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What is the Best Cochlear Implant for Music Lovers?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Grandfather with cochlear implant plays guitar for his grandchild

Leo Tolstoy said that “music is the shorthand of emotion.” Listening to music is a universal experience that requires no shared understanding of words or language, and it can stimulate a full range of emotions such as joy, sadness, fear, excitement, and nostalgia.

Hearing songs from Elvis might conjure the anticipation and nervousness of getting ready for the high school dance, while hearing a lullaby might bring back feelings of love from rocking a newborn to sleep. Listening to the theme song from Jaws might cause that rapid heartbeat you felt the just like the first time you heard it in the movie theater (and the music might continue to play in your mind on every beach vacation).

Music connects us through shared emotions, but the magic of music diminishes with a decline in hearing. Fortunately, listening to and enjoying music with a cochlear implant is possible. 

Speech and music are different

When choosing a cochlear implant (CI), the first concern is how well it delivers speech sounds. But for those who love listening to or even playing music, it’s crucial to find one that’s optimized for that as well. How well a CI processes speech can be different from how it processes music because speech sounds and music sounds are very different.

Sound has three primary components: frequency (pitch), intensity (loudness), and time. A hearing device only needs to deliver a small fraction of those components for the listener to understand speech, but to transmit music with enough fidelity for it to be enjoyable, much more detail is needed.

How well a CI processes speech can be different from how it processes music. That’s because speech sounds and music sounds are very different.

A music-friendly cochlear implant 

The internal device—the cochlear implant itself—is where the magic happens. You should look for implants that provide a close representation of the natural hearing ear and how sound is processed.  

In a cochlear implant, the electrode array is inserted along the cochlea to stimulate different pitches. An electrode array which can stimulate as many pitches as possible will be optimal for listening to music. 

The Advanced Bionics electrode array has sixteen electrodes, each with an independent current source, which allows for what’s called current steering. Current steering—unique to AB—is a technique that uses multiple sources to stimulate not only directly on each electrode, but at multiple points between two electrodes. That, in turn, provides more of the detail and sound information that is needed to enjoy music.1-3

Elderly woman with cochlear implant dancing with her husband

Cochlear implant sound processing for music

Sound processing is the way the cochlear implant system converts the sound (in this case music) into electrical signals that then stimulate the cochlea. A nuanced sound processing strategy is critical for providing good sound quality for music. 

Spectral resolution describes how well the cochlear implant can provide frequency— pitch—information. A better spectral resolution will enable the brain to hear more frequencies. 

One way to illustrate the importance of sophisticated sound processing is to imagine Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star played on the piano one note at a time, one finger on each key. Now imagine the same song being played with chords utilizing both hands at an increased tempo in a jazzy New Orleans style. Both listeners would likely be able to make out the melody and identify the song, but which version of the song provides more information, nuance, and emotion? Which version would provide a more enjoyable listening experience?  

Advanced Bionics sound processing strategies use 120 spectral bands to deliver five times more sound resolution than any other cochlear implant system. They are designed to reveal all the dimensions of sound, from the rich layers of music to the subtle nuances of tone during a conversation.4-6

Five times more sound resolution than any other cochlear implant system

Debra Deitz, an Advanced Bionics CI wearer, says that the transition to the 120-band sound processing was like someone had tossed her the pieces of a puzzle. It allowed her to hear soft intros, warbles in voices, and complex instrument interplay in music for the first time. When Patsy Cline finally sounded like Patsy Cline, the voice she knew growing up, the music brought back memories.

“When I hear her voice, I think of my mom. Patsy was my mom’s favorite singer, and her voice filled our house all the time. I miss my mom, but listening to Patsy brings a lot of good memories, and I know my mom would approve of how Patsy Cline’s voice sounds to me now,” she said.

Debra recently shared this same emotional musical connection with her daughter when they went to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody featuring the band Queen. Although Debra lost her hearing prior to the formation of the band and had no memory of their music, she was able to connect with her daughter through this experience.  “I was literally blown away by the music! Being able to experience this movie along with all the people with normal hearing and actually coming away as a new Freddie Mercury fan is pretty crazy! Hearing the range of his voice and being able to appreciate the gift he shared with the world is priceless.”

I know my mom would approve of how Patsy Cline’s voice sounds to me now.

– Debra Deitz, AB cochlear implant recipient

A music-friendly sound processor

Not only is the internal CI itself optimized for music, the Marvel CI sound processor combines Phonak and AB technology to further increase music enjoyment and appreciation.

With AutoSense OS 3.0, artificial intelligence analyzes the sounds in the environment every 0.4 seconds to automatically activate the appropriate blend of settings, programs, and features, creating over 200 distinct sound settings, including those to optimize music. These adjustments occur instantly, without ever having to change programs.

