Professor Charles Spence (a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University) conducted an experiment where twenty research subjects were asked to sit in a soundproof booth, put headphones on, and bite into 200 Pringles potato chips. After each “crunch”, the subject had to spit out the chip and rate it: fresh or less fresh, crisp or less crisp. He did not tell them that he was adjusting the crunch sound as he looped it back into their headphones; using an equalizer and an amplifier, he was able to boost or muffle particular frequencies (or the overall volume). Although every single chip was identical in freshness and crispness, nearly every volunteer swore that there was a difference between them. In fact, participants rated chips that had been given a higher pitch and volume as being a full 15% fresher and crunchier than the softer-sounding chips.
While research specifically linking podcast audio quality and conversion rates/brand image is pretty much non-existent (I’m working on it!), there is a significant amount of research to suggest that sound quality impacts our perception and reception of products and services more generally.
To provide a related example: developers and scholars who specialise in video games have put together a fairly comprehensive body of work on how audio quality impacts experience and perception; and their findings have been in line with Spence’s. When given two games with identical video quality and significantly different sound quality, players believed that the game with the better audio had better visuals, too. While podcasting is a mono-sensory experience (show artwork excluded), these findings are still important; they suggest that our perception of quality is directly impacted by what’s coming in our ears. If somebody has poor audio quality when talking about a product or service, it’s highly probable that people will believe that product or service to be of lower quality than a product or service they’ve been introduced to through a high quality podcast episode.
The field of game studies has also waxed lyrical about just how important audio is to our emotional experience of a game; that the small details conveyed to us through sound, like a cracking voice or a struggle not to laugh, tell us a lot about the worlds we’re inhabiting and how we’re supposed to feel about them. Good quality audio lets you hear the important details. Stories become more powerful when we can hear the small changes in people’s voices that betray their emotions or perspective.
Another piece of research which appears highly applicable to podcasting is a test where filmmakers proved that harsh, frequent cuts affected people’s ability to remember a scene. Small, expected cuts made little to no difference; sudden cuts which were intended to disorient the viewer had a significant impact. This makes perfect sense of you think about it; if something is always jarring your senses (be they visual or auditory), then you can’t maintain focus. If a podcast has frequent drop-outs, or even just sudden changes in audio volume (such as a guest moving closer to the mic), your audience’s ability to retain the information you’re giving them is likely to be compromised.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most directly relevant piece of research for podcasting: studies show that a poor connection (bad sound) on a business call can have a huge impact on how people perceive that business. 79% of people surveyed by Empirix said that they had experienced poor audio quality on a business call, and that (as a direct result of the audio quality) they felt stress and anger toward the caller.
Putting all of these pieces together, it’s clear that your podcast’s audio quality is going to have an impact on how people perceive you and your business. Karly runs regular webinars providing useful tips and hints for improving your audio quality, even if all you have is an Apple headset; and we provide a wealth of information and tutorials on audio recording and editing in Module Two of Radcasters. To find out more about Radcasters and what you can learn, please check out our sales page.