Worldwide use of nose-and-mouth-covering respiratory protective mask (RPM) has become ubiquitous during COVID19 pandemic. Consequences of wearing RPMs, especially regarding perception and production of spoken communication, are gradually emerging. The present study explored how three prevalent RPMs affect various speech and voice sound properties.
Pre-recorded sustained [a] vowels and read sentences from 47 subjects were played by a speech production model (‘Voice Emitted by Spare Parts’, or ‘VESPA’) in four conditions: without RPM (C1), with disposable surgical mask (C2), with FFP2 mask (C3), and with transparent plastic mask (C4). Differences between C1 and masked conditions were assessed with Dunnett's t test in 26 speech sound properties related to voice production (fundamental frequency, sound intensity level), voice quality (jitter percent, shimmer percent, harmonics-to-noise ratio, smoothed cepstral peak prominence, Acoustic Voice Quality Index), articulation and resonance (first and second formant frequencies, first and second formant bandwidths, spectral center of gravity, spectral standard deviation, spectral skewness, spectral kurtosis, spectral slope, and spectral energy in ten 1-kHz bands from 0 to 10 kHz).
C2, C3, and C4 significantly affected 10, 15, and 19 of the acoustic speech markers, respectively. Furthermore, absolute differences between unmasked and masked conditions were largest for C4 and smallest for C2.