Whether you already have an in-ear monitor system or still planning to buy one, it’s important for you to know and follow the FCC regulations. Read on to learn more about the legal aspects of using IEMs, including the reasons for the new regulations and how they’ll affect you and others who use this device.
How The FCC Rules Impact In-Ear Monitor Use
One of the common issues with in-ear monitors [Common Problems With In-Ear Monitors] is knowing if it’s legal or illegal to use. So, what’s the truth?
The answer to that question will depend if your wireless device was configured according to the newest operation regulations for wireless microphones of the Federal Communications Commission or FCC, an independent U.S. government agency.
Back in 2010, the FCC barred any wireless microphone and similar devices (e.g., custom in-ear monitors for drummers, wireless cueing equipment, wireless intercoms, and wireless instrument and audio monitoring systems) from operating in the 700 MHz frequency band (698 to 806 MHz).
In 2017, the FCC changed its rule again. It prohibited the operation of the said devices in the 600 MHz frequency band (609 to 698 MHz).
And on July 13, 2020, the FCC updated its operation regulations for wireless microphones and in-ear monitor (IEM) equipment. This time it canceled certification for wireless devices that are capable of tuning to 616 to 653MHz and 663 to 698MHz frequency bands.
Note: Devices that are operating in the frequency ranges we’ve mentioned above are now illegal. Even if your IEM doesn’t operate to an illegal frequency and you have no plans of operating it in the prohibited frequency range, it’s still considered illegal.
So, why did the FCC make these changes?
The main intent of the FCC for starting a “broadcast incentive auction” is to repurpose or reallocate a big chunk of UHF (Ultra High Frequency) frequencies. This is in response to the growing demand for wireless broadband services in the United States.
The expected completion date of the clearing of the 600 MHz band was July 3, 2020. The results of this two-part auction of spectrum bands significantly affected the availability of spectrum band for wireless microphones that are capable of tuning to the 600 MHz frequencies.
What is the importance of the FCC 2020 compliance regulation to using the different types of in-ear monitors [In-Ear Monitor Types]?
It should concern you because it means that you could have an old wireless microphone or in-ear monitor that’s operating in the 600 MHz frequency band. Therefore, it’s illegal to use in the United States. It could also cause interference with other wireless devices, such as cell phones.
There are fines involved if you have a wireless microphone or an in-ear monitor that operates within those protected frequencies. This isn’t to scare you, but you could end up paying $16k per day, per channel.
Therefore, we all need to follow the best practices in order to be compliant with the regulations, like using frequency coordination software and spectrum analyzer devices to get the best possible channel assignments at every venue. Make sure your devices have updated systems, with the frequency band adjusted accordingly.
What Should You Do Now?
You’ll most likely need to swap your old in-ears with new ones that are FCC compliant and have a broader frequency range. Fortunately, they’re not difficult to find.
There’s still hope for your old IEM, though. For now, you can tune it to allow it operate close to the illegal frequencies.
Here’s the complicated part: The likelihood of other devices using the same frequency is high. You can’t operate your wireless in-ears in the upper 1 MHz next to the downlink resource block. And it’s not always easy to change the frequency in order to avoid other issues.
You can ask the manufacturer to guide you and provide the essential tools for reconfiguring your non-compliant in-ear monitor system. If you have the PSM 1000 Wireless Personal Monitor System, you can permanently band-limit it to operate in the legal frequencies per the new FCC rules.
Shure, one of the largest manufacturers of microphone and audio electronic equipment in the U.S., offered these steps for band-limiting specific models of their wireless audio equipment, namely:
- Axient (AXT) Wireless Management Network
- PSM 1000 Wireless Personal Monitor System
- ULX-D Digital Wireless System
- QLX-D Digital Wireless System
Important tips and reminders to ensure a hassle-free conversion process:
- Download their U.S. 600MHz conversion tool at Shure.com. It’s available in the free downloads of their Wireless Workbench software.
- This tool configures your wireless devices to frequency bands that are compliant to the new FCC regulations.
- The outcome is permanent, so make sure to double check everything before going to the next steps.
- Connect your in-ear monitor (IEM) and other wireless devices you want to convert to the same network.
- You need the latest versions of Shure’s Wireless Workbench software and Update Utility.
- Also, you need to update the firmware of your device(s) to the latest version:
- Axient: 2.1
- PSM 1000: 1.5
- ULX-D: 2.2
- QLX-D: 2.2
Now, let’s go through the actual steps:
- Open the Shure “U.S. 600MHz Conversion Tool,” which you’ll find in the Wireless Workbench help menu.
- Carefully go through the conversion guideline. This will help you determine if you need to convert your wireless device(s).
- To see the wireless devices on the network, choose the “View applicable devices.” Take note that the list will only show devices on the network that are qualified to be converted.
- Choose the appropriate conversion option for each of your wireless device.
- If you don’t want the tool to take out the restricted bands of the 600MHz frequency range from your device(s), or if you want to do it at a later time, select “Do not convert.”
- Choose “Apply” then “Confirm” to make your conversion choices final.
- Expect your device(s) to reboot and have a new name that ends with a capital letter A in the band listing.
- Check again the confirmation screen to make sure the tool has successfully converted all of your network wireless devices. You can also check the conversion status by reviewing the tuning band of your device(s). If there’s a capital letter A after the tuning band (e.g., J50A), it means the tool was able to convert your device.
- If there’s any error, select the back option to repeat the process for the devices that weren’t converted. But before you do this, check your network connections. Your devices’ firmware and software should also be up to date.
The next thing you need to do is to convert the receivers or transmitters. Just like with your wireless in-ear monitor, it’s important for your portable receivers or transmitters to have the latest firmware. The batteries should also be charged.
Steps for converting any portable receiver or transmitter:
- Activate the conversion mode of any network device, which you’ll use as a conversion station. Just look at the display of your device to confirm that you’ve successfully enabled the conversion mode.
- Switch on your portable transmitter or receiver. Then, align it with the IR (Infrared) port on your network device and hold for a few seconds (up to 6 seconds).
- The device you converted will appear in the list for converted devices.
- Your portable transmitter or receiver will then reboot.
- Check in the band listing if the capital letter A appeared at the end of the new band name.
- Choose the mode for disabling the conversion process.
- Go through the conversion report to determine if all the devices were successfully converted. Note: You can import these reports into one file for archiving. If you need to export, import, review, or share these files, simply select the reports menu.
Don’t forget to fill out the form, so you can forward your conversion report to Shure. The company will give you compliance labels, which contains the latest tuning information for all of your converted devices.
Compliance labels are free of charge. They’ll typically arrive within 7 to 10 business days.
To sum up this article, in-ear monitors aren’t illegal as long as they’re compliant to the newest FCC regulations. Meaning, they don’t operate on the 600MHz frequency range.
To totally avoid this issue, it’s better to buy in-ears that are already FCC compliant. You could also ask the shop or manufacturer of the in-ears you plan to buy, so they can give you expert advice.