There is conflicting evidence about the relative benefit of slow- and fast-acting compression for speech intelligibility. It has been hypothesized that fast-acting compression improves audibility at low signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) but may distort the speech envelope at higher SNRs. The present study investigated the effects of compression with a nearly instantaneous attack time but either fast (10ms) or slow (500ms) release times on consonant identification in hearing-impaired listeners. Consonant–vowel speech tokens were presented at a range of presentation levels in two conditions: in the presence of interrupted noise and in quiet (with the compressor ‘‘shadow-controlled’’ by the corresponding mixture of speech and noise). These conditions were chosen to disentangle the effects of consonant audibility and noise-induced forward masking on speech intelligibility. A small but systematic intelligibility benefit of fast-acting compression was found in both the quiet and the noisy conditions for the lower speech levels. No detrimental effects of fast-acting compression were observed when the speech level exceeded the level of the noise. These findings suggest that fast-acting compression provides an audibility benefit in fluctuating interferers when compared with slow-acting compression while not substantially affecting the perception of consonants at higher SNRs.
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