Critical band

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Critical band is a concept in psychoacoustics that refers to the frequency bandwidth of the auditory filter created by the cochlea, the auditory part of the inner ear. Within this band, sounds can interfere with each other, such as by masking (one sound making it difficult to hear another). The critical band's width varies across the frequency spectrum, being narrower at lower frequencies and wider at higher frequencies.

Overview[edit | edit source]

The concept of the critical band was first introduced by Harvey Fletcher in the 1930s and 1940s while working at Bell Labs. Fletcher's research into the nature of hearing and speech perception led to the understanding that the human ear filters sound into band-like sections, which he termed "critical bands." This filtering process is crucial for understanding how we perceive complex sounds and how sounds at different frequencies interact with each other.

Physiological Basis[edit | edit source]

The physiological basis of the critical band relates to the cochlea's structure in the inner ear. The cochlea is a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled organ that contains the organ of Corti, which is responsible for converting sound vibrations into neural signals. The organ of Corti contains hair cells that are tuned to specific frequencies, with different parts of the cochlea being sensitive to different frequencies. The distribution and response of these hair cells create the auditory filter shapes that define the critical bands.

Measurement and Importance[edit | edit source]

Critical bands can be measured using various psychoacoustic techniques, such as masking experiments, where a test tone's ability to be heard is measured in the presence of other sounds. The width of a critical band is important in many aspects of audio processing and hearing science, including the development of audio compression algorithms, hearing aids, and understanding speech perception in noisy environments.

Applications[edit | edit source]

In audio engineering and psychoacoustics, the concept of critical bands is applied in the design of audio compression codecs, such as MP3 and AAC, which use the knowledge of critical bands to remove sounds that are masked and therefore inaudible, achieving higher compression rates without noticeable loss in quality. In hearing aids, understanding critical bands helps in designing devices that can amplify sounds in frequencies where hearing loss is most significant, without overwhelming the user with unnecessary noise.

See Also[edit | edit source]

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD