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A party all to yourself: Silent disco company provides the headphones

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 19. 2015 5:33PM
Jacob Reisch, left, and LJ Berube at Party Headphones in Manchester on Monday. The company runs headphone disco parties. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The new office space for Party Headphones, in a revitalized Lincoln Street mill building that once housed a shoe factory, has many of the amenities common to high-tech startups — an open concept with no offices or cubicles, bean-bag chairs, comfortable sofas, a Wiffle ball batting cage, bean-bag toss and other diversions to ease stress and promote creativity.

But amid the freshly varnished hardwood floors, ceiling beams and exposed brick there's something different. Racks of headphones are lined up and waiting for the next customer who wants to host a silent disco.

Despite the name, Party Headphones isn't in the headphone business, it's in the party business, and, according to co-founder Jake Reisch, business is good.

The 26-year-old entrepreneur from upstate New York and his business partner, a lifelong friend, are bringing a trend that's caught on in Europe and Australia to the United States. Their move into the Lincoln Street mill building three months ago marked the next stage in the evolution of a business that began when the two were in college together at Cornell.

“We saw that silent disco was just starting to makes its way to the U.S., and we realized that it could have similar growth in this country,” he said. “So instead of taking an internship that summer, we partnered up and started building the company.”

That was in 2013. Since then, the company lined up financing through the Small Business Administration, contracts with Viacom, MTV and Red Bull, and has grown to eight full-time employees with more on the way.

With 2,000 modified headsets in stock and another 700 on order, Party Headphones deployed its technology at more than 200 events in the past year, including corporate parties, weddings and at entertainment venues.

Connecting to the crowd

The wireless headsets operate on radio frequencies, not Bluetooth, and have a range of up to 300 feet from the transmitters, all provided by Party Headphones. The venue just plugs the music source into the transmitter, and partygoers with headphones can chose from two channels, with listeners controlling their personal volume.

“As soon as you put on the headphones, you get it,” Reisch said. “It's like you are in on a secret, and everyone else in the room is in on it too. You feel super connected to everyone in the crowd.”

Each headset has a colored light that illuminates green or red for each of the two sound sources, be it two separate DJs or play lists. “If you're on red, and you see a lot of people on green, you can check out what they're listening to,” Reisch said. “It's been great for DJ contests.”

The silent disco is a way around noise restrictions, and it creates a club or party environment in which people can actually carry on a conversation without yelling at each other, just by taking off the headset.

“Noise restrictions are a big part of the music and dancing scene,” Reisch said. “The party stops when the noise has to stop.” The silent disco eliminates that concern.

“We're having a lot of repeat events,” he said. “Because at first it's just the novelty that attracts people. It's going to be attention-getting. But then they realize the practical benefits, like the fact that you can have a conversation during the concert without losing your voice.”

Event consultant

Party Headphones provides the hardware, but also functions as an event consultant, according to L.J. Berube, who has the title of “customer excitement manager.”

“We work with the client to determine their need and how we can best help out,” he said. “We provide all of the equipment — headphones, transmitters, audio cords. We schedule shipping for pickup and delivery, and we walk them through the steps of attaching their audio to our equipment, whether it's a DJ an PA system, an iPod or laptop.”

According to Reisch, the silent disco encourages people to dance like nobody's watching. “People are going to be dancing harder at a silent disco than any other party you've ever seen,” he said. “When I put on the headphones, I have to hold myself back because the beat is so direct to your ear.”

Party Headphones has yet to participate in a New Hampshire event, but has helped stage parties in Boston and at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. The silent disco concept works with as few as 20 people and as many as 1,200, with costs ranging from $500 to $10,000 per event, depending on size and complexity.

Why Manchester?

Having started their business in Ithaca, N.Y., Reisch and his partner, Matt Reiners, could have moved anywhere in the country as the company began to grow, but they chose Manchester for a variety of reasons.

“We needed to be in a place with more access to talent,” said Reisch, alluding to Manchester's growing high-tech culture and its proximity to Boston.

Reisch will be presenting at the New Hampshire High Tech Council forum for entrepreneurs in February, and the company is a member of the Alpha Loft business incubator on Elm Street. “It's great to be connected with other companies that share our passion,” he said.

The industrial design firm they work with, Helix Design, is located in the same Lincoln Street building, and the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is a real plus for a firm whose clients are spread out over the country.

One of the newest additions to Manchester's high-tech startup community, Party Headphones appears poised for growth with a simple premise: “The loudest party you've never heard.”

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