The vibrating reed frequency meter: digital investigation of an early cochlear model

PeerJ. 2015 Oct 13;3:e1333. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1333. eCollection 2015.


The vibrating reed frequency meter, originally employed by Békésy and later by Wilson as a cochlear model, uses a set of tuned reeds to represent the cochlea's graded bank of resonant elements and an elastic band threaded between them to provide nearest-neighbour coupling. Here the system, constructed of 21 reeds progressively tuned from 45 to 55 Hz, is simulated numerically as an elastically coupled bank of passive harmonic oscillators driven simultaneously by an external sinusoidal force. To uncover more detail, simulations were extended to 201 oscillators covering the range 1-2 kHz. Calculations mirror the results reported by Wilson and show expected characteristics such as traveling waves, phase plateaus, and a response with a broad peak at a forcing frequency just above the natural frequency. The system also displays additional fine-grain features that resemble those which have only recently been recognised in the cochlea. Thus, detailed analysis brings to light a secondary peak beyond the main peak, a set of closely spaced low-amplitude ripples, rapid rotation of phase as the driving frequency is swept, frequency plateaus, clustering, and waxing and waning of impulse responses. Further investigation shows that each reed's vibrations are strongly localised, with small energy flow along the chain. The distinctive set of equally spaced ripples is an inherent feature which is found to be largely independent of boundary conditions. Although the vibrating reed model is functionally different to the standard transmission line, its cochlea-like properties make it an intriguing local oscillator model whose relevance to cochlear mechanics needs further investigation.

Keywords: Cochlea; Coupled oscillators; Frahm reed; Resonance; Traveling wave.

Grant support

The authors received no funding for this work.