While no outcome can be guaranteed, HiRes Fidelity 120 offers recipients the best opportunity to appreciate music.

What are the challenges a cochlear implant recipient faces in regard to music perception?

Perceiving pitch and melody, distinguishing instruments (timbre), and understanding lyrics can be a challenge for cochlear implant recipients.

Pitch, melody and timbre perception can be improved by increasing the spectral resolution; in other words by improving how well the cochlear implant delivers frequency information to the inner ear. HiRes Fidelity 120 is designed to increase this spectral resolution. Just like the way a high-definition television delivers a higher-quality visual picture, HiRes Fidelity 120 is designed to deliver a higher-quality sound representation. The 120 spectral bands offer five times more sound resolution than other brands. The better the spectral resolution, the better you can hear these pitches for better hearing in noise and music enjoyment. Additionally AB’s ClearVoice* speech enhancement technology works with HiRes Fidelity 120 to help recipients understand lyrics and improve their understanding in noise.

Watch Lisa J. a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, avid music lover and American Sign Language Interpreter, share her story of losing her hearing and then regaining an appreciation for music with her AB cochlear implants.

Do you have cochlear implant recipients who also enjoy singing and playing music?

Yes, absolutely. This year one of our recipients debuted as a tenor in a 200-plus person choir and performed in front of thousands with an orchestra. Another example is one of our recipients who was a music major and returned to perfect pitch after getting our cochlear implants. While these are not necessarily representative of a typical experience, you can see what is possible with the technology.

What accessories do we have to offer cochlear implant recipients which provide access to music?

Most AB implant users use the T-Mic, a microphone that is placed in front of the ear canal. That makes it easy to use earbuds and headphones to connect to music players.

In addition, AB implant recipients can listen to music streamed live from their iPhone, laptop or TV via Bluetooth technology. By using the Phonak ComPilot, up to 8 different devices can be linked wirelessly to the recipient’s sound processor, making it easy to listen to their favorite songs and bands.

What rehabilitation tools are available for children to help with music?

Music is at the heart of our auditory rehabilitation programs. Music stimulates many areas of the brain and as such is a great tool to encourage speech and language development in children. One musical rehab resource we developed recently is the BabyBeats early intervention resource. BabyBeats encourages musical activity between the parent and baby and can be used with babies as young as 6 months old. The activities can begin even before the child receives their cochlear implant, giving them the best possible start.

We also offer TuneUps, which was honored by Therapy Times as the Most Valuable Product in speech language pathology.
Developed by Christine Barton and Amy Robbins, TuneUps is a music CD and a listening improvement program that seamlessly weaves music and language together to engage children with hearing loss for an incredible listening, language and overall learning experience.

What rehabilitation tools are available for teens and adults to help with music?

For teens and adults, we also offer Musical Atmospheres, an interactive program designed to help cochlear implant recipients explore the wonderful world of music. New music is discovered through three hours of recorded musical examples, each containing increasing levels of complexity in musical appreciation, helping to establish a firm foundation for musical memory.

What are the strengths Sonova can bring to developing new technologies in the future for listening to and enjoying music?

Sonova has unique expertise in both hearing aids and cochlear implants. Combining these two devices has the potential to dramatically improve music perception for people with substantial hearing loss. For example, many people who are candidates for cochlear implantation have good hearing in the low frequencies, but miss the important high frequency sounds. For these individuals, it is possible to use hearing aid technology to deliver low-frequency acoustic signals, while using cochlear implant technology to deliver high-frequency information. This is what we call electro-acoustic stimulation (EAS). EAS can help to strengthen the pitch information that is so important for music perception while at the same time offering the proven ability to understand speech. Sonova is positioned uniquely to develop these synergistic technologies.

*Not approved for pediatric use in the U.S.

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