If you and your friends spend a lot of time on the internet, your group texts today might be filled with talk of Laurel and Yanny. Not since the halcyon days of The Dress in 2015 has a sensory illusion so quickly and thoroughly captivated the world’s attention. If you’re not quite up to speed, listen to the audio clip below and see which one it sounds like to you, then try to imagine how anyone with a functioning set of ears might be hearing the other one. Do you feel insane yet?
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
What’s happening here has to do with variations in the range of frequencies that each of us are able to hear, and specifically with our ability to hear sounds that are near the top of that range. Think of these as very high pitches that extend far beyond the upper ranges of a piano or a guitar, higher even than a teapot whistle or a glass-breaking note from an opera singer. Most people with healthy hearing have a range that tops out somewhere around 20kHz, about two octaves higher than the highest note on a piano. But just because we can’t hear sounds higher than that doesn’t mean that sounds aren’t happening. Dogs, for instance, can get up to about 45kHz, which is why they can hear dog whistles that are inaudible to their owners.
The sounds that make up Yanny in the audio clip exist somewhere near that 20kHz mark. The people who hear it have more sensitive hearing in those far upper ranges than the people who hear Laurel, not unlike dogs following a whistle. To illustrate this, we slightly pitched down the original clip (by about a minor third, for any interested musicians), which was enough to bring the Yanny frequencies down into the audible range for all of the Laurel people on Spin’s staff. Listen below for yourself.
For those who hear Yanny already, hearing Laurel is just a matter of selectively filtering out some of those ultra-high frequencies and amplifying the lower ones that make up the Laurel sound. We’ve done that below using an eight-band equalizer, essentially a more precise version of the Bass and Treble knobs on your car stereo. By turning down the treble and turning up the bass, you should be able to hear Laurel.
Don’t worry too much about the state of your hearing if you’re a Laurel person. Variations in high frequency perception are normal between person to person. Women in general are better at it than men, and it tapers off with age in all people. If the clips above didn’t work, you likely just need a little more of the same type of processing we’ve already done. And if you have a little technical knowledge, you can download free software like Audacity and try it for yourself.