Laurel Yanny Debate, Do Headphones Make A Difference?

Laurel Yanny Debate

It’s another sensory phenomenon! Remember the mystical dress from 2015 that was either white and gold or blue and black, depending on your eyes. Well, another bewildering … is among us. The great Laurel Yanny Debate. Which one do you hear? What about with headphones?

Laurel Yanny Debate, Do Headphones Make A Difference?

I first heard of this Twitter-trending debacle on a daytime talk show. Standing about 12 feet away or so, I heard Yanny. I also couldn’t possible see how anyone with properly working ears could hear Laurel. The words sounded completely opposite. But to my dismay, through cheap $10 earbuds, I clearly heard the words Laurel. Not even the slightest articulation of Yanny. I then asked my co-workers what they heard without telling them of the options, they all heard Yanny. How is this so?

University of Arizona’s Speech Acoustics and Physiology Lab Professor Brad Story spoke with sources saying that this discrepancy exists as “part of it involves the recording. It’s not a very high quality. And that in itself allows there to be some ambiguity already.”

Story adds, “The reason it can be confused is that there is a family of frequencies produced by the shape of our throat and mouth.” He also tells CNN you have to take into account the different ways people are listening to this — through mobile phones, headphones, tablets, etc.

National Geographic also writes, “The three lowest frequencies are used to encode language as a sound wave. The third frequency distinguishes between l and r. This frequency is high for l, like at the beginning and end of “laurel,” and low for r, as in the middle of ‘laurel.'”

That being said, I took to the plethora of headphones flowing through the office. Could this difference lie between cheap headphones, studio reference headphones, planar magnetics, open-backs, and so forth because headphones are designed to resonate different frequencies.

P.S. There’s also a whole other concept of hearing vs listening, which makes total sense. Douglas Beck, executive director of academic sciences at hearing aid manufacturer Oticon Inc. explains, “Hearing is simply perceiving sound,” he adds. “That is, you can hear while you’re asleep, and so in that regard, hearing is passive. Listening is attributing meaning to sound. A host of factors, such as working memory, expectations, language skills, cognitive ability, hearing, musical skills and training, attention and more, influence the many ways people listen to the same audio clip.”

Basically, when someone told you the two auditory options you had, your brain may have already made up its mind, if you are listening.

My Laurel Yanny Debate Findings (and a few of my co-workers’ findings in parenthesis)

TV – Yanny

Sony earbuds (so cheap they aren’t worthy of a model number mention from me) $10 – Laurel

iPhone 8 Plus Speakers – Laurel (1 Yanny, 1 Laurel)

Beyerdynamic DT240 Pro $99 – Laurel

Audio Technica M50x $149 – Laurel

Grado SR 125e Open-Back $150 – Laurel

Audeze Sine Planar Magnetic $449 – Laurel

HiFiMAN Sundara $499 – Laurel

Sennheiser HD660S $499 with Chord Mojo $549 – Laurel (2 Yanny)

Klipsch Heritage HP-3 $1199

My co-workers and I also played around with distance while playing the audio through my iPhone 8 Plus speakers and I heard Laurel the entire time. One of my coworkers heard a combination of “Yanny” and “Yannel” at times while my second coworker heard the phrase alternating between “Yanny” and “Laurel.”

So, what do you hear? Weigh in on the Yanny Laurel Debate below.