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In-Ear Monitors

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In Ear Monitors

Getting Started

Professional musicians rely upon in-ear monitoring (IEM) systems, and for good reason: In-ear monitors deliver studio-quality sound for stage monitoring while at a safe listening level.  If your band struggles to nail vocal parts because you can't hear each other well enough, in-ears will make a huge difference. No matter what genre of music you play, IEM technology can dramatically improve the quality of your musical performance.

It's easy to get started with IEM's, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. The earpiece is essential to the sound quality of the IEM system and should be selected carefully. So, without a good earpiece, you might as well go back to your wedges. If you want your IEM's to be comfortable and to provide the highest levels of sound isolation, you'll want them custom manufactured. If you are already wearing off-the-shelf monitors, custom sleeves can be made to tighten the fit and improve the overall sound quality.

Once impressions are made for your ears and you've chosen a specific IEM model, the manufacturer will craft and ship your IEM's in just a couple of weeks. Many companies make IEM's, but the most popular offerings come from Westone, JH Audio, Sensaphonics, and 1964 Ears.

The Problem

Musicians need to hear themselves on stage but the multitude of sound sources they are exposed to creates a sound war. The PA system, crowd noise, onstage amplifiers, and competing noise levels from each band member's mix makes it very difficult to hear one's own instrument or voice during a live performance. The solution has traditionally been to place wedge-shaped speakers in front of the musician and side-fills added to both sides of the stage to provide sound reinforcement to the performers.

The problem with this scenario is that the performers must turn up the volume of their monitor loudspeakers to hear over the competing sound sources. The monitor engineer is challenged to control the resulting feedback from the wedges. Everyone onstage is exposed to unsafe sound levels. The front of house engineer is forced to increase the volume of the house speakers to override the onstage sound that is interfering with the front of house mix. The audience must now suffer through excessive sound levels and a compromised front of house mix.

IEM's address the shortcomings of this scenario. Bands using IEM's can remove all or most floor monitors from the stage and reduce onstage volume levels substantially. The front of house mix can be executed with greater fidelity and safer listening levels for everyone.

The Benefits of IEM's

Improved sound quality, improved pitch perception, improved timing, reduced feedback, consistent sound quality, reduced vocal fatigue, portability, reduced sound levels and increased sound quality for the audience, and reduced sound-level exposure for the performers and crew.

The Technology

Micro drivers are categorized as either dynamic or balanced armature type. Dynamic driver technology is implemented into a variety of products including loudspeakers, headphones, ear buds, and in-ear monitors. Dynamic drivers are often vented and move air by design, and this results in a much better representation of bass frequencies compared to balanced armature drivers. Because of their superior bass response, dynamic driver in-ear monitors are often used by bassists and drummers. Custom monitors made with dynamic type drivers will provide little or no isolation however because of the venting needed to move air.

Balanced armature speakers come as a wideband single driver or a combination of multiple drivers. Most balanced armature drivers are tuned to sound good in a specific frequency range, and this is why many in-ear monitors contain multiple drivers. A crossover splits the sound signal into multiple frequency bands, and sends different frequency bands to each driver. They provide better treble performance, have a faster response, provide a flatter frequency response, and deliver more detailed sound than dynamic drivers. Balanced armatures sound even better the more the ear is isolated from ambient sound. Soft materials such as silicone provide the greatest amount of isolation and comfort.

This isolation creates a new problem for the musician though. The performer suddenly feels detached from the audience and fellow band members. To re-connect, they will often remove one earpiece to communicate with other band members or to get some of the stage sound back. Creative audio engineers often mic the audience to work around some of this problem. Certain IEM systems are available that use embedded microphones to produce a full mix of music and local ambient sound in the ear together. This technology allows the performer to dynamically adjust the unity gain so that just the right amount of onstage ambient sound is provided in the mix. The performer can now directly hear others speak on stage and hear the crowd reaction during a performance-all while staying acoustically isolated.

Hearing Preservation

While the musician wants to hear well and play well, my mission is for musicians to preserve their hearing for the long term. This is arguably their most important instrument. Getting your hearing screened annually is a great opportunity to make sure you are using your new system properly. Identifying small changes in the short term is better than finding large ones after a few years of misuse. My advice: Isolate. Use peak limiters or compressors. Most body packs such as the Shure P9RA include a peak limiter. You need this to protect your ears from loud bursts of sound. Understand how to set the volume properly on your body pack as well.

It takes time to transition to this technology. It may be best to start with the drummer before transitioning over other band members. With a little patience and the proper education, the transition will be much easier.

The best way to determine your noise load is to have a noise study done. Many apps are available for smartphones that are either inexpensive or free. While not calibrated, the measures can provide you with a very rough estimation to work with. Inexpensive sound level meters are also available for purchase.

You need a professional who understands your artistic needs. Dr. Rohe is committed to providing you with the comprehensive education and answers you need to get the sound and performance you want. Call to schedule an appointment today. (480) 619-5257.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015
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Dr. Rohe | Tinnitus and Hearing Center of Arizona
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