The effect of harmonic number and pitch salience on the ability to understand speech-on-speech based on differences in fundamental frequency


  • Sara Miay Kim Madsen Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA
  • Torsten Dau Hearing Systems Section, Department of Health Technology, Technical University of Denmark, Ørsteds Plads, Building 352, 2800 Lyngby, Denmark
  • Andrew J Oxenham Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA


Pitch, harmonic rank, speech-on-speech


Differences in fundamental frequency (F0) between competing voices facilitate the ability to segregate a target voice from interferers, thereby enhancing speech intelligibility. Although lower-numbered harmonics produce greater pitch salience than higher-numbered harmonics, it remains unclear whether differences in harmonic ranks, and therefore pitch salience, affect the benefit of pitch differences. Earlier studies have not reported an effect of pitch salience, but have generally used only conditions where the difference in average F0 (ΔF0) between the two competing voices was large. It is possible that the effect of pitch salience is greater in more challenging conditions, in which the ΔF0 is relatively small. This study tested speech intelligibility in the presence of one speech masker for ΔF0s of 0, 2, and 4 semitones. The speech was presented in a broadband condition or was highpass or lowpass filtered to manipulate the pitch salience of the voicing. Results showed no interaction between filter type and ΔF0, suggesting little or no effect of harmonic rank or pitch salience in the ability to use F0 to segregate voices, even with smaller ΔF0s between competing voices. The results suggest some benefit of ΔF0 between competing voices, even in the absence of low-numbered spectrally resolved harmonics.


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Madsen, S. M. K., Dau, T., & Oxenham, A. J. (2020). The effect of harmonic number and pitch salience on the ability to understand speech-on-speech based on differences in fundamental frequency. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Auditory and Audiological Research, 7, 45–52. Retrieved from



2019/2. Learning from natural sounds