Meet the People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-quick Speeds


Rachel Kenny started listening to podcasts in 2015 — and quickly fell behind. “As I started subscribing to increasingly podcasts, they started stacking up, and I couldn’t hold up at proper speed,” the 26-year-outmoded data scientist in Indianapolis told BuzzFeed News. “I also had to listen to the backlist of everything the podcasts when I subscribed to them.” So Kenny began listening faster: first at 2x, then she worked her way up to 3x. She stopped only because “that’s just as quick as the Downcast app allows.” She estimates that she listens to five to seven hours of podcasts a day (which equals 15 to 21 hours at proper speed), “so perhaps, possibly 20 to 40 episodes a day or 100 to 250 a week,” she said. She tracks her listening habits on a spreadsheet.

Kenny’s listening habits may be extreme, but she’s not alone. Meet the podfasters, a subset of podcast obsessives who listen to upward of 50 episodes a week, by, like Kenny, listening extremely quick. They’re an exclusive group: According to Marco Arment, creator of the Overcast podcast app, only around 1% of Overcast listeners exhaust speeds of 2x or higher. (An app called Rightspeed, which costs $2.99, allows you to listen at up to 10x.)

Podcast consumers listen to an average of five podcasts per week, according to a recent study, which seems like a nice, manageable number: enough time to listen to a actual crime podcast or two, a long comedy podcast, perhaps, possibly a sprint of politics. But for some people, that’s just not enough: Over 20% of podcast consumers listen to more than six per week, and podfasters — well, they listen to a lot more.


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Rachel Kenny listening to a podcast in her car.

You could read these tendencies as a symptom of our sped-up culture, of a listening population too impatient or distracted to listen to anything for longer than, say, half an hour. But also, in the same way that peak TV and streaming has led to a culture of bingeing shows, we’re now in peak podcast — there are a lot of wonderful shows, and not enough time to listen to them.

But in conversations with people who listen at speeds higher than 2x, it became clear that many podfasters are above everything, completists. That is, they believe an nearly obsessive need to listen to every episode of a podcast that they determine to commit to.

win 34-year-outmoded Jason Strickland, who works for a land surveyor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He listens to around eight hours of podcasts at work every day, and listened at proper speed until he came upon the Movies By Minutes series of podcasts, which analyzes iconic movies minute-by-minute. (In other words, every episode is devoted to one minute of a film.) When he found it, the hosts had already completed the original Star Wars trilogy, which was 378 episodes, plus a few special episodes, so he started downloading 50 episodes at a time and listening at 2x speed. “It took approximately a month per film to derive caught up,” he said, explaining that he would listen to whatever podcasts were on his current listening list in the morning, and then power through the Movies By Minutes episodes in the afternoons. “Once I was current, I would then proceed find another prove to download and derive caught up, repeating this for everything the shows.”

“I believe often, when finding out approximately a contemporary podcast with a large back catalog, made myself a 100-hour-plus playlist to catch up.”

Sam Borley, a 28-year-outmoded charity shop worker in Felixstowe, England, listens to his 56 weekly podcasts at different speeds, calibrating each one depending on the content and how quick or late the hosts speak, though he said he listens to most at speeds between 2x and 3x. Like Kenny, when he finds a contemporary podcast, he makes a point of listening to the entire back catalog. “I believe often, when finding out approximately a contemporary podcast with a large back catalog, made myself a 100-hour-plus playlist to catch up, and then set my favorites to automatically jump the queue and play next so I can catch up on some without falling behind on others,” he said. “The Joe Rogan Experience, for example — it’s up to nine hours a week of content, so it would be tough enough to hold up with that one alone whether not listening at faster speed.”

Laura McCavera, a moment-year medical student in Vegas, said she started out listening to her medical school lectures at faster speeds before using the practice with podcasts as well. When she starts a contemporary podcast, she begins at proper speed “to derive a sense of the cadence, and then I increase it as essential,” maxing out at 2.5x. She compared listening to a sped-up podcast to skimming a book, explaining that podcasts are easier than lectures to listen to casually, “so it’s less stressful to try to get certain you derive every word.”

Podcast producers and hosts were mixed on their feelings approximately podfasters. Georgia Hardstark, who cohosts the Apple Podcasts top 25 My Favorite Murder podcast with fellow comedian Karen Kilgariff (tagline: stay sexy, don’t derive murdered), said it doesn’t bother her: “Everyone’s brain works at a different pace so it doesn’t worry me. Plus each person listens to a podcast for a different reason, so whether they’re just looking for information and not humor, then they won’t be lost anything.” She added that she personally listens to some podcasts at a slower speed when she’s trying to drop asleep.

Gina Delvac, the producer of Call Your Girlfriend, in which long-distance best friends Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow catch up weekly approximately women’s issues, said she understood how someone would listen to CYG at a faster speed. “It’s loose, it’s conversational, it’s meant to feel free-flowing. But for some programs I’ve worked on, or whether you consider approximately people who achieve really densely produced stuff, there’s a whole experience that’s built around that kind of audio experience.” She added, “I don’t believe disapprove because I’m very intrigued by how people determine to consume what we get.”

