New York City has one of the world’s hottest restaurant and bar scenes, but some of those establishments aren’t made for having an intimate conversation — or for those who suffer from hearing impairments, like Gregory Scott.
Scott, a New Yorker who is completely deaf in his left ear and has hearing loss in his right, would search for quiet restaurants, bars and cafés online, but “more often than not, I would show up to the venue, and the places were actually incredibly loud,” he told Metro.
“Out of curiosity,” Scott started using a decibel meter to see how loud the venues actually were “to gauge whether it was difficult to hear in these places because of my hearing loss, and whether people with good hearing also have trouble hearing in such environments,” he said.
Scott found that the sound level measurements in many places were “much higher” than he expected, which, over time, can result in hearing loss.
“We’re making ourselves deaf, and for many of us, it may be too late in 10 to 20 years to prevent noise-induced hearing loss,” he said. “Hearing loss is irreversible — once you have it, you can’t go back.”
So Scott founded SoundPrint, a just-launched iOS app that is referred to as the “Yelp for noise levels.” The crowdsourcing app allows users to search for, find and rate establishments based on how quiet or noisy they are. An Android launch is planned for the future. So far, SoundPrint received more than 25,000 submissions from cities across the U.S., but the majority were in New York.
“We believe the response has been high because people historically haven’t felt empowered to do anything about the loud venues — but now with technology, decibel meters and tools such as the SoundPrint app, patrons as well as employees can show the sound measurements to venue managers and politely request to lower the background music a bit,” Scott said.
The reactions from the businesses listed on SoundPrint have been mostly positive as well. “We want to work with the restaurants and help them,” Scott said, adding that SoundPrint will soon provide guidelines and tips on its website.
Scott encourages businesses to reach out, as Italian restaurant Pepe Giallo did after finding itself labeled as a noisy establishment on SoundPrint soon after moving to its new location in Chelsea last summer.
“It was one of those things you don’t foresee,” general manager Abel Ramirez said. “The sound was just bouncing around.”
So Pepe Giallo’s owners worked to find solutions with acoustic expert Anthony Antonelli of Pinta Acoustic, who installed an easy, lightweight custom-made BASF foam.
“The material has been in the acoustic industry for over 40 years. It’s over 90 percent air, so it’s very sound absorbent and is soft to allow sound to pass through it,” Antonelli said. “I’d love to have more interior designers knowing about the product so it’s part of the design process.”
The installation was done in less than a day, and staff and diners “noticed right away. It just changed the mood of the restaurant,” Ramirez said. “Before, it was impossible to talk to a customer, even when you were right next to them, and that completely changed. When the restaurant is completely full, it’s now nice and quiet.”
SoundPrint also runs a Restaurant Challenge, where users can amass points for their monthly submissions and win dinner for two at a partnering restaurant. First winners dined at Merakia, Le Coq Rico, Vaucluse, Junoon and Taboon.
“SoundPrint wanted to demonstrate to restaurants that there are people who would eat out more if they knew there were quieter venues,” Scott said. “Many restaurants want to contribute to a quieter world, and we want to reward these restaurants.”
A sampling of the quietest venues in NYC, according to SoundPrint users
Afghan Kebab House
Brasserie 8 1/2