March 9, 2023

Speed Listening

Speed Listening

A lot of people have problems with audiobooks. Many have grown up in a world of videos and podcasts and have never really developed a passion for reading. Some read too slow, some have difficulties reading for long lengths of time.

They like the idea of listening to a story, but for a lot of people it simply takes too long to listen to an entire novel.

Interestingly, as a result of this problem, many people are taking advantage of new features in the latest audio apps.

Indeed, the newest trend in media consumption is called speed-listening. By playing audiobooks and podcasts at 1.5, 2, or even 3 times their recorded pace, listeners can zip through stories and reports with maximum efficiency.

The people at Audible estimate that around 5% of their users have tried listening to audiobooks at 1.5x speed or faster. 

This strategy especially appeals to listeners who don’t traditionally consume audio-only media. Many think that the speech rate of many narrators is simply too slow and they grow bored listening to such audio content.

By listening at 1.25x or 1.5x they can get through the content faster.

Others use speed listening to improve their productivity. One podcast reviewer stated that they listen to dozens of podcasts a day, but they speed them up to get through them all in less time. At 1.5x speed, a one-hour podcast would be only forty minutes; speed listening at that pace would turn 15 hours’ worth of content into 10. At 2x, a hour is compressed to 30 minutes and 15 hours of content can be consumed in 7.5 hours, saving a lot of time.

Most narrators speak at a rate of about 140 words per minute. Most people can comfortably listen up to about 210 wpm without sacrificing any comprehension.

However, even in normal environments some people speak even faster. President John F. Kennedy could speak at about 350 words per minute, and still holds the world record for rate of speaking in a public speech. During a speech in 1961, he spoke 327 words in just one minute. However auctioneers and commentors have been clocked at 400wpm, but you almost need a trained ear to follow along.

Most people start speed -listening at a relatively modest rate 1.15x or 1.25x. Over time, however, they become used to the accelerated pace and many find that they can increase the speed to 2x or more. Some listeners have trained themselves to up their absorb content at amazingly fast speed, up to 4.5x.

I guess learning to speed-listen is like learning to speed-read. It takes practice but speed increases over time.

After adapting to slower paces, like 1.25 or 1.5 people often note that normal speed sounds like narrators are talking absurdly slow, “as if they are talking through molasses”.

Speed-listeners start a modestly increased speed, such as 1.25 and the, after becoming comfortable with that pace they increase incrementally by increments of .25x as they advance to yet faster speeds.

One would think that speeding up speech would result in lower comprehension, but studies have determined that comprehension is the same even for technical book, especially if the listener is familiar with the topic and the associated vocabulary.

Many audio apps use pitch correction to keep the voices at normal frequencies so the narrators do not sound like chipmunks, but even with this modification, I find it difficult to make out the words.

I guess I haven’t done it enough to adapt to that format. Personally, I prefer reading, but then, because of years of practice my reading speed is already more than 5x, which is why I dislike audio books. They just seem too slow to me.

Anyway, speed listening is the new speed-reading and the number of people following this new trend continues to increase. A recent Nielsen survey indicated that 19% of all podcast listeners speed up the rate at which the listen at least some of the time. Audible says that 0.1% of their listeners are exclusively speed-listeners, but that number is growing.

Whether you listen to audiobooks, stories, or podcasts at normal playback or 3x speed, the key is to find what works for you. But if you do begin speed listening, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the few extra minutes — or even hours — you’ll save.