SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - If you have hearing loss, a system now installed in many Santa Barbara theaters is delivering audio to your ears in a way you may have thought would never happen again.
Over the recent holidays, mainly during the overnight hours, the OTOjOY company installed the audio loop system in six of the Metro and Fiesta theaters in Santa Barbara.
The wiring that sends out the signal is under the carpet and needed to be laid in a pattern under and around the seats.
Watching those with hearing loss hear audio with new clarity is emotional for the company founder Thomas Kaufmann. "A lot of times we see tears when someone uses the system for the first time they never used the system before they suddenly hear sounds they thought they would never hear again in their lifetime and they are just completely blown away," he said. "They can't believe how well they can hear the clarity the system gives them."
The latest hookup at the Metro and Fiesta 5 is just in time for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival which begins on Wednesday.
Kaufmann is a UC Santa Barbara graduate with a Master of Science degree in Chemistry. He has a German degree in Physics. He began designing and installing the hearing assistance system in 2012.
Kaufmann worked with Metropolitan Theaters on the system installation. He says it is connected to the audio device coming from the projector room upstairs in a theater. It's wired in the same sound rack. "With this you have a direct connection to the sound system and it only plays the sounds that you want to hear," he says.
The latest connection was made possible by Nora McNeely-Hurley and her family Manitou Fund. She personally has significant hearing loss in both ears. "I wasn't enjoying performances to my fullest potential that is for sure," said McNeely-Hurley.
Kaufmann and his Otojoy company realized those seeing films were missing out on content. "The movies was something that a lot of people in the community with hearing loss said we would like to have better access there."
For those without hearing aids there are headsets at theaters with the OTOjOY hearing sign posted.
If you do have hearing devices, "you go to your audiologist, they set you up quickly easily with the setting you can access it that way and bingo you are on," said McNeely-Hurley who smiles enthusiastically while explaining the system that has returned clear audio to her ears.
Anyone with a hearing device or cochlear implants are capable of hearing the OTOjOY system. In many cases it only takes a push on a button on your device to make the connection to the coil system.
It is currently in many other local venues. "The Lobero Theatre has the system, the Arlington, the Granada and the Santa Barbara Bowl," said Kaufmann. It is also in the Riviera Theater.
Another way to access the audio enhancement is through specially designed buds with a built in receiving device and a free phone app.
Besides theaters, this system is now in several government buildings, and performance sites in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
In parts of Europe it is widespread. Kaufmann says, "it is in basically every church, every theatre and performing arts (venue) and even at ticket counters or bank teller windows."
McNeely-Hurley says, "it goes from a muffled sound where you can't distinguish vocabulary to crystal clear."
The cost of the installation varies depending on the size of the venue and working to get a clean signal through some construction materials used for the floors and walls. Generally it runs about $6000. and up.
The company is now based in Phoenix but previously it was in Santa Barbara.
For more information go to: https://otojoy.com/
For more information about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival go to: https://sbiff.org/