9

I've seen a few answers to questons 'around' monitors suggesting that in-ear monitors have good and bad points and are good for some musicians but not others - eg good for drums, not good for bassists.

Some of this will be personal taste of course, but I daresay a lot of the pros and cons are pretty hard fact - eg they eliminate feedback issues - or definite experience.

I'd ask this with particular interest in how well they work for vocalists, although aspects for all musicians will be interesting & useful.

Can anyone give known benefit or disadvantage ?

I have a vested interest for asking as my band are considering upgrading our gear, and we're wondering about in-ear monitors - but never having tried them, it's hard to guess, and as you stick a bit of it in your ear, it's (presumably) not the kind of thing you can borrow.

So .. how do they work? one ear? both ears? do they deafen you? easy to sing with them ? do they ever fall out ? etc.

8

I play both cello and E-bass live with rock bands.

For cello (this would probably extend quite well to most other acoustic instruments) in-ears are nothing short of a blessing. With conventional monitoring, feedback is always a very serious threat. With in-ear it's seldom an issue at all. I can always hear my own notes excellently, which makes intonation a lot less dangerous, and prevents a “need to play everything loud as 𝆑𝆑***” feeling.

The only problem I sometimes do have is to hear other instruments: in festival settings or when playing with larger ensembles, engineers tend to be unwilling to give me a monitor send all for my in-ear, so I often do my own “mix”, which has basically only cello in it, plus a master mix if I can get it. Often, I would then like a bit more keys, guitars or hi-hat for precision and a context to intonate to. One possibility is to place up some dedicated microphones on stage for this purpose only, but this is a hack and really not practical. What I do now is just keep my own levels quiet enough so I can still hear everything from the outside. It feels a bit weird to be on stage but not hear any loud sound, but my ears certainly are grateful for this, health-wise.

However, when playing bass (again I suppose this somewhat holds for drums and electric guitar too) then monitoring is a lot more about feeling. No matter how you set up an in-ear mix, it won't give the groovy experience of a nice 6x10" cabinet behind you and a good helping of bass-drum from a wedge or PA subwoofer in front. So even when I have my in-ears on while playing bass (usually not), I don't actually use them at all for monitoring, just as passive earplugs.

Interestingly, I never perceive such a lack of “feeling” when playing cello with in-ear, even if I perform a contrabass-like part on it. I suppose this is because the cello is such an “embrace” instrument, I feel lots of vibration from the body (which also picks up sound from the air... once I played with a metal band, sitting next to the drums the double-bassdrum made by bow jump on the strings!).

As for singing: I don't do that a lot. My in-ears are closed, so I hear my own voice very loud in my head. When I do supply a few chorus vocals, this is actually quite useful (I just need to sing somewhere in the vicinity of some mic, and hear myself without any actual monitor routing). But it's not a good monitor sound for getting voice nuances right, and when you're singing all the time this would just become really annoying, so if you're a singer you should get an “open” system. Never tried one of those, but I wager it's worth to check it out! I've never seen an engineer to reject a lead singer their own monitor mix.

(Indeed I believe as in-ear becomes more commonplace and digital consoles with loads of buses become standard, engineers will in the future routinely give all musicians their individual in-ear channel: not needing loud stage volumes is a blessing for the mix as well.) It is nowadays also possible even for a small band to make themselves completely indepent of any monitor mixer, by using a split box to a separate rack-mount digital console, with which everybody can set up their own monitor sound (using a tablet or phone for dialling in the level). This is extremely useful especially when there's little time for doing a proper sound check.


I should say that I used to frown at the very idea of using earplugs in any music setting – “if you want to hear less, then what's the point of hearing music at all?” I still think it's absurd if the audience or engineers need earplugs, but on stage this is sometimes just rational.
(On the flip-side of ear-protection: when they are too loud, in-ears can actually cause serious damage! Be sure to use a headphone amp with limiter.)

  • Great comparison of bass vs. cello where in-ear isn't good and is good. I think you're right about being able to feel the sound fromthe cello helping, which is why I suspect (but not sure yet) that for electric guitar or vocals, IEM might not work so well. You need the thump in the chest too, or the trouser-leg-flapping throb from the bass amp. – user2808054 Sep 29 '14 at 8:47
3

I do not know all the pros and cons, but I do know a few:

Pros:

  • Having an ear monitor means that you won't really need a normal monitor to hear. So, you move around the stage freely, and wherever you go, you'll be able to hear through your ear monitor.
  • The sound is being sent directly into the canal of your ear, thus you'll be able to hear the music better.
  • I'm not 100% sure, but I believe that it reduces the ambient noise up to a point.

Cons:

  • I believe you'll have to buy yours. I wouldn't wear the ear monitor of someone else (yuck)
  • It's expensive. That is the reason I don't have one right now; most live stages will have normal monitors, so you should buy one only if you feel you really need it and have quite a bit of money to spend
  • It also requires a slightly more complex signal pathway. Many sound engineers will be fine with setting up an output patch to your wireless box, but some small desks won't cope well.
2

I play in a 90's band. 4-piece band, 2 guitars, bass and drums.

Pros:

You can hear yourself and each other's vocals much better so singing is improved and harmony blends are better.

Stage monitors are gone and not cluttering the stage.

It protects hearing because you are listening at much lower decibel levels than the stage sound level. Better than Hearos ear plugs and the like.

Monitor mixes can be customized so you only hear what you want. Some mixers allow you to control your own mix via your smartphone.

You can be hardwired or wear a receiver.

I play bass and have dual driver earbuds and hear all notes clearly, even on my 5 string bass. Important factor is having a very good seal with your earbud.

The sound is so clear that I have ceased using my speaker cabinets. Don't need them. No more heavy lifting because I embraced the technology. I can still deliver the tone I want to be heard to the board.

Stage is cleaner. More space.

Cons:

Dependence on the technology could be fatal to the performance if the system fails.

Expensive.

Learning curve for learning how to use. Not a plug and play scenario.

Rare but occasional momentary signal loss.

It isn't for everyone. If you aren't a person who embraces change, this isn't for you. If you are looking for a solution to hearing yourself and others clearly, protecting your hearing, eliminating feedback from stage monitors and improving your singing. Save your pennies and get a good system. We are using the Shure PSM300RA.

We also bought Panasonic 2580mAh batteries with a Smart charger. $32 versus $99 for Shure rechargeable batteries.

  • I hadn't realised the buds must seal so are capable of reducing the amount of sound going into your ear. My impression was that you're injecting yet more sound, just closer tot he ear. This is a great answer with a lot of helpful info, thanks. – user2808054 Mar 29 '16 at 9:31
2

Tried them a few years back and I found two issues. 1. When playing saxophone you get an effect like singing with your fingers in your ears. Paid quite a bit more for Sensophonic in ear (molded to my ear) buds which go further into the ear canal and reduce the fingers in the ears whilst singing effect to a degree. 2. Its a solitary experience and even with an audience ambient microphone it is a weird feeling without any real cues

  • I think you've identified the thign I'm concerned about with "it's a solitary experience". – user2808054 Mar 14 '17 at 11:35
1

It might alter the way you perform. Mikael Åkerfeldt of the metal band Opeth had issues performing death growl type of vocals live, when using in-ear monitors. The sound you get fed back is of a different nature, which will likely demand a change in how you react to it.

This will likely have a bigger impact on vocalists, but hearing every detail of your playing likely takes some getting used too even for instrumentalists.

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