Three years ago, the internet melted down over the color of a dress. Now an audio file has friends, family members and office mates questioning one another’s hearing, and their own. Is the robot voice saying “Yanny” or “Laurel”?
The clip picked up steam after a debate erupted on Reddit this week, and it has since been circulated widely on social media.
One Reddit user said: “I hear Laurel and everyone is a liar.”
“They are saying they hear ‘Yanny’ because they want attention,” a tweet read.
Others claimed they heard one word for a while, then the other — or even both simultaneously.
It didn’t take long for the auditory illusion to be referred to as “black magic.” And more than one person online yearned for that simpler time in 2015, when no one could decide whether the mother of the bride wore white and gold or blue and black.
It was a social media frenzy in which internet trends and traffic on the topic spiked so high that Wikipedia itself now has a simple entry, “The dress.”
Of course, in the grand tradition of internet reportage, we turned to scientists to make this article legitimately newsworthy.
Jody Kreiman, a principal investigator at the voice perception laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, helpfully guessed that “the acoustic patterns for the utterance are midway between those for the two words.”
“The energy concentrations for Ya are similar to those for La,” she said. “N is similar to r; I is close to l.”
Patricia Keating, a linguistics professor and the director of the phonetics lab at U.C.L.A., said: “It depends on what part (what frequency range) of the signal you attend to.”
“I have no idea why some listeners attend more to the lower frequency range while others attend more to the higher frequency range,” she added. “Age? How much time they spend talking on the phone?”
Dr. Kreiman cautioned that more analysis would be required to sort out the discrepancy. That did not stop online sleuths from trying to find the answer by manipulating the bass, pitch or volume.
Some speculated, like Dr. Keating, that the differences might be related to hearing loss or the age of the listener. It is known that some sounds are audible only to people under 25.
“If you turn the volume very low, there will be practically no bass and you will hear Yanny,” a Reddit user wrote confidently.
Yet making those adjustments did not change the word for some.
“I literally just turned all frequencies below 1khz to negative 70 decibels and I still hear ‘laurel,’” someone said on Reddit.
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Here in the Times newsroom, there seemed to be no pattern among those who heard “Yanny” or “Laurel,” although a few heard faint traces of both, and some manipulation of the bass allowed those who heard “Yanny” to hear “Laurel.”
The musician Yanni, for his part, said his ears weren’t deceiving him.
Cloe Feldman, whose tweet about the audio clip went viral, said in a video that she was searching for the original creator.
“I did not create Yanny vs. Laurel,” she said. “I don’t know how this was made.”
With time, a definitive scientific explanation will probably surface, like the one given for the dress, which had much to do with lighting.
Until then, baffle your friends and astound your enemies, until the next random internet phenomenon has you doubting your own senses.