AUSTIN - Legendary American rock band Styx is famous for its hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s. This band is also a group that consistently works to be on the forefront of audio technology -- and will allow some lucky Austinites the chance to hear their music like never before.
Peter Conforti is a middle school math teacher in Leander ISD and has gone through most of his life with hearing difficulties.
"When I was 15, I was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease," Conforti said. "The hearing in my left ear was affected but I was able to compensate using my right ear."
However, as Conforti got older, these hearing issues spread to his right ear as well.
"I really noticed that I couldn't catch day-to-day speech," Conforti said. "I couldn't catch lectures in the classroom. Whenever I would be in crowds of people, I couldn't really catch full conversations. I knew I was missing out on important pieces of information."
And it provided plenty of discomforts as well.
"The way I describe it to my friends is - it's like - if somebody took two symbols and crashed it outside your ears and it just kept ringing," Conforti said.
So, Conforti took advice from a friend and visited an audiologist in Austin -- Dr. Sabrina Olivia of Capital Otolaryngology. Olivia's father came down with serious hearing loss from military exposure.
"Consequently, hearing aids and hearing care awareness have been a big part of my life," Olivia said. "My dad getting hearing aids changed our relationship."
Since Olivia got into the hearing care business, she said the industry has drastically changed with time. For a good amount of time, most hearing aids provided analog sound before the 1990s when those devices started to transition to digital sound. This offered a clearer, crisp sound.
But, there still remained the issue of where the sound was coming from as most of the hearing aids in the 1990s had a fixed direction microphone -- meaning you could only hear what was right in front of you.
"The problem with the fixed directional microphone is when we're talking to someone, it's not always the person right in front of us, especially when we're with family and friends," Olivia said. "We don't practice good oral hygiene, if you would say, in terms of communications skills. Speech is dynamic and happens all around you."
Eventually, hearing aids transitioned away from this type of microphone and allowed people to hear all around them. Now, a recent hearing aid has changed the game altogether.
The hearing aid manufacturing company Oticon was founded in 1904 by Hans Demart, who had a wife with hearing impairment. Today, they have recently come out with the "Oticon Opn" hearing aid, which is going to go beyond making sound clear.
Sheena Oliver is the vice president of marketing for the company as well as an audiologist. She said she is still surprised what this hearing aid can do.
"Oticon Opn is the world's first Internet-connected hearing aid," Oliver said. "You can connect to your television, your smoke detectors, your doorbells, your cell phone. All of the things that we're seeing move into smart homes are going into these Opn hearing aids. It really allows people to get back in it and be engaged."
So where does Styx come into the picture? The rock band has partnered with Oticon to bring their users a unique experience. For the first time ever in the world, when Styx performs live at PNC Bank in New Jersey on Aug. 22 at 9:38 p.m. E.T., they are going to live broadcast their performance into these hearing aids -- something Conforti is going to get to take advantage of.
"I'm very excited, I can't believe this is actually going to happen," Conforti said.
This adaption by the hearing aids isn't just to provide some fun new features; it's a part of a bigger picture to help people with hearing issues not only lessen their burden but also give them functional, applicable elements to using in their day-to-day lives.
"There are things for people with normal hearing that we tend to take for granted on a daily basis," Oliver said. "This really allows people to have a more natural, clear and open sound while taking advantage of the technology we have today."
So while Conforti is excited to listen to Styx Tuesday, he is just as thankful for how this device has changed his personal and professional life.
"It really has helped me to connect with family, connect with friends, connect in my profession and really help me get over something that I never expected to have to deal with in life," Conforti said.
To learn more about the Oticon Opn and its technology, go here.
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