The effect of the helicotrema on low-frequency loudness perception


Below approximately 40 Hz, the cochlear travelling wave reaches the apex, and differential pressure is shunted through the helicotrema, reducing hearing sensitivity. Just above this corner frequency, a resonance feature is often observed in objectively measured middle-ear-transfer functions (METFs). This study inquires whether overall and fine structure characteristics of the METF are also perceptually evident. Equal-loudness-level contours (ELCs) were measured between 20 and 160 Hz for 14 subjects in a purpose-built test chamber. In addition, the inverse shapes of their METFs were obtained by adjusting the intensity of a low-frequency suppressor tone to maintain an equal suppression depth of otoacoustic emissions for various suppressor tone frequencies (20–250 Hz). For 11 subjects, the METFs showed a resonance. Six of them had coinciding features in both ears, and also in their ELC. For two subjects only the right-ear METF was obtainable, and in one case it was consistent with the ELC. One other subject showed a consistent lack of the feature in their ELC and in both METFs. Although three subjects displayed clear inconsistencies between both measures, the similarity between inverse METF and ELC for most subjects shows that the helicotrema has a marked impact on low-frequency sound perception.

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