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Defining and Measuring Voice Quality. Jody Kreiman*, Diana Vanlancker-Sidtis**, and Bruce R. Gerratt* *UCLA and **New York University. Voice Quality is Hard to Measure. Complex Unstable. The Definitional Dilemma. Voice is hard to define Voice quality is also hard to define.

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defining and measuring voice quality

Defining and Measuring Voice Quality

Jody Kreiman*, Diana Vanlancker-Sidtis**, and Bruce R. Gerratt*

*UCLA and **New York University

the definitional dilemma
The Definitional Dilemma
  • Voice is hard to define
  • Voice quality is also hard to define
the ansi definition
The ANSI Definition

“…that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which a listener can judge that two sounds similarly presented and having the same loudness and pitch are dissimilar.”

the ansi definition1
The ANSI Definition
  • Often maligned
    • A negative definition
    • Defines quality in the context of one specific task; hard to operationalize or generalize to other tasks
    • Implies quality is independent of frequency and amplitude
virtues of the ansi definition
Virtues of the ANSI Definition
  • Treats sound quality as the result of a perceptual process
  • Highlights importance of signals and listeners in determining quality
why include the listener
Why Include the Listener?
  • Just as loudness and pitch do not exist without the listener, vocal quality is an acoustic-PERCEPTUAL phenomenon.
how listeners introduce variability
How Listeners Introduce Variability
  • Listeners may pay attention to different acoustic aspects of signals, even in the same task
  • Importance of a given cue may depend on context or task demands
  • Different listeners may use different cues
  • Definitions of quality that focus on production or acoustics cannot account for such effects
so how should we measure quality
So: How Should We Measure Quality?
  • Create lists of terms to describe listeners’ auditory impressions
venerable and modern labels for voice quality
Venerable and Modern Labels for Voice Quality

Julius PolluxMoore, 1964Gelfer, 1988

Clear Clear, light, white Clear

Deep Deep Resonant, low

Brilliant Bright, brilliant Bright, vibrant

Small, feeble, Breathy, whispery Breathy, soft,

faint babyish, weak

Thin Thin, pinched, Thin


Hollow, indistinct Hollow, covered Muffled

more labels for voice quality
More Labels for Voice Quality

Julius PolluxMoore, 1964Gelfer, 1988

Brassy Buzzy, clangy, Metallic


Harsh Harsh, strident, Harsh, gravelly

Shrill, sharp Shrill, sharp, Shrill, sharp

piercing, cutting,


Smooth Smooth, velvety Smooth

Dull Dull, heavy, dead Dull, heavy, thick

well known problems with rating scale approaches
Well-known Problems with Rating Scale Approaches
  • Atheoretical approach
  • Which scales to include?
  • Poor reliability and questionable validity
  • Redundancies and ambiguities
    • MDS and factor analytic studies have not resolved this problem
vagaries of scale definition
Vagaries of Scale Definition

Breathiness = dry, hard, excited, pointed, cold, choked, rough, cloudy, sharp, poor, bad? (Isshiki et al.)


Breathiness = breathy, wheezing, lack of timbre, moments of aphonia, husky, not creaky? (Hammarberg et al.)

what to do
What to Do?
  • Voice Profile Analysis
    • Consistent from phonetic theory
    • Specifies how scales are related to each other
    • Specifies where information about quality might be, but does not model listeners’ behavior
what to do1
What to Do?
  • Acoustic assessment protocols
    • e.g., Dysphonia severity index, Hoarseness diagram
    • Depend on inconsistent correlations with perceptual measures for validity as measures of quality
what to do2
What to Do?
  • Method-of-adjustment task using speech synthesis
    • Does not depend on selection/definition of labels for quality dimensions
    • Helps listeners focus attention and avoids reliance on internal standards
    • Demonstrates causation between acoustic attributes and perceived quality
    • Follows directly from ANSI definition of quality
strengths limitations
  • Reliability
  • Directly links perception to acoustics
  • Technically difficult at present
  • When we cannot measure, our knowledge is meager and unsatisfactory.
    • Attributed to Lord Kelvin
  • If it exists, it exists in amounts, and if it exists, it can be measured.
    • Lord Thorndyke

This research was supported by grant DC01797 from the NIH/NIDCD.