There are many reasons to attend concerts by rock legends, but music quality isn’t always one of them. I have been skeptical of “farewell tours” ever since I stood in line for hours at Turtle’s Records to buy tickets to what was billed as the Rolling Stones’ final pass through Atlanta. Don’t laugh—it was the Steel Wheels tour in 1990. So I didn’t rush out to buy tickets to Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road performances at State Farm Arena on November 1 and 2.
Then an unusual opportunity came along: A U.K. company called PEEX was looking for reviewers to test their new personalized sound system during John’s Atlanta performances. PEEX is a lightweight device with earbuds that hangs around your neck and connects via Bluetooth to an app on your phone. During a concert, live audio is relayed via a 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi signal directly to your app, where you can enjoy clear sound and adjust the feed to your preference—turning up vocals, keyboard, bass, guitar, or drums. If you attended one of the Elton John concerts, you probably spotted the vendors walking around in hot pink tee shirts, offering rentals for $15. The Rocketman himself is a shareholder, hence the test run on his tour. But the company plans to offer the technology in Atlanta through future partnerships with other artists and venues.
When I discussed the concept with my coworkers, we weren’t convinced it was a good idea. After all, we spend enough time glued to our phones. Isn’t getting away from your screen part of the appeal of attending a live concert? On the other hand, PEEX offers a tempting private link to the musicians, devoid of ambient noise and a raucous crowd.
So I gave it a try. First, sound was indeed relayed smoothly in real time, no matter how much I moved around the venue. In fact, though the massive video screen playing behind the performers was slightly delayed, my audio was not. However, up close to the stage, the sound was already pretty clean, so the device felt like a novelty. It was fun to crank up the guitar solo on “Rocketman,” and I loved doubling down on John’s mad keyboard skills. But I can’t say that the device seemed revolutionary, and the cheap earbuds were a little uncomfortable (you might want to bring your own).
However, I climbed to the top of the house to test how PEEX performed from the nosebleeds, and whoa. The difference in sound quality was dramatic—like the difference between being on the front row or listening from outside in the food court.
Bottom line: If it’s sound quality you’re after, PEEX will enhance your concert experience. But if you’re there for the mosh pit, save your money. Of course, I imagine PEEX knows its audience. They’ll probably be back if the Eagles return.