In Ear Monitors 101

In Ear Monitors 101

There once was a time when stage monitors didn't exist, and musicians simply listened to their bandmates to stay in time with each other. This worked well in small spaces but when amplification came into the picture and allowed bands to play in front of much larger crowds, hearing each other on stage proved to be rather difficult. Enter in stage monitors, which solved that issue but created many of their own.

Nowadays, the traditional stage wedge is being phased out in favor of In Ear Monitors (also known as IEMs). Today, we'll take a look at why that's the case and why you might not want to wait on getting a set of your own!

What Are In Ear Monitors?
Monitors are used for hearing your own performance and the performance of your fellow musicians while on stage. In Ear Monitors replace the standard floor monitors you typically see lining the front of a stage at a concert, and instead run audio from the performance into a comfy set of earphones. They're monitors that go in your ears. Who would've thought?

Benefits of IEMs
So we know what In Ear Monitors are but you may be wondering, "What's the big deal? What makes them any better than the stage monitors I've been using for years?

Well, a lot actually.

  • Portability: One of the most basic differences is that floor monitors are big and heavy; earphones are not. Which would you rather load in and out of your vehicle when you get to the gig?
  • Stage Movement: With traditional stage wedges, what you hear is mainly determined by where you're standing on stage and thus your performance could suffer if you like to move around a lot. IEMs move where you move, meaning you will always be able to hear your personal monitor mix clearly, whether you're standing still or doing cartwheels during the guitar solo. You also won't have to worry about feedback!
  • Precision: Monitor mixes (what a performer hears through their monitors) are a lot different than what comes out of the main PA speakers, as they need to be customized to each performer. What a vocalist needs to hear to get their best performance is usually nothing like what the bassist needs to hear for example, and with IEMs, each custom mix is sent directly to the performers (or created by the performers) rather than being sent through floor monitors that bleed over each other.
  • Not Going Deaf: Many rock stars have suffered debilitating hearing loss due to years of excessively loud shows with stage wedges blasting in their face. Save your ears and appreciate higher fidelity at a much lower volume through a set of IEMs instead.

In-ear monitors

No matter what kind of IEM system you go with, the components will all generally be the same:

  • Earphones - small but hi-fi; allows you to monitor your personal mix.
  • Bodypack Receivers - wearable packs that receive the audio signal and send it to the earphones; comes in wired or wireless, depending on the system.
  • Transmitters - modules that send sound for wireless systems.
  • Personal Monitor Mixer - allows the performer to create their own monitor mix from the stage.

Wired or Wireless?
As with all gear purchases, choosing the "right" unit is going to be determined by your individual needs, application, and budget.

  • Wired In-Ear Monitors
    • Best suited for stationary performers, such as drummers, keyboardists, and news anchors.
    • Less expensive/less required components
    • More reliable connection (an actual cable is always more stable than wireless)
  • Wireless In Ear Monitors
    • Gives complete freedom of mobility; especially useful for lead singers, theater actors, and presenters/speakers.
    • Less visible/better aesthetic
    • No chance of tripping on cables

Price and Availability
The phrase "you get what you pay for" generally holds true for all of the gear we provide at PSSL but in the world of IEMs and wireless technology in general, they are words to live by. In Ear Monitor solutions can run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, and the differences lie mainly in the reliability of the wireless signal (if wireless, which most are), frequency count/agility, and overall build quality. Having a wireless system will do you no good if its limited frequency band has trouble making a solid connection while you're at a gig, so think twice before buying a unit just because it has a lower number next to the dollar sign. If you consider yourself to be a professional, you need your gear to be as well.

Shure PSM

Choosing a frequency band for your system that will be effective in your area is another important factor to address. Without going too in depth, the frequencies that wireless systems operate on are shared by radio stations, TV stations, and many other devices and institutions. Different places use different frequencies in their broadcasts, meaning that the collection of frequencies that make up Frequency Band A could work great in California but could have some problems in Arkansas. This is also why it's illegal to use particular frequency bands in certain countries; what works fine at home in your backyard could be interfering with the Japanese military when you stop there on your world tour.

Traveling acts should definitely look for higher-quality units that have built-in safeguards against dropouts, such as more available frequencies and RF filtering, and should also ensure the frequency band they get is legal to use in any places they may visit. Information regarding a system's available frequency bands can typically be found on the manufacturer's website but if you're having trouble with it, you can always call us at 1-800-268-5520.

Bands, houses of worship, theater productions, broadcast teams, and beyond could all benefit greatly from using In Ear Monitors. If you're tired of bulky stage wedges and want to move into a higher class of audio monitoring, give us a ring and get your IEM system today!