Elton John Concerts Use App to Help Hearing-Impaired Guests

Elton John

Photo by Jordi Vidal/WireImage via Getty Images

Technology and music have always enjoyed a fruitful, if at times tenuous, relationship, from the day Bob Dylan went electric to the advent of production tools like auto tune to the notion of sending deceased artists out on tour via hologram. Elton John, however, is trying something different.

For his Farewell Yellow Brick Road retirement tour, the legendary rocker is taking the tech off stage and putting it in the hands of fans — in this case, those with hearing issues — to enhance their concert experience. The 72-year-old has partnered with the Peex app, which filters the sound of the concert via wearable tech through the user’s phone to allow them to control the levels of the various instruments and audio emanating from the stage.

“I am passionate about giving my fans my best possible performance and making sure they get the best possible experience,” John said in a statement. “Over the last four years, I’ve been working with the talented team at Peex, who have developed an incredible new technology that will revolutionize the way fans listen to live music.”

Users just need a smartphone and one of the Peex devices, which they wear around their neck. And with John playing his final two Canadian tour dates in Toronto on Wednesday and Thursday, Canuck concertgoers can take advantage of the Peex app by renting the devices at the Scotiabank Arena or booking them online.

According a BBC report, the wearable device contains a small microphone that captures the sound from your seat. At the same time, the music is sent to the app separately through transmitters around the arena. The app syncs both feeds and provides up and down volume bars on your phone screen, each of which represents a different instrument onstage.

So, for example, if John’s belting out “The Bitch Is Back” and you want to hear his piano solo more clearly, you can turn up the volume on the piano and turn down the other instruments and even the vocals. You can turn each one up or down to your desired specifications until you have the sound mix you want (for a visual demonstration, see the BBC video below). The earphones provided with the Peex device don’t cancel noise around you, so you can still hear the crowd.

“This is a great example of how technology enabling people to personalize the sound to their own unique preference can help those living with hearing loss,” Jesal Vishnuram, the technology manager at the U.K.-based charity Action on Hearing Loss, told The Telegram. “As everyone’s hearing is different, this allows each person to adjust the sounds they can and can’t hear to enhance their listening experience.”

While the app is ideal for concertgoers with hearing loss, the technology could also work for those who enjoy concerts but find them too loud. As journalist Jonah Woolley noted in a recent article for Medium, the average concert is between 110 and  120 decibels. “For a reference, a busy street comes in at 80 dB, and the average conversation is 60 dB. That is loud enough that you will begin to suffer hearing damage after just 30 minutes of exposure.”

So concertgoers with hearing sensitivities can use Peex to control the volume of the show, adjusting all the instruments to a comfortable level.

Like any app, the experience depends on the individual user. When the BBC asked concertgoers at a recent Elton John show about their experience with Peex, one noted the app worked great, but the concert’s sound quality was already so good the app wasn’t tested as much as it might be at a different artist’s show. Another user suggested it made her feel somewhat isolated, listening on the earphones to her own sound specifications while everyone else listened without them. Yet another raved about the tech.

“It’s an amazing system,” she said in a post-concert interview. “I even let people next to me listen to it.”