Electrolarynx voice box’s sound almost exactly the same as they did 30 years ago. Almost unintelligibly electronic and staticky. Why hasn’t the audio quality improved over time to sound more natural?

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Electrolarynx voice box’s sound almost exactly the same as they did 30 years ago. Almost unintelligibly electronic and staticky. Why hasn’t the audio quality improved over time to sound more natural?

In: Technology

The way it sounds is because of how the device works; it makes a buzz that replaces the vibrations that would normally be created by air passing through your larynx. But the buzz is at a fixed frequency while human voices vary in frequency – especially in certain languages.

An electrolarynx that sounds less monotone would need to have some way to change the frequency it produces to match the natural ups-and-downs of human speech. There are some devices on the market that claim to do this, like this one:

http://www.griffinlab.com/Products/TruTone-Electrolarynx.html

Another issue is that the human “voice” is influenced heavily by the density of the vocal folds. It explains why men typically have lower pitched voices than women, as vocal folds are able to vibrate at a higher frequency than is typically seen in males. When a person requires an electrolarynx, they’ve typically undergone a complete removal of the larynx. What’s left is a resonant cavity, which is miles apart from what the rest of us use to vocalize. In addition to this, many of these individuals have undergone radiation therapy prior to laryngectomy, which further serves to change the resonant frequency, as there is often significant thickening/rigidity of the tissues as a result, known as fibrosis.

We have “folds” in our larynx that tense and relax to regulate the way our voice sounds. An electro larynx is like you only have one vocal fold — one sound.

To create a device that works like a regular larynx, it would need to interface with our nervous system so we could autonomically control the vibrations. Science hasn’t gotten there yet.

In addition to what everyone else has said, I think also there is not a lot of money to be made by investing a lot of time and tech into improving them. While I’m sure the companies that produce the electronic larynx devices on the market (which I assume are largely funded through people’s insurance, often Medicare, as durable medical equipment) want to be able to offer the best products to their patients, they probably get reimbursed the same or similarly whether the voice sounds really good or just intelligible. So not a lot of incentive to go above and beyond with development. It’s a very small and specific population that needs these. It’s sad and unfortunate but money makes the world go ’round.