Act II Playhouse Hearing Assistance

See  update below.

We took in a performance of Mark Twain Unplugged at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler recently, specifically to try out the hearing assistance that is offered there.  The results were disappointing, although I really appreciate the fact that Act II is making some effort in this direction.

Act II has a Sennheiser IR system, which incorporates a stethoscope type of receiver,  with earbuds, and no option of plugging anything, e.g. headset or neckloop into the receiver.  Incompatible with hearing aids, unless you take them out, and completely useless with a cochlear implant.  The irony is rich – hearing assistance that is of no use to those who need it most.

I have a modular IR receiver that works with a neckloop, which I have used at the nearby Ambler (movie) Theater.  But this receiver works on a 95kHz carrier, and the Sennheiser uses a 2.3MHz carrier, a newer technology.  A 2.3MHz receiver module can be bought for about $150, the Williams WIR RX22

My wife, who doesn’t really need it, tried out the system for me, and said it worked quite well.  I could not determine how sound was picked up; performers are not miked at Act II.  I’ll try to find out.

Actually I was able to follow the show pretty well.  It was a one-man show with Tom Teti (two, actually, with an accompanist), so there were never multiple voices to contend with.  Act II is small, about 100 seats.

Hal Holbrook of course owns the Mark Twain character, and is still performing it at 89.  But you’ll have to travel, or be content with YouTube clips.

Don Groff

Update  March 19, 2015

I went back to Act II last night, armed with a Williams RX22 IR receiver and a neckloop to see Unnecessary Farce.  Regrettably, the hearing assistance results were less than satisfactory.  Performers are not miked, and I could not determine how the “ambient” miking was done.  It seemed that when the actors were at the left side of the stage, I got some modest benefit from the system (we were on the right side), but when they were on the right, I did better by turning it off.

I’ll be returning the RX22, even though it did its own job very well.

Even missing much of the dialog, I thoroughly enjoyed Farce.  having studied the synopsis and reviews.  Farce indeed, and a visual treat, would have been enjoyable with no dialog at all.


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