- Oct 28, 2004
This is pretty cool...
Umphrey’s McGee, a well-known ensemble on the jam-band circuit, is engaged in an experiment that may change the way we listen to live music – or at least the way a percentage of the audience does.What the band has done is to leverage the wireless technology that broadcasts music from the sound engineer’s mixing board to band members.
Umphrey’s fans can rent a wireless receiver and headphones that let them hear what the musicians hear, unaffected by the venue’s acoustics.
The receiving is done by a Sennheiser EK G3 wireless bodypack receiver, which is about the size of a pack of cards and clips to a belt or fits in a pocket. It is wired to a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor headphones.
The experiment is still in the early stages. Kevin Browning, strategy manager for the band and originator of the idea, said the system could support an unlimited number of headphones, although they are currently renting only 20.
That’s because system has some kinks to work out. Those kinks are more financial than technical. While renting the receiver and headphones is only $40, and you get a free digital download of that night’s show included, there is a heavy $500 deposit to cover the cost of the receiver and headset.
It’s also not a solution for people who find the shows too loud. To experience improved fidelity, the headphones need to be at least loud enough to match the amount of sound leaking into the headset, which is a significant amount. Fans can bring their own headphones to attach to the receiver, and it’s possible that a pair of in-ear sound isolating headphones might work to reduce the volume.
The volume levels didn’t seem to bother the renters at a show in Baltimore who appeared to listen in a state of near rapture.
In fact, said Matt Heller, who handles the rentals at each show, many of the people who rent the sets want the show to be louder. Mr. Heller said he rented a headset to a middle-aged fan in Los Angeles last March. “He took his hearing aids out, put on the headphones and said he had never heard a show sounded that well,” Mr. Heller said. “He was pretty much shedding tears.”
The band is looking into ways to drive down costs. One obvious route would be using an app to let people use their phones to listen by Wi-Fi. “That is very much being pursued,” Mr. Browning said. But there is a technological problem with sound delay, that makes the music broadcast out of sync with the band. “There are logistical hurdles that have stumped some engineers above my pay grade,” Mr. Browning said.