Welcome to the audio equivalent of “The Dress.”
Remember trying to figure out whether that dress spreading through social media in 2015 was black and blue or white and gold? It left the Internet puzzled for days until experts explained the reasons we saw different colors depending on how our brains and eyes perceived them.
We have a 2018 version, only it’s messing with our ears. It started with a tweet from users Cloe Feldman asking users whether they heard the word “Laurel” or “Yanny” in a three-second audio clip.
Naturally, it has left the Internet divided:
Depending on where you listen from, you might hear both. For example, you may hear “Laurel” while listening on laptop speakers, but “Yanny” when playing the clip through your smartphone’s built-in speaker.
Here’s why it might be happening
Bharath Chandrasekaran, an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin, said he tested it with 10 people and even they were divided: half went for “Laurel” while the other half went for “Yanny.”
“We live in a noisy world,” said Chandrasekaran, who teaches in the school’s department of communication sciences and disorders. “Very little information actually reaches our ears. It’s not surprising that this is perceived in different ways.”
The best headphones have a flat frequency response, and don’t filter the sound, he says. But the cheaper the headphone, earbud or computer speaker, “the less reliable the quality of the audio.” As a result, “your brain makes all kinds of predictions” about what it thinks you’re hearing, he said.
Kevin Cureghian, a Los Angeles-based audio engineer, attributes it to the difference in speakers.
“Any speaker that can replicate enough ‘low end’ or ‘bass’ — you will most likely hear Laurel. But any speaker that doesn’t reproduce lots of low end (smaller size speakers in general) you will most probably hear Yanny.”
Cureghian tested this theory by putting a low pass filter into his audio software program on the file. With the low pass filter, he heard Laurel, but when he adjusted it with a high pass filter, to add in the high frequencies, “you will hear Yanny. I guarantee it.”