In-ear monitors (IEMs) are essential for sound engineers, musicians, and others who work in the industry and need the best in sound quality. Commonly used by performers on-stage, they’re a unique category of headphones that delivers sound directly into the ear canal. They fit directly into the ear canal, forming a seal from all other noise, giving you a clean, pure sound.
In this article you’ll learn how in ear monitors work, and I’ll explain what makes them different from other earpieces/earbuds. I’ll cover what they’re used for, as well as who benefits the most from using them.
Why are In-Ear Monitors Helpful?
In-ear monitors mean that you don’t have to use stage monitors to keep track of what’s happening on the stage. In-ear monitors cut down on the stage volume that’s occuring. Performers get a much clearer idea of everything happening on the stage, no matter what their stage position is.
In-ear monitors have sound-isolating technology. Performers, then, have to depend almost completely on the sounds that come through the in-ear monitors. It’s because of this and the fact that many musicians like to be able to hear the audience’s reaction that they sometimes take out one of the in-ear monitor earbuds or use room mics.
Both wired and wireless in-ear monitors are on the market. Wireless in-ear monitors are the most popular and convenient, as they let performers move around more easily. With wireless in-ear monitors, the feed normally sent to stage monitors is plugged into a wireless monitor transmitter. That transmitters then sends the feed to the wireless receiver belt pack which the headphones are plugged into.
What’s the Difference between In-Ear Monitors and Earphones?
There are several important differences between in-ear monitors and earphones. Regular headphones generally have one central driver for each earpiece. In-ear monitors usually have at least three drivers and often more. In-ear monitors are fitted to go into your ear canal, and are configured especially for low frequencies.
A difference between IEMs and typical monitor speakers is that IEMs have multiple small drivers. Drivers are tiny speakers and crucial to the quality of sound. Professional grade IEMs may have as many as eight drivers per earbud. If you go for a consumer-grade model, you can expect about three to five drivers.
How In-Ear Monitors Are Used
In-ear monitors have multiple uses, including.
Studio reference earphones: Music studios use in-ear monitors for their better sound quality. When mixing, they offer a different, isolated perspective on the music prior to releasing it. In-ear monitors block out external sounds to directly hear the music. Some professionals like to use in-ear monitors in combination with closed-back, semi-open, or open headphones.
Personal mixers: Personal mixers have become much more accessible in recent years. A personal mixer gets direct channels, allowing performers to create their own mixes. One well-known personal monitoring system is Behringer’s P16 system. This system is able to send as many as 16 audio channels to a P16 personal mixer.
Everyday earbuds: If you really want to make an investment in your everyday personal listening experience, you could consider using in-ear monitors as your general earbuds. Of course, in-ear monitors are much more expensive than regular earbuds, but they do provide a superior listening experience.
Advantages In-Ear Monitors
In-ear monitors are essential for many performers due to their unique qualities. Some of the advantages of in-ear monitors include:
- Control of stage volume
- Requires fewer stage monitors
- Mobility for performers
- Ability to use with personalized monitor mixes.
It’s important to get in-ear monitors that fit your ears properly. Get them custom-made if possible. An audiologist will make molds of your ears to create in-ear monitors specifically for you. Custom-fits provide a better seal with your ear that blocks more outside sounds. The snug fit allows for better bass sound and improved protection for your ears. With no outside sound coming in, you can play the music at a lower, safe level.
Disadvantages and Drawbacks
There are some drawbacks to in-ear monitors. They’re not suitable for all venues and require a lot of maintenance. Since they go in your ear canal, it’s crucial to keep in-ear monitors extremely clean to avoid problems like giving yourself an ear infection.
In-ear monitors create better sound on stage, which is one of their major attractions. You won’t need to have the traditional floor wedge monitors on stage or deal with unclear monitor mixes. No monitors also mean there won’t be any feedback issues. Your crew also won’t need to move around huge monitors and pull all the cables off stage, lowering the amount of work involved.
In-ear monitors are also great for performers because they can reduce the risk of hearing damage. Musicians enjoy a superior audio signal as well as a reduction of stage environment noise. You should be aware, however, that you still need to be careful about keeping track of how much sound is coming out of the in-ear monitors. With some systems, sound as high as 120dB can come out of the in-ear monitors, and this can be dangerous and cause significant damage to your inner ear.
When choosing your in-ear monitors, it’s important that you do your research and invest in a high-quality brand and model. In-ear monitors help performers perform better. This is because they are able to concentrate more effectively on their part of the show without distractions that might throw them off.
In-Ear Monitors are Essential for Performers!
As we’ve seen here, in-ear monitors have become an essential part of performance in many venues. Now that you know how in-ear monitors work and how they can benefit you, you are in a much better position to do further research and figure out which brand and model is best for you.