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Julian Treasure – Audio has been a second class citizen for a long time [IRIS Pod]

Published 11 May 2022 / 4 min read

Julian Treasure_Listening_Audio_blog

Julian Treasure, sound and communication expert, award-winning author, and five-time TED speaker with over 100 million views, joins IRIS CCO, Tom Darnell, on the IRIS Pod. They discuss the importance of listening, the impending audio revolution, the prevalence of brain fatigue and the necessity to preserve our inner voice, and the power of AI on real-time audio. 


“Audio has been a second class citizen for a long time.” — Julian Treasure


Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

Julian: Listening is just as important as reading or writing, and should be taught accordingly.

We teach reading and writing avidly in schools — it’s a scandal if a child leaves school unable to read or write — but we barely teach speaking, and even less so listening. The problem is most people don’t realise that listening is a skill. It’s confused and conflated with hearing. Yet, listening is an important life skill that you can master, that you can practice. And, unfortunately, it is completely ignored in schools.


Politicians go off and have talks. I wish they’d go off and have listens instead.” — Julian Treasure


Julian: An audio revolution is in the works — and IRIS is a part of it

Audio has been a second class citizen for a very long time. We’ve lived in an ocular culture for a long time, where things are designed to look good — and sound is forgotten. That is changing. Organisations are spending billions on speech recognition and voice synthesis so that we can speak and listen instead of reading and typing. We’ll soon be living in an auditory age where brands will have to have an auditory presence, or they’ll cease to exist. Sound will finally get the attention it deserves, including those in IRIS’s suite of products.


If we look at video conferencing, sound is the most important thing. If the video goes down, you can still carry on the discussion — if the audio goes, you cannot.” — Julian Treasure


Julian: Consuming poor audio causes brain fatigue — leading to stress and distraction.

When we listen to compressed music, a lot of spatial information is missing and the brain has to work overtime to imagine the missing bits, which is fatiguing. To fix it, we are tempted to turn up the volume, which can result in hearing damage.

When we hear a disruption in our own background that might reflect poorly on an online call, we immediately disengage as our brain thinks of how to maintain professionalism while resolving the disruption.

Interesting note: When Julian’s dog started barking during our call, Julian was concerned about it affecting the quality of the podcast — and yet, we couldn’t hear a thing thanks to IRIS Clarity.


Tom: Mixing technologies can set us up for a fully-optimised environment. 

Pairing noise-cancelling headphones with IRIS Clarity is the perfect solution for an optimal working environment. The headphones cancel noise around you for you — like Julian’s dog for Julian. Then when you introduce IRIS Clarity, it cancels noise around you for the other person, and around them for you (so we don’t hear Julian’s dog). Mastering these sound elements helps you make a good impression in business, and helps the world relearn how to listen. 


Julian: Sound affects us cognitively and behaviourally.

We have very limited mental bandwidth for processing audio. For example, you can’t understand two people talking at the same time — we simply can’t think properly with noise. Music has a surprising impact on our behaviour, too. One study conducted in a supermarket showed that just a simple change in music affected how much French wine or German wine customers chose to purchase. We all owe it to ourselves to become more conscious of sound. 


Julian: We need to preserve our inner voice to protect our productivity.

We use an inner voice a lot when we’re working, particularly if we’re writing or dealing with numbers. With our limited bandwidth for audio and the inherent programming of our brain to decode language around us, we simply can’t listen to both our inner voice and somebody else at the same time. This dramatically reduces our capability of working, particularly in open plan offices, where as much as two thirds of productivity is lost. In other words, you’re three times more productive in a quiet room than in an open plan, noisy office.

We have to think carefully about creating audio environments which support people in what they’re doing. One good solution is activity-based working environments, where you have spaces for working, spaces for calls, and spaces for collaborative work.


Julian: Removing noise and enhancing speech in real-time is an exciting application of AI. 

For a long time, audio professionals have had access to wonderful post-production tools to remove noise, enhance speech or vocals, and generally do incredible things to really poorly recorded audio. Doing it in real-time is a whole different ball game, and a great boon. 

Listen to the full podcast here or watch below, and stay tuned for our upcoming episodes of the IRISPod, including one with Dr Nigel Oseland that delves deeper into workplace environments and productivity.




0:00 – Intro

2:21 – Listening should be taught in schools

3:23 – Audio has been a second-class citizen for too long — and a revolution is in the works

6:40 – Sound contains spatial information which is lost in digital compression and streaming

19:22 – Poor audio can impact our health long-term

21:31 – Julian’s dog barks… and we can’t hear it because IRIS Clarity is turned on

22:21 – Mixing technologies can set us up with a fully focused and productive environment

24:01 – Sound affects everything in our body: heart rate, breathing, hormones, brainwaves, behaviour

29:07 – We must preserve our inner voice to protect our productivity

35:13 – Meet the Neil Harborson, the human cyborg who can hear colour

38:24 – Bringing control to uncontrollable environments in real-time through AI

41:38 – Where to find Julian Treasure: read his book, watch his TED talk, take his course, and learn about his sound agency