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Michigan State Police closes case on 'yanny-laurel' debate

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Michigan State Police Sgt. James Young confirms the recording says Laurel.

If you haven't heard already, many have fallen into social media madness over an audio recording this week. 

Similar to the dress that tore the internet apart, the latest viral online debate is now in audio form with "yanny" and "laurel."

The audio clip was first posted Sunday on Reddit by user Ronald Camry asking users if they hear "yanny" or "laurel." The four-second clip has people advocating for both sides without question. 

It took some high-tech evaluating, but Michigan State Police believe they've cracked the case. 

The department posted to Twitter Wednesday staying "CASE CLOSED: D/Sgt. James Young confirms it is Laurel!" 

Young told The Detroit News he first heard the recording Wednesday morning, when co-workers asked him to look at the wave form to determine what was said. 

"This is a great debate because most people are only listening to the beginning and are hearing yanny but in the longer version, there's a computer generated voice in the background saying laurel four times in a row," said Young. 

Young said he used a wave processing software with a spectrum outlook feature to see the tone and pitch of what's being said. 

"People could be hearing different files. It's not the original file, they're all derivative and change a bit every time they're posted," Young said. "In all light, it's nice to see people come together and converse friendly on a topic."

He wasn't the only one in the laurel camp: Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that she heard laurel along with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan who said he’d like “to declare something that is just so obvious: It is laurel and not yanny.”

What do you hear?

The truth

The scientific explanation centers more on the quality of the recording and the resonance of speech sounds, according to an Associated Press report. 

“This is a relatively low quality signal that is played over a variety of devices and the sound was developed to be on a perceptual border,” said Todd Ricketts of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Hearing and Speech Sciences Department.

“For example, with a full-range higher quality speaker, I clearly only hear laurel, but over my computer speakers, I clearly only hear yanny,” Ricketts said.

Alicia Spoor, president of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, agreed the quality was not good. She said the complicated answer has to do with “resonance of the speech sounds.”

“When you say the word “yanny” and “laurel,” the waveform looks very similar for the first band of energy resonance. However, there is a significant difference in the second and third resonances of the two words, which is how humans interpret the words,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed.