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Yanny or Laurel? What An Audiologist Hears

By Kathleen DohenyMay 16, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

So do you hear Yanny or Laurel? The audio clip that has been making the social media rounds has people debating and taking sides — much like the infamous dress photo from 2015 where no one could agree if the dress was white and gold or blue and black.

We asked Shelley Borgia, Au.D., a New York City audiologist and WebMD contributing editor, to set things straight, and let us know which of us, if any, need a hearing test.

WebMD: What do you hear?

Borgia: I heard Yanny at first when I just initially played it with an iPhone speaker. I could not hear Laurel as my business partner did. Then I plugged in my in-ear monitor, a custom headphone that a lot of musicians use, and I heard Laurel. Now, every time I play, whether on iPhone or the headphones, I can only hear Laurel.

WebMD: Why do you hear one or the other?

Borgia: Yanny may be more difficult to hear because it is a high frequency, soft raspy whisper. That is more difficult to pick up, in general. High frequency has more treble, so it is not as strong as bass. Younger people do tend to have better high frequency hearing.

Laurel is a stronger, lower-pitched gentleman’s voice. There is more power behind it. It’s a stronger sound, with more bass. More people can hear a strong bass sound than a strong treble sound.

Whether you listen on a computer, phone or through headphones may also affect which you hear.  If you are listening through headphones, you may be more likely to hear Laurel as the headphones block out more ambient sound. It gives you more bass.

The recording has some level of high frequency distortion, so people with better hearing can pick up on that and would hear Yanny not Laurel, or may hear both.

If you have a higher fidelity system, you are more likely to hear Laurel because it cleans out the distortion.

WebMD: If you hear one or the other, does it indicate hearing damage?

Borgia:  It isn’t a good tool to detect hearing loss. However, if you hear something other than Yanny or Laurel, it may suggest that you have hearing difficulty and you should see a hearing professional. When I presented it to a patient with hearing loss,he didn’t hear either. He has a high frequency hearing loss, treated with hearing devices [but] he still has a hearing deficiency.

WebMD: Does it matter which kind of device you play it on?

Borgia: I believe it does…because depending on where you play it, it does change the frequency bandwidth. It changes the output.

WebMD: If you shifted the bass or treble, would you hear it differently?

Borgia: It depends on how much of a shift. If it is aggressive, absolutely; if it is slight, I don’t think it would alter it too much.

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