/ Technology

The future of music in public places

iPod dock in Pizza Express

Ever wished you could rock out to your own music in a restaurant? Well, our dreams could come true with this latest sound innovation that exploits acoustic chambers to contain our tunes.

I’ve often walked around London town sharing headphones with a friend. Although this lets us enjoy the same tracks, it does come with a few negatives, such as lop-sided listening, tugging on each other’s ears and accidentally clotheslining people strutting in the other direction.

Pizza Express’ novel solution is the installation of acoustic domes dangling above dining tables that’ll not only contain your iPod music, but also keep out ambient noise.

No, I’m not suggesting that we walk around town with metal domes hanging precariously over our heads like salon hair dryers. But when we finally escape the streets and sit down for some grub, we could enjoy mutual music without irritating others.

My future of sound

Pizza Express has decided to install iPod docks on each of its tables. But the magic comes with the chambers hanging above. Not only does this let you choose your own music, its innovative design creates a cosy soundproof area without actually walling you in.

Click to enlarge

The pizza chain will be trialling the technology in its experimental ‘Living Lab’ in Richmond. Here they’ll collect customer feedback before rolling it out. It sounds like it might be a little pricey.

So perhaps I’m hyping up this technology a bit too much, and maybe it doesn’t work quite as well as I hope it will. But wouldn’t it be cool to have these booths installed in train stations, airports, offices or even at home?

Picture a life where you can watch Top Gear while your other half listens to Lady Gaga. Both in the same room, without headphones, and without aggravating one another. I’m signing up to this future of sound – who’s with me?

Sophie Gilbert says:
29 October 2010

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about this. Just now I’m finding the whole proposition hilarious.

Sophie Gilbert says:
2 November 2010

After having given this interesting idea more thought, I have comments.
1) I will be very surprised if sound doesn’t escape from these acoustic chambers even a little bit. This could be unless the machines are state of the art, but are they going to be? I can already see cheap restaurants giving this a go and it will be like being surrounded by people listening to loud music through their headphones: more irritating than music not to one’s taste.
2) I will also be very suprised if Pizza Express and others who try this don’t pass on the cost of installing and running these machines to their customers.
3) If the machines are only compatible with iPods and you don’t have one you’re stuffed. I have no intention of ever going to a restaurant where they have those machines, but I hope for the sake of those who would like to give it a try that they will be adapted to accept other devices than iPods.
4) I don’t see how this is going to be affordable at home. There is no way this is going to be as cheap as a couple of headphones. That in itself would signal that it is never going to be a mass market thing.
5) Finally, a small philosophical comment, this looks to me like insulating oneself or one’s little group in a bubble, not participating in the shared experience of going to the restaurant, or living together. (I know it isn’t always practical or wanted, but at home having silence for a bit can be a very effective time out mechanism.)

pickle says:
31 October 2010

I am against any music in public places – it is intrusive and raises the level of sound when people want to talk to each other. Silence is golden! I you want to have music all the time there are many devices where you can listen without affecting others nearby.

I think that such a system can only work when you are in static situations. What many of us find drives us to distraction is the highly inappropriate application of unwanted noise. At Addenbrooks hospital the deafening noise of some silly pop star whining out a pathetic whine nearly drove me out of the toilet before I had completed my ablutions. The same mindless noise was in the food court but at least it was attenuated to a degree by the people and the noises they made. Some background sounds can be useful and relaxing, but they must (a) be in the background and (b) soothing. Phill Spector need not apply!

Alan Singlehurst says:
22 July 2015

I recently visited a Pizza Express in Chester and was appalled by the deafeningly loud music played all the way through our meal. Conversation was impossible and at every break between tracks the customers all rushed to talk before it was all blocked out again. A relaxing meal it was not. It’s encouraging to see that the company is looking for a solution that pleases everyone, but why do we always look to technology to solve our problems these days? The answer in a restaurant is to play not-too-intense music at a not-too-loud volume. That’s all. Create an ambience without perforating any eardrums. It’s really not rocket science and it’s what establishments used to do in the past. The clue is in the phrase ‘background music’. Nowadays, business proprietors have been told that beaty music makes us all get a move on so we’re out the door quicker and the customer turnover, and hence profits, are higher. But that doesn’t take account of the fact that when the customer steps outside into relative calm, he or she says, “God, that was bedlam! I won’t be going there again.”

This has already been done and developed the correct way. Check out Brown Innovations or this blog https://browninnovations.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/mitstanfordwormholevideoconferencingdirectionalaudio/