A year ago, I realized that I have many more audio books and podcasts to listen to than I could ever consume. I needed a new way to consume audio faster, so started looking into way to listen differently. I tried a few apps that let you take an mp3 file and double the playback speed, but most of these were too cumbersome or made the audio sound ‘chipmunky’ as the amplitude wasn’t shifted properly along with the frequency.
I finally found that the best fast-audio experience was built into iPhones and iPod touches using the standard iPod playback. When listening to a file that is marked as a podcast or audio book, a ‘speed enhance’ icon is shown. This can be played at single, 1.5x, or double speed. Note that the icon shows “.5x”, but it really means 1.5x. When I first listened to spoken words at double speed, I could barely understand what was going on. I needed to train my ear to get to this level.
Long story short, I now listen to audio books and podcasts at double- to triple- speed, and can fully understand and comprehend what I hear. In fact, to me it sounds normal – even music played at double speed is starting to sound good and distinct. I think this is a skill that can be trained, and so I’ll walk through some suggested steps.
It took two months to get comfortable with listening to audio at double speed. I found that the key was to listen to podcasts that had varying and alternating male and female voices. As I am a tech enthusiast, I listened to 40 episodes of Buzz Out Loud, which is a podcast that usually features three semi-random hosts, male and female. This provided interesting source material, and enough variation to train my ear. Also, I could start and stop at almost any time without losing an ongoing narrative (as material covered is usually discrete stories).
I started by listening to a podcast at 1.5x speed for a few minutes, then switching back to 1x speed once I started feeling uncomfortable. Each new listening session, I pushed a little bit longer. After two weeks, I was comfortably listening to all podcasts at 1.5x speed. There were some weird issues due to audio codecs, where some music played at this speed sounded choppy… But still consumable.
Next, I repeated the process to get up to double speed… But this took much longer. It was too convenient to stay at 1.5x speed, as going faster was hard to comprehend. I needed a challenge – so decided that I would spend 1 month to try to listed to the Wheel of Times audio books (12 books, 10k+ pages, 400 hours of audio). Oof. And, I almost made it… (got through 11 books in 30 days, then just needed a mental break). I averaged 10 hours of audio per day (or 5 actual hours when played at 200%). These books were ideal as they alternated male and female speakers, who each used multiple different voices in their storytelling. As a note, you can usually find free audio books in either cd-form or mp3 at your locally library… which is important when 11 books would cost $300.
I now listen to everything at double speed, which feels completely natural. Sometimes, for audio book readers that I’m familiar with, I first speed the audio up 50% using MP3-Trimmer, then listen at double-speed for a combined 300% playback speed… Though this might be a bit neurotic.
My favorite podcasts are:
- Tech News Today (I like it much better than any of the other TWIT shows, and the dynamic of Tom Merritt is great to listen to)
- Buzz out Loud
- Onion News Network
- Sword and Laser
- This Week In Tech
- Tips from the Top Floor – Photography