Is there a right answer to the Laurel/Yanny debate? Let’s get some clarity.
When I listen to the original Reddit post, I hear Yanny. When I follow the link suggested on the Reddit thread and go to Vocabulary.com, I hear Laurel.
I think that’s interesting.
But why is it so?
Well, that’s the point of this article.
I did a quick Google search to find out the origins of this meme, but I didn’t open any articles that might have given a reason for the divide in perception – because I wanted to dust off the old internet sleuth skills and see how I went.
Join me, won’t you?
Did They Change The File At Vocabulary.com?
That would certainly explain why I’m hearing something different.
Here’s the waveform for the original audio from Reddit:
And here’s the waveform of the audio directly from Vocabulary.com:
See how they aren’t identical?
As you may have guessed, that means they’re not the exact same sound.
I originally thought they’d changed the file at Vocabulary.com, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for a reply from them.
Hey, at least I’m honest.
There May Be Another Explanation.
Anyone who uses both headphones and speakers will note there’s a marked difference between them both. This is because the headphones give you the sound directly and nothing else, whereas the sound from the speakers mixes with the ambient noise in the room.
To be clear, I don’t mean ambient noises like the sound of your chair or Jeff from HR in the background yelling at you about your TPS reports (I WANT MY RED STAPLER BACK!) or whatever.
I mean ambient noise.
Think of it like this: imagine you have a microphone. If you turn it all the way up, you’ll still record some noise, even if you don’t speak. A very small part of that ’empty room’ noise is the digital signal of the microphone, but the rest of it is the sound of the room. The sound of still air.
If you remove every possible noise from a room, you may even be able to hear it for yourself – a very very very quiet static, as though the universe can’t find a radio station but also can’t stand silence.
My point is, this static can affect waveforms as they travel through the air, usually by strengthening or weakening certain frequencies of any given sound.
What’s A Frequency, Kenneth? (sorry)
A frequency is just one particular part of a sound. But which part?
Think of a piano keyboard. All the low frequencies ( the low notes) are on the left, all the high frequencies (the high notes) are on the right.
Well, all waveforms (i.e. all sounds) work in a similar fashion, in the sense that they have different ‘tones’.
For instance, to get a simple radio-mic voiceover sound, you just lower the bass (low) frequencies from a waveform and boost the treble (high) frequencies.
To get a booming voice (like a wrestling announcer) you’d do it the other way around.
Check out the spectral analyses of the two sounds:
This works like the piano keyboard, but it’s vertical and not horizontal. The bottom of the spectral screen is the low frequencies, and the top of the spectral screen is the high frequencies.
Now, notice how the Yanny sample shows more orange at the bottom? That means that it contains more of the low frequencies than the original Laurel sample.
Or, as the song goes: It’s all about that bass.
Why am I explaining all of this? I’m glad you asked!
Because here’s a theory I prepared earlier…
All Your Bass Are Belong To Yanny (sorry)
My theory is that because the waveform (i.e. sound) of the Reddit version (i.e. Yanny) was recorded on a smartphone, the ambient noise in the room affected the quality of the original Laurel sample from Vocabulary.com.
Let’s try and replicate that, shall we?
I’m going to play the original Laurel clip in my room, and record it with all the ambient noise (instead of cancelling it out, like usual).
Although my room probably isn’t identical to the room the original Laurel video was recorded in (which matters because it could affect the sound), it might still be a useful test.
Simply put: If I’m right, then my waveform should look more like the Yanny waveform than the Laurel one.
Again, here are the Yanny/Laurel waveforms for comparison:
And my Waveform versus them both:
Well, how about that, eh?
What Does Our New Waveform Sound Like?
Although you’ll have to take my word for it, ‘Yanny’ was the audio result, loud and clear.
I must admit that this doesn’t actually make sense to me, because it’s the opposite of my decades of experience in sound engineering so far. Today I learned that sometimes ambient noise strengthens bass frequencies, it doesn’t always weaken them.
“That’s great and all, but why do different people hear different things then?” I hear you ask, but it sounds like you said ‘Yanny’.
Well, that’s because everybody hears certain frequencies more easily than other frequencies. Which frequencies? Well, that differs from person to person because of how biology works.
But as a rule, younger people can (on average) hear more frequencies than older people, because age affects your ability to hear the higher frequencies.
So, if my theory is right, then most people will hear Yanny or Laurel depending on their age bracket, but the quality of the Reddit recording will come into play as well, which is why I predict that most people will hear Yanny.
Only time can tell, I guess!
But is there a right answer to the Laurel/Yanny debate?
Yes, there is.
Because that’s what the damn page says, that’s why.
If you’re interested in sound, why not check out this article which discusses the Baby Driver soundtrack? Conversely, if you hate sound then why not check out this article about 3 iconic silent films?