First it was ‘ The Dress,’ now this: Do you hear ‘Lau­rel’ or ‘Yanny’?

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Jefferson Gra­ham and Brett Molina USA TO­DAY

It’s the au­dio equiv­a­lent of “The Dress.”

Wel­come to the au­dio equiv­a­lent of “The Dress.”

Re­mem­ber try­ing to fig­ure out whether the photo of 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 that the rea­sons we saw dif­fer­ent colors de­pended 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 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 hear the words, what you hear may change. For ex­am­ple, you may hear “Lau­rel” while lis­ten­ing on lap­top speak­ers but “Yanny” when play­ing the clip through your smart­phone’s built-in speaker.

Bharath Chan­drasekaran, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at The Uni­ver­sity of Texas, said he tested it with 10 peo­ple, and even they were split down the mid­dle. “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 low­pass fil­ter into his au­dio soft­ware pro­gram on the file. With the low pass fil­ter, he heard Lau­rel but with a high pass fil­ter, “you will hear Yanny. I guar­an­tee it.”

But even on the same de­vice, peo­ple can’t agree, lead­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity that the dif­fer­ence also stems from how well your ears pick up fre­quen­cies.

We brought an iPhone to the beach Wed­nes­day morn­ing and played the clip for passersby. While a few said it was “Lau­rel, clearly,” oth­ers were mixed. We heard peo­ple say “Hear me,” Dearie,” “Laura” and “Yi-wee.” Not one of our dozen folks picked “Yanny.”




A tweet asks peo­ple to de­cide which word they hear in the clip.

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