The 10 Best In-Ear Stage Monitors
10. Fiio EX1
- comfortable enough for all-day wear
- external structure is lightweight
- bass isn't as deep as others
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
9. Shure SE215-CL
- sweat-resistant housing
- good driver support frame
- cord is a bit thick and heavy
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
8. SoundSprocket PA-1
- balanced armature microdriver
- three tip sizes
- quarter-inch adapter is poor
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
7. Audio-Technica ATH-IM70
- comfy to wear even with glasses
- made of a sturdy hybrid plastic
- cable is a little too short
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
6. Thinksound MS02
- minimize external noises
- 4-foot-long cable
- carrying pouch lacks protection
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
5. Shure SE535LTD
- triple high-definition microdrivers
- available in attractive colors
- includes a sleeve fit kit
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
4. 1More Quad Driver
- inline microphone
- tuned by a grammy-winning engineer
- traveling case is made of leather
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
3. Sennheiser IE 800
- scratch-resistant ceramic exterior
- ergonomic oval-shaped adapters
- oxygen-free copper cable
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
2. Echobox Audio Finder X1
- german-made drivers
- deep bass response
- hardshell case included
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
1. Westone Clear AM Pro 30
- reliable connection
- transparent casing
- 48-inch braided cable
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
An Experience Like No Other
It's a feeling well-known to artists. Few things in life match the sensation of performing on stage in front of hordes of excited fans. As the house lights go down, the spotlights warm up, and the eager audience looks up at the band, everything can seem in perfect harmony leading up to the opening number. You've practiced for weeks, and this tour could make or break your album sales for the next year. Naturally, you're prepared to play the show of your life.
And it's good that you are — not least of all because many performers feel they have a duty to the people who showed up to provide them with an engaging and entertaining show. Aside from the showman's responsibility, it's not terribly shocking to learn how playing music is great for the health of the musicians themselves. It aids in cognitive function (that's your ability to think) across the board as it activates almost every center of your brain. Musicianship can also lower levels of stress-inducing chemicals and it may even help fight some forms of dementia. In fact, learning an instrument physically strengthens critical coordination and thought processing areas. And if you avoid falling into the traditionally unhealthy traps of being on tour (primarily: fast food, sitting around too much, and drinking alcohol), performing is even physically healthy, engaging your entire body from your back to your breathing.
Of course, you love to perform, and no one needs to sell you on that. Whether your audience is dancing, moshing, or dropping their jaws in awe at your virtuosity, the knowledge that you've successfully entertained the masses is incredibly satisfying. But when your band strikes up, there's one issue that's paramount to the quality of the show: can you hear the sounds that you and your bandmates are making, and are they clear and balanced?
Can I Hear Myself?
This is a question that performers have struggled with since the earliest days of electrified music. It takes a pretty big set of speakers to pump out enough sound to fill that historic downtown theater packed with 2,000 fans or more. And, let's be honest, some sound systems and their engineers are of better quality than others. Not every line stack will deliver the same mid-range clarity and distinct bass as a top-shelf, handmade d&b-branded system imported straight from Germany. And not every bar manager will be able to coax your band's best sound out of their dated soundboard.
The monitors stacked on the front of the stage at most concerts are there to return the sound straight to the band. In theory, this feed is separate from the actual house audio. In practice, however, large speaker stacks are often placed behind the performers, and this can really impair monitor sound in larger venues. Plus, the sound engineer is busy enough these days checking the sound from every angle in the venue using their tablet to wirelessly control the in-house sound system. The last thing he or she has time to do is readjust monitors mid-set when the dynamics turn from intense to intimate.
This adds to a couple issues with standard wedge-based monitoring systems. Individual wedges are equalized based on who they're in front of, i.e. the bassist, drummer, or rhythm guitarist. If players are moving around the stage or switching instruments, those specialized mixes will become muddy and hurt everyone's ability to pick out their own sound. Beyond that, as the massive speakers behind the band get loud, and monitor speakers in front begin to peak, it's certainly not helping the long-term hearing health of everyone on stage.
So how do you channel the clearest monitor of your playing straight to your ears, in real-time, without worrying about levels, feedback, buzzing, or cables? How can you put your whole group's contributions in your own head as you play for the crowd? There's already a ton of equipment positioned around most bands while they play, even if everybody uses wireless instrument and microphone setups. How, then, does the modern musician reduce stage clutter while also making their performance life easier? And how, for example, can a professional horn player hear a monitor mix where his sound actually comes through, without hurting his bandmates' ears in the process?
Simple: they strap a receiver to their body, hang a speaker in their ear, and get ready to play in circles around the stage.
Not Your Everyday Earbuds
An in-ear monitoring system consists of three parts: the transmitter, receiver, and the earphone itself. As with many wireless systems, the transmitters do have limitations. Interference from on-stage equipment, bandwidth interference due to multiple members using close frequencies, and the raw distance from the transmitting unit can all negatively affect the signal that your wireless beltpack receiver pulls from the airwaves. Over the last decade, though, technologies like beamforming and audio compression have made wireless more effective and affordable than ever. Still, at the end of the day, you want to be certain that the sound in your monitor is true to the sound that's filling up the concert hall.
Don't be fooled by a bunch of products that might just look like expensive earbuds. These units are designed specifically to provide a faithful reproduction of the analog data they're fed. They're made with comfort and sonic accuracy foremost in mind, many including different sizes of silicone tips. Some models can be custom fit to your ear, ensuring long-term wearability as well as a perfect seal, keeping even the most subtle sounds channeled directly to your eardrum. Light weight and active noise cancellation are two other features found on most in-ear options. Above all, good monitor earpieces are made with the quality materials and craftsmanship that let you jam out on-stage for hours at a time, while hearing yourself with crystal-clear precision.