Case study

Phonak’s in-ear receivers in Hollywood

Phonak’s ultra-discreet in-ear receivers are credited with helping the makers of the multi-Oscar-winning movie La La Land to weave its stunning soundtrack deep into the plot, according to its sound mixer Steve A. Morrow.

Steve A. Morrow, along with his colleagues Andy Nelson and Ai-Ling Lee, picked up nominations for the Oscar, the Bafta awards and the Satellite awards for the best sound, and won the corresponding award of the Cinema Audio Society.

A love-letter to classic Hollywood musicals, La La Land switches effortlessly between dialogue and songs, often in a single take – making the film a logistical and audio challenge.

“The idea behind La La Land was that these big sweeping long takes where they sing and dance are to serve as a backdrop for a previous scene. All those pieces have to come together to form a whole, because that's what [director] Damien Chazelle wanted – that feeling that these aren’t hand doubles playing a piano, this is actually Ryan Gosling playing the piano, or this is Emma Stone and Ryan singing and dancing,” said Morrow.

“The overall guidance from our director to the sound department was, hey I want to be ready to do any of these scenes live at any time. Which was of course not easy to arrange, but it was a welcome challenge,” he added.

This is where Phonak’s in-ear receivers came into their own: he explains: “We would have moments where the director would just say okay let's do it live, and so we would pop the earpiece in. I always had 10 Phonak earpieces ready in the cart.”

But Phonak’s earpieces also allowed La La Land’s makers to give their actors much more subtle cues, according to Morrow. In one scene where Stone’s character is dining with her boyfriend and his brother, she has her memory jogged by a song in the restaurant, prompting her to start singing.

“In the scene we had Justin Hurwitz, our composer, off to the side on his digital piano. We're recording the track, and then feeding it to Emma Stone via an earpiece. And she was the only one at the table that had an earpiece,” says Morrow.

He explains that Phonak’s earpieces allowed him to offer the director multiple options, in this case allowing Stone to be the only one hearing the piece of music. Morrow says there were many similar examples throughout the film.

For the song Audition it was decided early in production to give Stone in-ear receivers, said Morrow: “The idea wasn't to have a playback track so that she could sing along to it. Justin was going to accompany her on his electronic piano off-set, and his goal was to play along with her, not that she sings along with him – so she’ll drive the speed of his music.

“We put the earpiece in, and as always it's basically a flawless system. It was one of the bigger songs in the film, and one of the more impactful moments, because the music was able to play along to her singing. It was a live performance by both of them,” he added

Morrow has used Phonak’s in-ear receivers since 2001, and says they have always been a reliable tool: “The quality is great, the battery life is great on it, and they just work.”

Phonak is the market leader for in-ear receivers. The new Roger Earpiece System has been on the market since 2016 and is based on the Phonak's proprietary technology for digital sound processing. The Roger Earpiece provides a clearer sound while being lighter and more compact than ever before, with a flexible selection of accessories for a perfect audio experience, however and wherever you want it.