Ra(tan) Lines: Podcasts at High Speed

Ratan Varghese - 2B Electrical
Posted on: October 14, 2017

In most forms of media, lots of details are kept out of the control of consumers. Good luck asking art gallery staff to shift the lighting, or playing a video game from the end to the beginning. Podcasts have their share of constraints as well, some imposed by the state of technology and some imposed by user interfaces. However some podcast apps provide very easy access to a powerful setting: the playback speed.

 

The podcast app I currently use, Overcast (iOS only), allows the user to alter the playback speed from less than 1× all the way up to 3×. Additionally there is a “Smart Speed” option to shorten silences, which effectively increases the speed by different amounts every second. I did not really pay attention to these features until Brady complained about them on the Hello Internet podcast. Brady and Grey seemed to think that such features would distort any sort of emotional message. That sounded correct, but I felt like trying it for myself. The settings I started with were dramatic enough to notice but subtle enough to not turn every podcast into Alvin and the Chipmunks Reminisce on Their Youth. Much like Grey on Hello Internet, I set the standard playback speed to above 1.5×, enabled Smart Speed, and started listening.

 

Most of my listening time was spent on Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and it was rewarding indeed. The podcast seems a bit more flippant, but still entirely audible if you are paying attention.  When playing at normal speed, there are moments where Dan Carlin seems excited enough to intentionally speed up his voice. With the higher speed settings, Carlin’s voice always seemed to be in this mode. The podcast felt like a considerably higher energy affair. Additionally every episode of Hardcore History is multiple hours long so there’s a lot of time to be saved.

 

The effect on Morph Club was more mixed. Megan and Carey are already rather fast talkers, and Animorphs features some very short sentences. Just like at normal speed, the hosts’ voices are distinct but their opinions are not. Megan’s (or Carey’s?) laughter during the good old Alternamorphs special sounded like dolphin chatter at this speed…I mean that in the best possible way.

 

I didn’t notice much of a difference during the main parts of a My Brother My Brother and Me episode. The intro and outro songs were considerably weirder. Also, the advertisements were almost incomprehensible: is that a bug or a feature? I noticed the same effects, but subtler, when listening to Hello From the Magic Tavern.

 

Now this article was actually running a bit late. To fulfill my irony quota without my editors eviscerating me, I realized still higher speed was necessary. At 3× with silence removal, the ten-minute section of Hello Internet complaining about high speed podcast listening is basically incomprehensible to me. However things made a lot more sense at the setting right below (a lot more than 2× – hooray unlabeled for axis points!). I could understand every word if I paid attention, and the voices of the hosts were still distinct. However they generally sounded a lot worse: they were no longer the smooth talkers who kept me up to date on flag news for years. Ultimately I cannot recommend speeds higher than 2× when multitasking, except if Grey is talking about Apple products.