As a growing number of headlines will tell you, noise is the next public health crisis. That’s obvious if you’re outside and surrounded by the sounds of sirens, construction, car horns, and, at least in NYC, those infuriating garbage trucks.
But noise levels have risen inside, too, at restaurants, cafes, and bars where we go to socialize. Be it loud music, rowdy crowds, or just poor design of the space, this cacophony of noise is annoying at best and, at worst, a stranglehold for both the business and its guests.
Greg Scott created SoundPrint in response to this problem. The iOS-compatible app lets users measure decibel levels in a public space like a restaurant or bar, then upload that information to a database, which all SoundPrint users can access and use when choosing places to eat, drink, and socialize.
The idea emerged when Scott, who suffers from hearing loss, went on a series of dates and kept running into the same problem: He would search for quiet spots on Google or Yelp, only to arrive at the actual location and find it problematically noisy 95 percent of the time. (As if dating in NYC weren’t challenging enough already.) “In essence, there wasn’t anything useful out there,” Scott says to me over video chat.
So he bought a decibel meter and started keeping a list of quiet spots around the city, which he shared with friends who also suffered from hearing difficulties. The idea of an app that crowdsourced the noise levels of restaurants around the country came to him in California, when he tried to find a restaurant and realized the issue of finding a quieter spot was even harder outside your hometown.
As a SoundPrint user, you can both measure sound and search for quiet (or not-so-quiet) restaurants, cafes, and bars. Theoretically, you could use the app anywhere, though it works best in one of the aforementioned settings. To measure the noise levels, you just hit the “soundcheck” button on the app. The closer the number on the screen gets to 100, the higher the decibel level of the space around you. A decibel level of 70 or less is quiet; 71 to 75 dB is moderate, and 76 dB and over is loud. Once decibel level is determined, you can upload the information to the SoundPrint database, thereby making it available to all users looking for quiet places.
Scott says as of now Manhattan gets a lot of submissions, and there are plans to grow outreach in Brooklyn, too. But SoundPrint isn’t confined to NYC. You can find rated establishments everywhere from from Washington DC and Baltimore to San Francisco and Las Vegas. SoundPrint is also growing in popularity in a slew of mid-size cities like Austin and Nashville, too.
For those who are simply sensitive to noise, SoundPrint is a convenience that can streamline the process of picking a restaurant. For others, it answers a problem that’s long gone without a solution: how to engage in social activities at normal venues when you suffer from hearing loss, sensory disorders, and other disabilities. Even those with conditions like blindness and autism can benefit, since these people tend to rely more on their hearing than the average citizen and therefore need to be able to clearly hear their friends and family. Reaching all these types is his primary purpose, Scott says, though the app is really for anyone. “Most of the people who use the app don’t have hearing loss, they just want good conversation,” he adds.
SoundPrint is similar to the iHEARu app in terms of what it provides to the end user. But Scott has set his company slightly apart by also focusing on how to help the restaurants themselves, many of whom know they have a noise problem but don’t know of a cost-effective way to fix it. He cites one restaurant, in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood, who kept getting noise complaints (from outside sources, not SoundPrint). They contacted Scott, who brought in an acoustic design consultant. A few inexpensive pieces of paneling later, the noise problem was mitigated. “It went from irritatingly loud to pleasantly loud by changing a few decibels,” Scott says.
He sees this work of making restaurants aware of their noise problems (and offering solutions) as a way of helping businesses, not hindering them. “We’re not out to attack loud restaurants at all,” he says. “But if there are places that want to improve their sound acoustics, we want to reward them and promote those restaurants.”
While other types of venues may be on the horizon, for the foreseeable future, SoundPrint is keeping its focus on restaurants, bars, and cafes, since they’re the typical places for socializing. “You don’t go to a football stadium to talk to someone,” he notes.
We’re already living in an age where it’s increasingly difficult to connect with people offline, and noisy bars don’t help. Any effort to minimize the challenges is a win for the average citizen, and potentially a huge opportunity for business.