Overcast’s Smart Speed: faster podcasts that don’t feel faster

I listen to podcasts, and I listen to them fast. I make liberal use the audio acceleration feature in most podcasting apps. If you haven’t experienced this, it’s surprisingly effective, boosting the speed without increasing the pitch (time shifting1). It feels like “downloading” knowledge to my brain at high speed, like Neo learning kung fu in The Matrix, and there’s reason to believe it’s more than just a feeling.2

So I fill most of my spare moments with radio rapidly beaming into my brain through ear buds. This is a pretty great, but a lot of speed listening has nerve-jangling side effects, like caffeine: my mind races to match the pace of the accelerated talking, and it can get pretty weird, the opposite of the way pot makes things slow down. During the day, all the fast talk resonates with my enterpreneurial workaholism — an interesting and mostly helpful phenomenon — but it becomes a problem in the evening. If I don’t slow everything down, my brain will vibrate for half the night.

Overcast to the rescue

Overcast is a new podcasting app that uses an additional method of accelerating audio called “Smart Speed” — the best thing to happen to radio since podcasting itself. It trims playback time without the chipmunk vibe of time shifting, by clipping out all the tiny pauses. The result is faster without feeling faster. This awesomeness can be toggled independently, so around late afternoon I switch to Smart Speed only. Overcast tells me I’ve saved about 2 hours of listening time so far.

Weirdly, I ended up posting about messing with time in both audio and video today. See also: Hyperlapse.)


  1. Time stretching changes audio the speed or duration without affecting pitch. Pitch scaling or shifting is the opposite: changing pitch without affecting speed. 

  2. Wikipedia: “While one might expect speeding up to reduce comprehension, Herb Friedman says that ‘Experiments have shown that the brain works most efficiently if the information rate through the ears—via speech—is the average reading rate, which is about 200-300 wpm (words per minute), yet the average rate of speech is in the neighborhood of 100-150 wpm.’ Speeding up audio is seen as the equivalent of speed reading.”