The use of listening difficulty ratings of speech communication in rooms is explored because, in common situations, word recognition scores do not discriminate well among conditions that are near to acceptable. In particular, the benefits of early reflections of speech sounds on listening difficulty were investigated and compared to the known benefits to word intelligibility scores. Listening tests were used to assess word intelligibility and perceived listening difficulty of speech in simulated sound fields. The experiments were conducted in three types of sound fields with constant levels of ambient noise: only direct sound, direct sound with early reflections, and direct sound with early reflections and reverberation. The results demonstrate that (1) listening difficulty can better discriminate among these conditions than can word recognition scores; (2) added early reflections increase the effective signal-to-noise ratio equivalent to the added energy in the conditions without reverberation; (3) the benefit of early reflections on difficulty scores is greater than expected from the simple increase in early arriving speech energy with reverberation; (4) word intelligibility tests are most appropriate for conditions with signal-to-noise (S/N) ratios less than 0 dBA, and where S/N is between 0 and 15-dBA S/N, listening difficulty is a more appropriate evaluation tool.

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