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How do we characterize speech intelligibility? Initially, the usual method called for a panel of listeners who were supposed to listen to a list of meaningless words and write them down. Another test procedure called for full sentences to be read and written down by the panel. Of course, such tests are sensitive to the hearing ability of the listeners, but also to their cultural background. More to the point, it is not always easy and cheap to assemble a large enough group of listeners to perform such tests.

The next step was to try to devise a procedure based on measurements. It was quickly pointed out that speech intelligibility was dependent on two factors:

  • • Signal-to-noise ratio: The smaller this ratio, the harder the understanding (or even the awareness!) of a speech signal.
  • • Reverberation time: The shorter the reverberation time, the better the articulation (i.e., consonants) perceived by the listener.

Simple indicators could thus be accessed through a measurement or computation of the reverberation time and background noise.

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