The 10 Best Professional In Ear Monitors
10. Audio-Technica ATH-E70 Headphones
9. Etymotic Research ER4XR Extended Range
8. Shure Limited Edition SE535LTD
7. Audio Technica ATH-IM02
6. Audio Fly AF120 Hybrid
5. Pyle Audio PDWMN49 Wireless
4. Sennheiser EW 300 IEM G3-G-US
3. AKG Pro Audio IVM4500 Set
2. Anleon S2 UHF Stereo Wireless
1. Shure P3TRA215CL PSM300 Wireless
Keeping It Clear In The Ear
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.