How to choose a cochlear implant if you are a music lover

Apr 8, 2020 - Michelle Leach

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 from Jaws might cause that rapid heartbeat you felt the first time you heard it (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. 

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 to listen to (or even play) music, it’s crucial to find one that’s optimized for that as well. And 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. 

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. 

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


A music-friendly 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 contains 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 more than one electrode at a time. That, in turn, provides more of the detail and sound information that is needed to enjoy music.  

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 is able to 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 very likely 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.

A satisfied music lover

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.

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

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.”

Although cochlear implants are developed with the primary goal of delivering speech sounds, the best CI systems are also sophisticated enough to transmit a sound nuanced enough for music enjoyment. Advanced Bionics offers the ideal cochlear implant system for music. Its advanced sound processing and electrode array technologies most closely replicate the natural hearing ear and allow the listener to experience music with great detail. 

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.



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