Amplitude variation in calibrated Audiometer systems

Christopher Barlow, Davison, Ashmore, Weinman

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    Manual pure tone audiometry is considered to be the gold standard for the assessment of hearing thresholds, and has been in consistent use for a long period of time. An increased legislative requirement to monitor and screen workers, and an increasing amount of legislation relating to hearing loss is putting increasing reliance on this as a tool.
    There are a number of questions regarding the degree of accuracy of pure tone audiometry when undertaken in field conditions, particularly relating to the difference in conditions between laboratory calibration and clinical or industrial screening use.
    This study analysed the output sound pressure level of 4 different commercial audiometers, all using TDH39 headphones and each of which had recently undergone calibration at an appropriate laboratory. Levels were measured using a Bruël and Kjaer Head and Torso simulator, which accurately replicates the size and shape of a human head, including the ears. A clinical environment was simulated by a trained audiometrist replacing the headphones for each test. Tests were undertaken at 3 presentation levels, and at the frequencies of 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz and 6 kHz.
    The results showed a high level of test-retest variability, both between different audiometers and within the same audiometer. Maximum variation of sound pressure level at the ear for the same tone presentation was 21 decibels, with a particularly high level of variation at 6kHz for all meters. An audiometer with attenuating cups exhibited significantly higher variation than ones using supral-aural headphones. Overall the variation exhibited suggests that there is a higher degree of potential error with screening pure tone audiometry than is commonly assumed, and that results particularly at the 6kHz frequency need to be assessed carefully alongside other methods such as speech audiometry.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)299-305
    JournalNoise and Health
    Issue number72
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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