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On the influence of non-individual binaural cues and the impact of level normalization on auditory distance estimation of nearby sound sources

Arend, Johannes M.; Liesefeld, Heinrich R.; Pörschmann, Christoph

Nearby sound sources provide distinct binaural cues, mainly in the form of interaural level differences, which vary with respect to distance and azimuth. However, there is a long-standing controversy regarding whether humans can actually utilize binaural cues for distance estimation of nearby sources. Therefore, we conducted three experiments using non-individual binaural synthesis. In Experiment 1, subjects had to estimate the relative distance of loudness-normalized and non-normalized nearby sources in static and dynamic binaural rendering in a multi-stimulus comparison task under anechoic conditions. Loudness normalization was used as a plausible method to compensate for noticeable intensity differences between stimuli. With the employed loudness normalization, nominal distance did not significantly affect distance ratings for most conditions despite the presence of non-individual binaural distance cues. In Experiment 2, subjects had to judge the relative distance between loudness-normalized sources in dynamic binaural rendering in a forced-choice task. Below chance performance in this more sensitive task revealed that the employed loudness normalization strongly affected distance estimation. As this finding indicated a general issue with loudness normalization for studies on relative distance estimation, Experiment 3 directly tested the validity of loudness normalization and a frequently used amplitude normalization. Results showed that both normalization methods lead to remaining (incorrect) intensity cues, which subjects most likely used for relative distance estimation. The experiments revealed that both examined normalization methods have consequential drawbacks. These drawbacks might in parts explain conflicting findings regarding the effectiveness of binaural cues for relative distance estimation in the literature.
Published in: Acta Acustica, 10.1051/aacus/2021001, EDP Sciences