Comparison of nine methods to estimate ear-canal stimulus levels.
The hearing thresholds of 37 young adults (18-26 years) were measured at 13 frequencies (8, 9,10,...,20 kHz) using a newly developed high-frequency audiometer. All subjects were screened at 15 dB HL at the low audiometric frequencies, had tympanometry within normal limits, and had no history of significant hearing problems. The audiometer delivers sound from a driver unit to the ear canal through a lossy tube and earpiece providing a source impedance essentially equal to the characteristic impedance of the tube. A small microphone located within the earpiece is used to measure the response of the ear canal when an impulse is applied at the driver unit. From this response, a gain function is calculated relating the equivalent sound-pressure level of the source to the SPL at the medial end of the ear canal. For the subjects tested, this gain function showed a gradual increase from 2 to 12 dB over the frequency range. The standard deviation of the gain function was about 2.5 dB across subjects in the lower frequency region (8-14 kHz) and about 4 dB at the higher frequencies. Cross modes and poor fit of the earpiece to the ear canal prevented accurate calibration for some subjects at the highest frequencies. The average SPL at threshold was 23 dB at 8 kHz, 30 dB at 12 kHz, and 87 dB at 18 kHz. Despite the homogeneous nature of the sample, the younger subjects in the sample had reliably better thresholds than the older subjects. Repeated measurements of threshold over an interval as long as 1 month showed a standard deviation of 2.5 dB at the lower frequencies (8-14 kHz) and 4.5 dB at the higher frequencies.