The laurel vs. yanny debate that has swept over social media looks to subside much more quickly than that of “the dress” to which it is most frequently compared. Out of all the professionals offering insight on the matter, however, a Splice writer has perhaps contributed the most thorough analysis.
A sound byte of a male voice pronouncing the English word “laurel” is playable on the word’s Vocabulary.com entry. Last week the audio clip went viral by way of the subreddit r/blackmagicfuckery after it was discovered that a significant proportion of the population hears “yanny” when listening to it.
In the blog section of cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform Splice’s website, an article by producer and audio engineer Max Rewak breaks the phenomenon down in scientific terms.
Rewak first points that the vowel sounds in “laurel” and “yanny” sit in lower and higher frequencies on the dynamic range, respectively. He then explains how factors such as age and background noise affect how each individual’s brain processes the sound, showing how you can isolate the sounds of each interpretation by putting the recording through low pass and high pass filters.
Most importantly, Rewak attributes the effect to noise added to the audio clip when it was recorded secondhand from the Vocabulary.com entry. “When we listen to noisy audio, our brains work harder to identify patterns and interpret what we’re hearing,” he writes.
Max Rewak’s original article on Splice.com goes into greater detail on the biology and psychoacoustics unperpinning the laurel vs. yanny phenomenon. Read it in its entirety here.