They listen at chipmunk speed

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

The Wall Street Journal notes that “podcast nuts” find the time to listen to so much material by listening at chipmunk speed — which is a cute phrase, but one that doesn’t make sense in the digital age, since we can now speed up audio without shifting the pitch, too:

A fourfold speedup sounds entirely sane to Max Deutsch, 24, who says he has speed-listened to 69 audiobooks this year. The faster the speed, he found, the more engaged he was. “That’s when I asked myself: I wonder how fast I could actually listen?”

The San Francisco tech-product manager, unable to find apps with speeds over 3x, created Rightspeed, a $2.99 app that accelerates podcasts in nearly unnoticeable 0.1x increments every two minutes. A one-hour podcast that begins at 2x, ends at 5x and takes 17 minutes.

“It’s sort of like the Roger Bannister, four-minute-mile effect,” Mr. Deutsch says. “Until you’re told it’s possible for a human to listen at this speed, you just decide you can’t.”

My first thought was, “no thank you,” but then I accidentally set my podcast app to 1.5x and found it entirely listenable — but definitely not relaxing or pleasant.


  1. Handle says:

    My commute is currently an hour drive each way, and I use @Voice Aloud Reader on my Android device to listen to blogs from my reader app at 3.25X on average. Your brain gets used to it quick, and gradually you recalibrate and feel “distracted and bored by the slow pace” again and you increase it another notch.

    The app is free with ads and allows you to adjust the voice depth so you can listen at chipmunk speed without chipmunk pitch. The mentally comfortable rate seems to depend on the intellectual level, complexity, and abstractedness of the arguments. Sometimes for ordinary news or fiction I’m able to speed it up to 4X or above, but other times I have to slow it down to under 2.5X (e.g. Hanson’s posts at Overcomingbias.)

    So I’m definitely the target market for Rightspeed for audio files, and I’ll have to see whether it works with the players and audio formats used by the programs to which I want to listen.

    For instance, Sam Harris recently had Scott Adams on as a guest. Would Rightspeed speed that program up?

  2. James Wilson says:

    I vary the speed according to the speaker first, and the content second. There are some who speak naturaly and well at 1.5x, and I leave it be. I also use the app to speed read to points of interest where I slow it down.

  3. Candide III says:

    It might be a problem if they also understand at chipmunk speed.

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