Wearing headphones at a concert is music to your ears with this app

It might seem strange to cover your ears at a live concert, but Peeble could solve the problems of awful acoustics -- not to mention the guy in front of you who won't shut up.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read
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I love live music. Hearing music played by talented musicians is...wow, I wish that guy in front of me would stop talking. Anyway, to catch the nuances of your favourite...blimey, the acoustics on this side of the room are awful. Right, as I was saying...what? I said, AS I WAS SAYING...forget it, it's too loud in here.

Yes, there's a lot that can go wrong at a live concert. But French startup Augmented Acoustics thinks it can solve those problems and help you enjoy your favourite music the way it was meant to be heard, provided you're prepared to wear headphones at the concert.

I asked the monsieurs and madames from Augmented Acoustics to explain the benefits when I met them at 4 Years from Now, a startup showcase held at technology trade show Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

You're at a concert. On stage the musicians are playing their hearts out. The music is picked up by the mics on stage and fed into the mixing desk for the sound engineer to balance the sound that comes out of the speakers. And at the same time, that pure, balanced performance from the stage is broadcast to a small device called a Peeble you're wearing around your neck.

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Plug some Bose headphones into your Peeble and you can enjoy the performance as it's played without worrying about people talking around you or poor sound in the venue. It's great for picking up delicate whispers and nuances that could be lost in the crowd noise, especially for the hearing-impaired. And it's especially useful at festivals, where you can hear the same whether you're slap bang next to the speakers at the heart of the moshpit or sprawled in decadent luxury at the back of the field. In fact, you could even listen to music from the festival's other stages without ever having to move.

The system has built-in resynchronisation algorithms designed to kill any echo or weird out-of-sync sound filtering in from the main speakers. And if you want to fine-tune the performance you can do so with a smartphone app that controls the Peeble. Max out the volume for your favourite tunes and turn down those filler album tracks, or adjust the EQ to pick out the nuances of the instruments or pump up the bass.

In an age when piracy and streaming music are squeezing revenue for the music industry, live performance is an increasingly important source of revenue. Augmented Acoutics is another possible source of cash for concert halls, venues and festivals that could charge audience members to use the Peeble.

It could also be used to open unusual spaces for live performance, because you wouldn't need an unwieldy or expensive sound system when you could just have a performer, some mics, and an audience connected through their headphones -- like a silent disco, only live.

So far, the Peeble has brought music to the ears of French music-lovers at last year's Foud'rock festival in Magny-les-Hameaux and the Jazz over the Oise festival in Vauréal.

I could definitely see myself using a Peeble at a festival, although I think it would be less practical down the front of a sweaty punk gig. It would certainly stop me worrying that I'm damaging my hearing and sort out many of the problems of venues with terrible acoustics. Although unless they add some kind of periscope to the app, it probably can't do anything about the tallest person in the entire world choosing to stand right in front of you.

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