The 10 Best Professional In Ear Monitors
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Today's technology makes it relatively inexpensive for any gigging musician to no longer have to rely on a large foldback monitor on stage. These professional in-ear models offer noise isolation and excellent sound reproduction, so you can concentrate on delivering the best performance possible. Some options on our list are top quality headphones, while others include transmitters and receivers. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 03, 2020:
This latest update has seen a number of replacements to our previous ranking, starting with our switching the Shure SE535 for the Shure SE215. While the latter is a newer model, it is also less expensive by a considerable margin, and we thought a well-respected entry-level option would add more diversity to our list. Despite this lower price, they are notable for their clarity, especially in the higher frequencies, making them a good choice for vocalists.
We then added the Sennheiser IE 40 Pro, as these are once again from a renowned manufacturer, and boast a rugged construction, with reinforced ear hooks to ensure they stay firmly in place during even the most animated performances, as well as good overall frequency response.
Next, we included the BASN Bmaster set to our list, as these are gathering a good deal of praise from industry professionals for their comfortable, ergonomic design, their excellent clarity, and their build quality. All this comes at a price that is a fraction of what you'd normally expect to pay for a solution of this quality.
Finally, we upgraded the Sennheiser EW 300 IEM to the Sennheiser EW IEM G4 Twin, which is the next generation of this highly successful line of transmitter-receivers. This professional-standard option is as notable for its impressive build quality and intuitive functionality as it is for its reliability and considerable range.
June 28, 2019:
Despite its increased cost, the Sennheiser EW 300 snuck up on and snagged the third place spot from the AKG IVM 4500. This is mainly due to the EW 300's ability to be hooked up to a computer so you can easily increase your control over several parameters that are more locked in with the AKG offering. Shure's PSM300 retained the number one spot, however, as its intuitive interface and comprehensive EQ controls still outperform anything else available. We said goodbye to the Audio Fly AF120, which had long straddled the border between a professional in-ear monitor and a glorified pair of ear buds. The arrival of the Westone UM Pro 50 on the scene was more than enough justification to replace them, as these are much more in line with what we would expect from a professional set, complete with an impressive total of five drivers and a slew of tip sizes to ensure the perfect fit.
64 Audio A12T This option is brought to you by a company that will create a fully customized housing capable of fitting comfortably and staying put. That's thanks to a 3-D scanning process that does away with conventional wax dip molds and is much more faithful to the nuanced shape of your ear. They're even ventilated to minimize sound pressure without harming audio quality. 64audio.com
Alclair Electrostatic Hybrid This capable pair features balanced electrostatic drivers powered by internal transformers. You might think that would make them uncomfortably large, but the company has packed all that tech into a decidedly small package that works as well for vocalists on a small stage as it does for guitarists in an enormous arena. alclair.om
Ultimate Ear UE Live There's no denying that these are among the most expensive offerings on the market, but with three armatures dedicated to low-end frequencies and the ability to balance their signals out with incredible smoothness, they may offer the most useful, if not necessarily lifelike, sound you can find. pro.ultimateears.com
Keeping It Clear In The Ear
Although custom devices take longer to produce, they're also precisely molded to the shape of a person's ear for long-term comfort and a superior seal.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the intense sound pressure associated with several instruments, vocals, and a large audience, then avoid potential hearing damage and signal interference by leaving the floor wedge behind in favor of a more compact solution for your on-stage listening needs. A professional in-ear monitoring system provides you with an isolated mix of audio content delivered directly to your ears without subjecting them to overexposure from dangerously high decibel levels.
Professional in-ear monitors physically resemble a pair of traditional earbuds, but with a dedicated purpose of isolating vocal and instrumentation mixes during live performances. Typically wireless in design, the in-ear monitoring system makes use of both a transmitter and receiver to send an audio mix directly to its earpieces. The transmitter and receiver packs are about as large as an ordinary deck of cards, and the receiver directly attaches to a performer's belt. This type of setup gives the performer the freedom to move around a stage in much the same way they do using a wireless guitar system. The main difference is that, where a wireless guitar system transmits audio signals from the instrument to an amplifier for an audience to hear, the in-ear monitors isolate a signal mix for the benefit of amplifying it for the performer, while mitigating the interference caused by ambient noise in the surrounding environment.
