Once upon a time, we would only see in-ear monitors used on big stages by even bigger names. We probably didn’t even notice them unless there was a problem and the artist took one out (never do this by the way).Then, one day, along came shows like American Idol and we started to see those in-ears get more personalized and, in some cases, flashy.
With the advent of personal monitor systems, in-ear monitors and the companies who make them seem to be everywhere. We are now at a point in time, especially as church musicians and techs, that selecting your in-ear monitor is as important as your instrument.
So how do we choose?!?!
CUSTOM VS. UNIVERSAL
A custom in-ear monitor is made specifically for the shape of your ear. You visit an audiologist or hearing aid center and they make an impression of your ear. These are then sent to the monitor company and they make your in-ears monitors to fit.
Advantages to a custom fit:
- Perfect and comfortable fit
- Will not fall out easily
- Great noise rejection
- Safer for long term ear health
- Custom fit means sound is consistent
- No one else can use them so your wax is all your own
- Custom colors, logos, design, etc.
Disadvantages to custom fit
- Must get impressions made
- Can’t share the killer sound you hear with others
- Can be more expensive
- Typically a 3-6 week turn around depending on company
Universal fit monitors are designed to fit most ears. You don’t need to get impressions and you can order them online and get them in a couple days. We like to recommend that churches buy a number of quality universal fit monitors so that they have quality backups and monitors for people who don’t want to pay for custom monitors.
Advantages to a universal fit
- Great for churches who need to supply monitors to a number of people
- No impressions need to be taken
- Generally less expensive
- Can be purchased and received right away
Disadvantages to universal fit
- More likely to fall out
- Less noise rejection
- Sound can change based on position in your ear
- If shared, need a stock of tips and wipes to keep them clean and shareable
- No customization
In-ear monitors use a technology called a balanced armature drivers instead of traditional speakers. With balanced armature (BA) designs, we can fit more than one driver per unit. More drivers are better, right? Not necessarily. We’ll discuss that below.
CHOOSING AN IN-EAR MONITOR
There are a couple problems in buying an in-ear monitor. If they are custom, it is near impossible to hear exactly what they will sound like when molded to your ear. And most in-ear companies don’t have stores so you have to purchase based on descriptions and recommendations.
Below are a few steps to help you chose your new monitors.
- Universal or Custom? Will you be sharing with others or are you buying for a whole team? If so, universals are the way to go.
- What is your budget? Define how much you are willing to spend right up front. Give yourself a range. Notice you need to set the range before you decide how many drivers you want. The number of drivers is less important than staying in your budget. If you are getting customs, remember to budget around $50-75 to get your impressions made.
- What is your primary monitoring need? If you are a tech guy, you will have different requirements than a singer. If you are a bass player you will want more lows, singers need to hear the articulation that comes from the 2-5 Khz.
- How big or loud is your stage? Most church musicians don’t need to worry about this, but if you are on a loud or large stage, you may need more headroom. Headroom is basically how loud your monitors can go before distorting. Bigger and louder stages need more headroom to rise above the stage noise.
- Who will be mixing for you? If you have a personal monitor system with good EQ options, you can get a flatter monitor and add the EQ to the mix. If you are getting the same mix as your neighbor, you will want a monitor that adds something to the mix so that your instrument or voice stands out.
- What is the customer service reputation of the company you are looking at? Will they help you with repairs, new cables, and questions? This is an important part of your purchase.
- If you are on a budget, don’t spend more money on flashy colors and faceplates. They may look fantastic, but put as much money as you can into the monitor itself.
- If you are getting a universal fit, make sure to get extra tips and a couple different sizes and types to find one that fits and is comfortable.
- Don’t get lured by the number of drivers. Some companies have 12 driver models, but 4 of them are dedicated to a range that doesn’t add much to the human ear. Get a model that is appropriate for your needs and in budget.
- Guitar players, look for a monitor with some contour in the low and upper-midrange. This will help your instrument cut through a mix. Look for words like crisp, warm, punchy in a description.
- Vocalists, look for a bump in the upper range that will give your voice a little boost. Many vocalists like flat monitors so they can hear the whole band well. Crisp, clear, and accurate are your key words.
- Bass players and drummers, it’s all about that bass, right? Look for low, preferably a couple drivers just for the bass. Your words are punchy, round, powerful, deep.
- Techs, engineers and producers are looking for accuracy. You need a flat monitor that doesn’t color the mix or emphasize any one area. Words to look for are accurate, flat response, even, and depth.
- Key players generally like to hear the whole spectrum as pianos and synths can range from the deep lows to upper-midrange. Look for an accurate monitor very much like the techs above. Full range, accurate, depth, layered and even are the words you are looking for.
Written by Andy Swanson
Andy is the Marketing Director for Alclair Audio. Alclair handcrafts custom and universal in-ear monitors and sponsor several influential artists such as Lecrae, Crowder, and Owl City. For more info on Alclair, visit their website at www.alclair.com.