Some podcast apps include a feature that automatically gets rid of pauses, which Delvac is more conflicted approximately. “There are kinds of intentional storytelling where you effect a pause in there for a reason.”

But Eric Eddings, host of The Nod, feels that sped-up listening is unequivocally inappropriate. “I don’t consider it should ever happen,” said Eddings, who used to host the now-ended podcast For Colored Nerds. “The shows I’ve worked on believe everything been really sound- and music-rich. And you’re just fundamentally gonna miss that whether you’re listening at even 1.5.” He recalled the first narrative he ever produced, approximately some men from his mother’s hometown in Louisiana. “It was just stacked with things that would not work at 1.5 speed. You believe everything these elderly Southern men recounting their life, which is really serious and intense. On top of that, we had sound effects and scoring music coming in. We took a song from this assembly that happened in the ’70s and slowed it down and built it into the episode. My soul dies when I consider of somebody listening to that at 1.5 or 2.”


AJ Mast for BuzzFeed News

Rachel Kenny increasing the playback speed of a podcast.

In June, Apple announced that it would be opening up its analytics to allow podcast producers to be able to see just how many people were listening to their podcasts — including how many of them were skipping over the ads. Many podcast ads are direct response — that is, they give you a code to exhaust for a reduction on a product — so this has, until now, been the best way that advertisers could degree the effectiveness of their ads. But whether people are listening to podcasts at very quick speeds, does that diminish their value to advertisers?

Lex Friedman, chief revenue officer for Midroll Media, a large podcast ad network and owner of the Earwolf network of podcasts, said no — and in fact, podfasters could potentially be more valuable to advertisers because they may be less likely to skip ads. Friedman himself listens to podcasts at 1.8x. “I consider people like me are less likely to skip ads because they’re wasting less time when they’re listening,” he said. He added that he’s never heard an advertiser complain approximately podfasters. “I really achieve genuinely believe that whether it’s having any effect on ads, it’s making them more likely to be heard. Now they’ll pay attention to the ads. I don’t consider it harms the ads’ efficacy.”

In fact, according to behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges, because recordings played at higher speeds are at a higher pitch, they are actually easier to hear. Low frequency noises, like street noise, vacuum cleaners, or airplanes derive in the way of our understanding of people talking; by playing podcasts at a higher speed, the listener is creating a greater acoustic differentiation between the words and lower-frequency background noises. According to Porges, the muscles in the middle ear encourage to dampen low frequency sound so we can hear speech more clearly — but whether we don’t exercise those muscles (by, say, not having much human interaction), then they don’t work as well. Thus, listening to things at a higher frequency, and speed, could be helpful.


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Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone listening to a podcast on the walk domestic from work.

That makes sense to Josh Winn, a 38-year-outmoded podfaster in San Diego who listens at 2.3x and has a total of 184 podcast feeds in his Overcast app. Though he can now hear perfectly, he was born mostly deaf and learned to speak with limited hearing — which meant, he said, that his speaking was “fairly unintelligible to most folks.” When he was in high school, his parents gave him an audio course from a personal development company as a form of casual speech therapy, in which the instructor said that speaking slowly is actually inappropriate for listener comprehension. When he started listening to podcasts, he recalled this course. “Because I was able to slowly test faster and faster podcast speeds, I was able to gradually adjust until the speed became too rapid for me to comfortably listen and follow. I knew it was too quick when I had to rewind a bit to catch what was said, or to understand the nuance of meanings,” he said.

Neuroscientist Uri Hassan, whose Hassan Lab at Princeton studies brain responses to real-life events, has studied how the brain processes sped-up speech. He pointed out that even at proper speed, most people don’t catch every single word that’s being said. “whether you get it one-third faster, it’s nearly perfect — they don’t lose a lot,” he said. He also famous that the brain is able to easily adapt to different speaking speeds. “Your brain responses become slower when I speak slowly, and brain responses become faster when I speak faster.” But, he cautioned, comprehension starts to fracture down around 2x, and at 3x “it really breaks down.”

There’s one exception to this, though: blind people. “Because they are so used to only listening, they can speed it up faster than sighted people,” Hassan said. “They’re really trained.”

Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, who does social media for Chabad and runs an organization with his wife Chana called Tech Tribe, had perhaps the most philosophical view of speed listening. (He listens to the 75 podcasts in his feed at 2.8x.) When asked how he decided to increase his speed, he responded, “There’s a concept that whenever you’re striving to achieve something contemporary, whatever is tough now, that’s what you should try to achieve. Then when you become complacent and comfortable that’s a sign that it’s time to amble on,” he said. “I’m applying that concept on a spiritual level. As soon as I could really hear what’s going on, I would inch it up a tiny bit. Just hold on moving it, increasingly.” ●

Doree Shafrir is a senior tech writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Doree Shafrir at doree@buzzfeed.com.

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