A tiny array placed in the auditory nerve of cats transmitted a wide range of sounds to the brain, studies at the University of Michigan's Kresge Hearing Research Institute found.
The promising implant could allow deaf people to converse in a noisy room, identify high and low voices, and appreciate music -- areas where cochlea implants are limited.
"In nearly every measure, these work better than cochlear implants," said U-M researcher John C. Middlebrooks.
The possible auditory nerve implants would be of interest to the same people who are candidates today for cochlear implants, the profoundly deaf who can't hear at all, and the severely deaf whose hearing ability is greatly reduced, Middlebrooks said.
Studies of the electrodes in humans are about five to 10 years away, he said.