Imagine attending a family holiday concert at an orchestra hall where hundreds of children are all squealing, laughing, and running up and down the aisles, waiting with their families for the concert to begin. With AutoSense OS 3.0, you hear the noise of the children at a pleasant and interesting level, while still being able to focus on the conversation of the people around you. Suddenly, the orchestra music begins, and the noise disappears (although the children are still there), because now AutoSense OS 3.0 if focusing on the music on the stage. Michael Smith from Minnesota reported this experience on the Hearing Journey forum when he upgraded to the Marvel CI sound processor.

With Autosense, you can be free from expending energy on effortful listening and can focus on the enjoyment of the concert and the music.  You can feel secure knowing that the Marvel CI will automatically take care of your listening needs.

Music is also optimized in Marvel CI with built-in Bluetooth streaming without the need for additional accessories. With universal connectivity to any Bluetooth-enabled device, you can stream a Broadway show on your laptop, listen to a Grateful Dead concert on your smartphone, or dance with your partner to Frank Sinatra.

Julie Husting describes her experience streaming music with her Marvel CI processors on her blog, My Hearing Journey:

“I absolutely love listening to music in Bluetooth.  AutoSense knows when I am listening to music, and it has optimized sound quality in that situation. Music is clear and full. It also plays in true stereo. I am understanding so many lyrics. I thought I did a pretty good job at understanding a lot of lyrics with my older processor but this is so sharp and clear that I understand them without even trying.”

Although cochlear implants are developed with the primary goal of delivering speech sounds, the best CI systems are also sophisticated enough to send a sound nuanced enough for music enjoyment. Advanced Bionics offers the ideal cochlear implant system for music. With the combination of advanced sound processing and electrode array technologies in the cochlear implant itself and the smart capabilities of the Marvel CI sound processor, listeners can experience music with great detail with a system that most closely replicates the natural hearing ear.7

Contact us to learn more about cochlear implants from Advanced Bionics. You can speak with a CI specialist who can answer all your questions, from the latest technology to insurance reimbursement, or you can connect with other individuals just like you who have made the decision to receive an implant.

  1. Firszt JB, Koch DB, Downing M, Litvak L. (2007) Current steering creates additional pitch percepts in adult cochlear implant recipients. Otology and Neurotology, 28(5):629-636.

  2. Quick A, Koch DB, Osberger MJ. HiResolution with Fidelity 120 Sound Processing: Listening Benefits in CII and HiRes 90K Implant Users. Poster Presentation at the Conference on Implantable Auditory Prostheses, July 15-20, 2007, Lake Tahoe, CA.

  3. Mirza S, Douglas SA, Lindsey P, Hildreth T, Hawthorne M. 2003. Appreciation of Music in Adult Patients with Cochlear Implants. Cochlear Implants International. 4(2): 85-95.

  4. Firszt JB, Holden L, Reeder R, Skinner MW. (2009) Speech recognition in cochlear implant recipients: comparison of standard HiRes and HiRes 120 sound processing. Otology and Neurotology 30:146–152.

  5. Brendel M, Buchner A, Kruger B, Frohne-Buchner C, Lenarz T. 2008. Evaluation of the Harmony Sound Processor in Combination with the Speech Coding Strategy HiRes 120. Otol Neurotology 29:199-202.

  6. Oleson J, Lesh S, Gfeller K, Knutson J. The Effect of Advanced Bionics’ HiRes 120 on Self-Report of Music Enjoyment. Poster Presentation at the 10th International Conference on Cochlear Implants and Other Implantable Auditory Technologies, April 10-12, 2008, San Diego, CA.

  7. Buechner A, Kliesch S, Bardt M, Lenarz T, Brendel M. (2021, April 28 -May 1). Investigation of the Naída Classification System for CI Users in Various Acoustic Situations. CI2021 Cochlear Implants in Children and Adults, Orlando, FL, USA. ePoster: 2187.



Michelle Leach
Written by Michelle Leach

Michelle Leach

Michelle Leach is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Auditory Verbal Therapist on staff for eight years with Advanced Bionics as a Cochlear Implant Consumer Specialist. Prior to her time with Advanced Bionics, she was a member of a comprehensive cochlear implant team where she provided evaluations and auditory-based therapy to both children and adults who utilized a variety of communication methodologies and hearing technology, including recipients of cochlear implant technology with additional special needs. As a member of the Advanced Bionics CICS team, she has provided education and support for cochlear implant candidates, recipients, and professionals regarding cochlear implant technology, and has presented nationally on a variety of topics.

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