Listening fatigue: how bad audio quality burns out your audience
Listener fatigue is a very common problem, and it’s not just online content creators who can have problems with it. You might have seen the headlines about Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Even Nolan, a multi Oscar award winning director and producer, gets complaints from his audience about having to work too hard to make out what characters are saying.
It might sound obvious, but being able to hear what people in your content are saying is really important. The more difficult it is for your audience to make out what you’re saying, the harder they have to work to stay focused. This can quickly lead to listener fatigue for your audience.
Listener fatigue is exactly what it sounds like. When people have to work too hard to listen to your content they start feeling tired and their hearing can become less sensitive. Sometimes listening fatigue can even lead to discomfort and pain. All of these are likely to make your audience switch off and stop listening to what you have to say.
So what exactly causes listener fatigue and how can we, as content creators, deal with it? In this article we take an in-depth look at how low-quality audio can make it worse, and how you can avoid the problem in your content.
Why do we have to work hard to hear dialogue when listening to bad quality audio? The main reason for this is increased cognitive load.
Cognitive load is the amount of our working memory we’re using at any time. Our working memory as the part of our brain we use to interpret the immediate world around us and, the more of it we use, the higher our cognitive load.
When our cognitive load is high we are much more likely to make errors and get tired of working on tasks. Therefore, having high cognitive load when listening to audio often leads to listener fatigue.
When audio quality is low, dialogue tends to not stand out from the other elements of the mix. Sometimes the audio quality is so low that even the voice recordings on their own are hard to understand. If we have to work hard to make out a voice in a video then our cognitive load will be higher.
There are a lot of potential causes for audiences having to work harder when listening to your content. Loud background noise such as fans, passing traffic or ambient outdoor noise can compete with your dialogue making it less clear. An easy fix for this is a tool such as the ERA Noise Remover - this single control tool will instantly remove unwanted noise from your audio, improving the intelligibility of your audio with no effort.
Another common cause is a large dynamic range. If the volume of your dialogue varies a lot then your audience will have to be constantly alert so they hear quiet parts as clearly as they hear loud parts. This issue can easily be fixed with the ERA Voice Leveler. This plugin - part of the ERA Bundle - does exactly what it says on the tin. Your audience will be able to listen to your content at a consistent volume without ever having to strain to hear what you have to say.
Of course, having a low quality microphone will also reduce the quality of voice recordings making speech harder to understand. For a guide on choosing the right microphone for you, check out our blog.
When viewers and listeners have to work hard to hear what you have to say, the more likely they are to click off your content without finishing it. This is a problem because retention rate (how much of your content fans consume) is one of the key metrics companies like YouTube use to recommend videos to people.
On YouTube’s creator academy they make this very clear saying “videos with consistently high audience retention and watch time have the potential to show up more frequently in Search and Suggested locations on YouTube”.
So, if you want to get your content showing up in people’s recommended boxes, keeping listener fatigue to a minimum is essential.
The global nature of entertainment is an incredible boon for YouTubers, podcasters and TikTokers. An international audience is available to anyone creating content online. This means anyone with an internet connection has the potential to be your fan, no matter where they live.
Whilst this is amazing, it does mean you have to consider a few things when making your content - one of the key things to bear in mind is how listening fatigue affects non-native speakers.
When someone is watching your content in a language that they are not a native speaker of, they have to work even harder than normal to understand everything you say. A study by Borghini and Hazan at University College London found that non-native speakers were much more likely to make mistakes when understanding speech in recordings with low quality audio.
This is a big problem for content creators with international audiences. Though your content may be great, if your international audience has to work too hard to hear what you have to say they’re going to give up on podcasts or videos quickly.
A powerful but easy way to reduce listening fatigue in your audience is with the Accusonus ERA Bundle. This suite of audio repair plugins makes it easy for anyone, no matter how much audio experience they have, to create clear and pleasant voice recordings.