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Hand holding a cell phone above Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The Mixhalo app in action at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Photo by Barbara Urzua
Culture

We Tried Red Rocks’ New Audio Technology

The iconic concert venue partnered with tech company Mixhalo to bring audio straight from the soundboard to your headphones—an option that’s helpful for people with hearing difficulties.

Dark, aggressive bass drops and deafening dubstep beats echo off of the sandstone slabs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre as I hastily try to shove foam plugs in my ears. It’s mid-October, and the venue is playing host to electronic producers Black Tiger Sex Machine. Most fans are more than ready to head bang. But as I attempt to enjoy the opening acts from the last few rows of the venue, the foam in my ear isn’t making for the best sound quality.

Enter Mixhalo, a California-based tech company that promises a solution for the “too loud” or “not loud enough” predicaments many of us face at concerts. Red Rocks recently began using the firm’s app, which lets you listen to live sound through a pair of headphones. As soon as I placed a pair of noise-canceling headphones over my ears and connected them to the Mixhalo app, I was able to hear the heavy bass drops at a comfortable volume.

The technology may be complex, but the idea is simple. The venue connects the Mixhalo server to its sound mixer, audio data is transferred to wireless antennas, and the music is then delivered directly to the audience. Concertgoers simply download the Mixhalo app on a smartphone, connect to the venue, and immediately begin listening to the live audio feed through a pair of headphones.

Husband-and-wife duo Michael Einziger and Ann Marie Simpson-Einziger founded Mixhalo in 2016. As the lead guitarist for American rock band Incubus and a world-renowned violinist, respectively, the couple knows a thing or two about sound quality. “As touring musicians, our founders have been wearing in-ear monitors for a couple of decades,” says Mixhalo CEO John Vars. “They thought, ‘Why can’t everyone in the audience have this same audio experience?’ ”

The startup launched its first Mixhalo demo with Incubus, and the seamless trial run quickly led to partnerships with other big-name artists such as Metallica, Aerosmith, and Charlie Puth. Just a few years later, in 2019, venues like Staples Center began using Mixhalo in its shows. Despite its growing popularity, the tech team still had eyes for one beloved amphitheatre. “Red Rocks is one of the most incredible venues in the country, we knew we had to partner with them,” Vars says.

Turns out, Red Rocks representatives were just as eager to bring the tech to Colorado’s favorite music venue. “Red Rocks is already an experience of its own, but combining Mixhalo with Red Rocks shows really creates a one-of-a-kind live music experience,” says Brian Kitts, spokesperson for Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Mixhalo made its Red Rocks debut earlier this summer. During the initial launch, however, social media rumors led to a misunderstanding of the tech. After the amphitheatre tweeted that concertgoers in the back rows should test the app out for themselves, social media users speculated that the new partnership meant lower decibel levels. Red Rocks faced an influx of angry Facebook commenters, as well as a Change.org petition demanding that the decibel limit be reinstated. “I do not come from out of the country to listen to headphones at a live show,” one commenter said.

“Our decibel limit was changed in 2016 and has not changed since,” Kitts says. “The uproar was just the result of a misunderstanding. Mixhalo is simply an optional add on that we want people to try out for themselves, should they want to.”

The experience I had at Black Tiger Sex Machine was positive. As someone who has loved ones that now suffer from permanent tinnitus from attending live shows, you can often find me encouraging friends (and sometimes strangers) to shove the cheap foam in their ears. Yet by connecting the Mixhalo app to noise-canceling headphones, I was able to listen to the electronic beats at a comfortable level. Plus, the sound in my headphones arrived at the exact same time as the direct sound from the venue speakers, so there was no awkward delay when I took my headphones off.

“We’ve heard from so many users that this really helps if they have some sort of hearing difficulties,” Vars says. “You can really lower or amplify the volume to what works best for you.”

At select concerts, fans can even tune in to specific instruments. That means you might be able to listen specifically to Steven Tyler’s vocals or Joe Perry’s guitar at your next Aerosmith show.

As for the future of Mixhalo, Vars hopes the startup can break into more than just concerts and sporting events. Currently, Mixhalo’s only Colorado partnership is Red Rocks, although the company hopes to expand to other music venues in the state, along with being used at conferences and talks. “We’ve also started talking to the military, zoos, and even malls about how Mixhalo can benefit them,” Vars says.

Despite the initial confusion, Kitts hopes Red Rocks concertgoers will try out the technology for themselves. Mixhalo currently has a testing booth at the top plaza of the amphitheatre where guests can borrow a pair of headphones and hear the audio for themselves.

“It’s such a cool technology,” Kitts says, “and Red Rocks is the perfect venue for it.”

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