audiofile speaks exclusively to Silent Disco King (SDK) who pioneered the use of the world’s best silent disco headphones: comfortable, amazing sound, and extremely fun.
Over the last 10 years SDK has powered some of the biggest and most famous headphone events. The company also works with clients to help generate extra revenue through headphone usage, and contrived bespoke solutions to achieve the near impossible.
Hi and thank you for taking part in an interview with audiofile.
Can you tell audiofile more about Silent Disco King (SDK) and when it was established?
Silent Disco King began in February 2010 when we finally received our first 1,000 headphones. We just stared at them for a few weeks – not quite knowing how to start. Ideas always seem so much easier in your head!
One of SDK’s recent projects was at the iconic Glastonbury Festival where the firm activated a Silent Cinema and live DJ set with FatBoy Slim. Can you tell us more about the project?
Amongst the long list of things we love about Glastonbury, it is the opportunity to be involved with such a unique bunch of people working towards a united objective of creating the world’s best festival, that we love.
Cineramageddon was first introduced in 2017 after being painstakingly created by legendary Glastonbury artist, Joe Rush. The world’s largest and most extraordinary drive in cinema, with vehicles ranging from the Flinstones car and a buried Saab, to a Lear Jet.
Whilst sitting in vehicles, people watch a selection of movies curated by Julian Temple and at times introduced and enjoyed by icons such Johnny Depp.
Silent Disco King supplied a unique audio solution allowing people to listen to the film soundtracks. The system is RF based and transmits audio to our custom speakers in the vehicles. Extra guests can listen on headphones.
Our solution facilitated all night events on the boundaries of the festival site (without disturbing the neighbours – a very important factor!). It also meant we could provide audio where needed without masses of infrastructure providing power and security within the hundreds of unique vehicles.
Silent discos are becoming increasingly popular at so many festivals, why do you think this is the case and what has been the most wireless headphones you have recorded being used at an event?
We take 30,000 headphones to Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands which we believe is the most in one place anywhere in the world, but every year we seem to need more and more headphones everywhere we go.
It’s hard to pin point the growth of Silent Discos, but the more we do them the more demand seems to grow! We’ve been in the Telegraph’s top ten things to do at Glastonbury for nearly 10 years now, and every year there’s new people wanting to try it, whilst newer ideas like Silent Disco walking tours are now in Trip Advisor’s top ten things to do in London.
Silent Disco contrasts nicely with the rest of a festival – after spending all day wandering round watching their favourite bands at full volume, people seem to enjoy having a choice of music without having to walk anywhere, and without having to listen to the band their mates have chosen! It’s a solo experience for thousands of people at the same time, which creates a pretty special energy.
Can you elaborate more about the Harry headphone and the advantages it has compared to others currently on the market?
Harry is our most popular headphone, as it seems to strike the right balance between optimum audio quality and features, whilst looking nice and being simple to use.
When we introduced Harry in 2011, it was the first Silent Disco headphone with bright lights and 3 channel capabilities, so it was immediately a game changer for Silent Disco events.
It was also the first headphone to use internal rechargeable batteries, as the idea of dumping tens of thousands of disposable batteries as a price for having a party in a field didn’t sit well with us.
We had to figure out a whole new infrastructure for mass charging headphones which wasn’t cheap, easy or glamorous but felt like the right thing to do.
It’s the insides of Harry that have evolved most recently, due to customer demand. The two biggest improvements are our new class leading compander that delivers the silent “quiet” bits and crisp pronunciation of dialogue; and our unique transmission system that means we are now hosting events with thirty or more stereo channels of content to choose from.
The firm also provides packages for education and the Exam System is proving to be very popular. How does this system work?
The system is popular for listening exams – there are some schools where students were trying to listen to audio in echoey halls or with noisy distractions from neighbouring gyms and dining halls. The Silent Disco King headphone system gives everyone a fair chance to hear the audio clearly. Some schools and universities rent the headphones as they need them, but many buy the systems as they find them useful throughout the year.
Our education partner, Now Press Play, supplies our headphone systems to schools alongside unique audio experiences that are tied in with various key stages across all academic subjects. We currently have over 200 schools with annual subscriptions, and with a resubscription rate of over 90%; teachers are reporting that as well as offering extra class room variety, which students love, the headphone systems mean children of all ages can hear every word being said, without being distracted by chatter or background noises – resulting in a really high level of engagement.
SDK continues to provide premium headphones with crystal clean sound. How does the company continue to stay at the top?
We don’t think of ourselves as being at the top, but we just really focus on trying to do our absolute best for customers. We listen to what they ask for, and try and find ways to say yes – whether it’s a technical, logistical or environmental challenge. Sometimes it takes two minutes to make a change or improvement, sometimes we need to keep our heads down and focus on a project for five years before we have any news – but if we believe in always getting better, the path is already set out for us.
We’re lucky to have both a great set of customers and a great team of staff, and we all seem driven by wanting to do something great, unique or make things a bit better than last time.
What does the future of wireless mean for SDK?
We’re continually trying to do more whilst being as bandwidth efficient as possible – for example offering more channels, greater coverage areas and new audio experiences. Part of this is being a part of the legislation conversation, both in the UK and internationally – understanding what frequencies we can use now and in future around the world, as we try and anticipate growth and demand.
The exciting thing about Silent Disco King is we never really know what the future holds. Five years ago, we’d never have expected to be doing 30,000 headphone events, alongside yoga classes on beaches and translation services in churches.
I guess if we continue on the same trajectory we’ll probably be hosting silent comedy seminars for goats and donkeys on the moon!
What is the next big festival SDK will be taking part in?
We’re just loading the vans for Kendall Calling and Camp Bestival, with Boardmasters, Leeds and Reading just around the corner.