In-ear monitors use either balanced armature or dynamic driver technologies. In a balanced armature design, an electric current is passed through a wrapped coil suspended between two magnets. Any change in the electric current results in an attraction between the coil and magnets. Any variation in the magnetic field causes the coil to vibrate. It is this vibration that ultimately produces the sound heard by the performer. Balanced armature drivers are tuned to specific frequency ranges, which means that in order to reproduce high-quality sound in multiple ranges, the monitors must be equipped with multiple drivers. By contrast, dynamic drivers reproduce the entire frequency spectrum. They're also vented, which results in a more natural representation of bass sounds than balanced armature drivers.
In-ear monitors are available in both universal and custom fits. Universal monitors are equipped with ear tips made from either foam or silicone. They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate differently-shaped ear canals. Custom in-ear monitors are made from similar materials, but require the additional step in which an audiologist takes professional ear impressions. Although custom devices take longer to produce, they're also precisely molded to the shape of a person's ear for long-term comfort and a superior seal.
Portability is a major benefit of professional in-ear monitors. They are small enough to fit inside a backpack or briefcase, thus making them quite convenient for travel purposes. Being as small as they are, they are also beneficial for use at weddings and church events, as they provide for an unobtrusive presentation to an audience without all the bulky cords or wedge equipment. For professional singers, the monitors reduce the overall level of vocal strain by allowing the artist to hear him/herself more clearly. Finally, the monitors give the performer some degree of control over volume adjustments, as well as the types of mixes they hear when moving freely around a stage.
Go With What Sounds And Feels Right
Depending on the types of live performances and venues at which you perform, you should understand the sound isolation rating for the in-ear monitors you are considering. This value is typically measured in decibels. A higher decibel rating means that a larger volume of ambient sound is blocked, which means that you experience less interference from the surrounding environment during a live performance.
Although the consideration of technical specs is important, an additional factor in one's decision should be the way the in-ear monitors sound and feel. The human brain interprets music in different ways, so the pair of in-ear monitors one chooses is a very personal decision with a significant impact on the mood of their performance in front of a large group of people. The earpieces should also be comfortable enough for long-term use and should provide a reliable seal, ensuring that ambient noise is significantly minimized or eliminated entirely. Many professional in-ear monitors incorporate their receivers into the design of the earpiece, which conveniently prevents any cables from obstructing one's movements on stage.
Consider a system that includes detachable cables between the receiver and earpieces. This comes in handy if the cables or other system components happen to become faulty and require quick replacements. Other utilities to look for include on-board equalization control, as well as the ability to monitor battery levels on both the receiver and transmitter packs.
A Brief History Of Professional In-Ear Monitors
Up until the 1980s, the wedge was considered the only method for effective stage monitoring. The earliest in-ear monitor system was developed by sound engineer Chrys Lindop. Using his desire to experiment with new techniques and equipment, Lindop found success in working with artist Stevie Wonder. Wonder's frustration with being restricted to the keyboard inspired Lindop to develop a rudimentary in-ear monitor system that handled the transmission of both a music mix and communication wirelessly, allowing Wonder the freedom to both express himself and maintain his safety on stage.
The most notable development for in-ear monitoring systems after the 1980s is credited to American sound engineer Jerry Harvey. In 1995, Harvey invented the first dual-speaker in-ear monitor system and also founded the custom in-ear monitor companies Ultimate Ears, and then JH Audio in 2007. Harvey has since served as the main audio engineer for top-performing artists such as Van Halen and Kiss, among others.
Since that time, adoption and popularity of in-ear monitor technology has expanded to include musicians of all skill levels.