How WhatsApp's 2x Playback Can Improve Voice Messages

To start, it'll make them shorter

Key Takeaways

  • WhatsApp is testing 2x playback speeds for voice messages.
  • Faster is not always better—speeding people up may make them harder to understand.
  • There are plenty of other audio-processing tricks that could also improve voice messages.
man wearing black nike sweater while wearing headphones and listening to their phone

Ilias Chebbi / Unsplash

WhatsApp is testing 2x playback for voice messages, so you don’t have to listen to your friends and family ramble on forever.

These sped-up voice messages could make the feature more attractive to impatient people, be a great way to quickly process group chats, or just to speed up that seemingly never-ending message from your totally unfocused friend.

"Some friends seem to meander when leaving a message," breathing therapist and WhatsApp user Phillip Gutkowski told Lifewire via email. "They try to guess what you may think or what you may or may not be doing on Saturday and spend three minutes blathering and guessing before they get to the point of the call. I would love to listen to those messages at 2x speed."

Speed It Up

The playback feature, currently in beta, lets iOS and Android listeners set playback at double speed, just like you can in many podcast and audiobook apps. The obvious advantage here is you won’t have to sit through a five-minute message just to get to the point at the end. On the other hand, even this may not help with your most annoying voice messages.

"[My friends] sometimes send audio messages in noisy rooms," tech and gadget reviewer Plamen Beshov told Lifewire via email. "They aren't concerned about their pronunciation of each word. And sometimes they already speak very fast. Sometimes, I can hardly understand them at regular playback speed."

What Are Voice Messages Good For?

This reporter refuses to listen to voice messages. They’re barely above straight phone calls, in that they offer maximum convenience for the sender, and maximum inconvenience for the receiver. However, it can also be used for good. For instance, not everyone can explain things well in text—sometimes it’s just clearer to communicate by talking.

"I also send voice messages when I am explaining something complicated," says Beshov, although he also does it for his own convenience. "Instead of losing more time writing, I record and send an audio clip."

"Sometimes they already speak very fast. Sometimes, I can hardly understand them at regular playback speed."

Voice messages are also great for quick replies when you’re on the move. If you’re walking, it’s impossible to type a message. So, instead of stopping, you can send a voicemail.

And some people just prefer to communicate this way. For every person who refuses to even open a voice message that looks too long, there’s a person who loves to listen to long, personal messages, and reply to them in kind. These are more like letters than postcards, and might be best played back at their regular speed. 

Other features?

Fast playback is a feature most often found in podcast apps. What other features could WhatsApp and other messaging apps borrow from podcasters?

Top podcast app Overcast has a feature called Smart Speed. This strips out the silence in between words, and it’s done in such a natural-sounding way that the result never feels clipped or rushed. In fact, once you get used to it, regular podcasts seem annoyingly dithering in comparison. 

Woman lying next to a pool and listening to their phone

Bruno Gomiero / Unsplash

Another great Overcast feature is Voice Boost, which boosts and normalizes the volume of voices to make them loud and clear. This is really aimed at group podcasts, where it can even out the volume differences between people speaking, but automatic processing of dodgy audio seems like a perfect feature for voice messages recorded in windy streets or echoey interiors.

There’s one big difference between podcasts and voice messages that might make applying these fixes harder, though. 

"Keep in mind that podcasts and audiobooks are recorded by people that can pronounce the words very well," says Beshov. "Also, the recording sessions are usually done in sound-proofed rooms or studios. So when you speed it up, you can still understand what they are saying."

Conversely, if you speed up or process the sound of your cousin while they’re out walking the dog by the freeway, then maybe all you’ll get is mush. 

"[My friends] sometimes send audio messages in noisy rooms. They aren't concerned about their pronunciation of each word."

One killer feature would be auto transcription, but perhaps not the kind you’re thinking. Yes, it would be great to read those long, hesitant messages instead of listening to them, but what if the message was transcribed, and first shown to the sender? Perhaps seeing their messages in text form might encourage them to be a little more concise in future.

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