Most of you have probably been to concerts where the sound sucked, where all of the music was blown out and you couldn’t make out a single word of the lyrics.
Now, you might have had a great time regardless (concerts are funny that way), but bad sound isn’t exactly a selling point. It can be particularly frustrating if you’re seeing a musician you love playing your favorite songs — and I’m guessing it’s even more painful when you’re the musician.
That’s why Mike Einziger, guitarist of the band Incubus, is launching MIXhalo. He told me that when musicians are on-stage, they can hear their performances through headphones with great audio, but then they have to “blast music at people through speakers.” Even if those speakers are good, the sound changes depending on “the physics of the space,” with quality varying in different parts of the venue.
With MIXhalo, on the other hand, you install the iOS app (there are plans for an Android version, too), connect to a special MIXhalo network and then you can hear what Einziger called a “a really, really high quality, studio-quality audio experience,” even if you’re “a thousand feet away from the stage.” He said it draws on the audio that the performs are already hearing, except it’s mixed specifically for the audience.
“There’s potential for a much more intimate experience,” he added.
Einziger founded the company with his wife, violinist Ann Marie Simpson. Audio engineer Darren LaGroe is CTO, and Matt Salsamendi from Beam (the startup that won Disrupt NY last year) is an adviser.
An important piece of the experience is a special WiFi technology that MIXhalo calls “halocasting,” allowing thousands or even tens of thousands of listeners to connect to the network without problems. It delivers the audio with extremely low latency — the music reaches listeners faster than the speed of sound, Einziger said.
He just finished showing off MIXhalo’s technology on-stage with his bandmates from Incubus at Disrupt NY, with some help from one of his investors, Pharrell Williams. Beforehand, I used MIXhalo to listen to an Incubus performance and follow along with one of our Disrupt talks — it sounded loud and clear, like I was right in front of the stage.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be in the room at Disrupt, Einziger said Incubus will be testing the technology when it goes on tour this summer, with plans for a broader rollout this fall.
As for making money, Einziger said he’s focused on “getting the technology in people’s hands” before he develops a definite business model: “I’m open to all options.”
I also wondered if asking users to listen to music on their phones means that some of the communal experience of concerts gets lost. In Einziger’s view, “It just provides a different experience. It shows a different version of something we’ve seen a thousand times.”
He said that while MIXhalo could eventually replace concert speakers, it can also complement that sound, with the speakers basically functioning as a subwoofer for the music in your headphones.
Also worth noting: While I find them kind of mystifying, silent discos are totally a thing.
“The technology has some pretty wide applications,” Einziger said. “It could be very easily used elsewhere. Musical theater is a really obvious place for it, auditoriums and lecture halls, anyplace where somebody is going to be speaking.”
Update: Here’s what actually happened during the on-stage demo. Incubus played three songs, closing out with “Get Lucky” with Pharrell. I listened on my iPhone earbuds and it sounded great. (There were a few moments when the sound skipped – it seemed to be affected by the positioning of our phones and whether we had other apps running.) For parts of the performance, they completely muted the vocals playing through the speakers, but it sounded so good through MIXhalo that it took a while for anyone to notice.
Granted, I had just forgotten to shake Pharrell’s hand, so my brain was not working properly. But everyone around me was listened on their iPhones and they seemed to be having a good time, too.