Energy Flux in the Cochlea: Evidence Against Power Amplification of the Traveling Wave
An ingenious experiment has been performed by Allen and Fahey [J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 92, 178-188 (1992)], in which they attempted to estimate the gain of the cochlear amplifier by comparing responses to the 2 f1-f2 distortion product (DP) in the outer ear canal (otoacoustic emissions) and from an auditory-nerve fiber. Results were essentially negative: no evidence of cochlear amplification was found in that experiment. A variation of that experiment is reported here, where DP responses in the outer ear canal are compared with mechanical responses of the basilar membrane. This variation does not suffer from the major limitation in the original experiment in the choice of possible frequency ratios. Results confirm and extend those of Allen and Fahey entirely. Apparently, the gain of the cochlear amplifier cannot be measured in this way. It is argued that the retrograde wave going to the stapes is most likely reduced in magnitude by wave interference when the two primary frequencies approach each other. Such a reduction does not take place in the forward-going wave to the location tuned to the DP frequency. This explanation is illustrated on the basis of results of earlier experiments on the movements of the basilar membrane.