With the price usually ranging from $500 and above, you’d expect that you could swim with your custom in-ear monitors—or at least use them in the rain. If you’ve ever wondered if a drummer in-ear monitor system is waterproof, this article’s for you!
Can In-Ear Monitors Be Waterproof?
It seems a lot of people mistake water-resistant as being waterproof. So, before we answer the question, we find it important to differentiate the two first.
When an item is water-resistant, it means it’s able to prevent water from going inside it to a certain degree. However, there’s still a great chance that water (or sweat) will get inside at some point.
On the other hand, waterproof offers a higher level of water protection. A waterproof item is highly effective in preventing water or any liquid from passing through. With that said, it doesn’t mean an item will never get wet, especially if it’s subjected to extreme and prolonged water exposure.
Now that’s clear, let’s go back to the question: Can in-ear monitors (IEMs) be waterproof?
It’s possible for in-ear monitors to be briefly exposed to small amounts of water without short-circuiting. However, it’s not completely impenetrable to water.
If IEMs are submerged in more than 4 feet of water for too long—like when you’re swimming—the shell could collect water. This could reduce the sound quality for a day until the earpieces dry out. Or, in worst scenarios, excessive moisture could blow out the driver(s).
When buying for a pair of in-ears, check the IPX rating. This rating indicates the level of protection in-ear monitors have against dust, sweat, water, and so on. It’s often described by the first letter or number. When there’s an “X” instead of the first number, it means an object hasn’t been tested for dust.
The rule of thumb is the higher the rating, the greater the resistance to solid particles and liquids. Below is an overview of each rating:
- IPX0: Zero protection
- IPX1: Resists dripping water
- IPX2: Resists vertically falling water drops
- IPX3: Resists water sprays up to 60 degrees
- IPX4: Resists splashing water
- IPX5: Resists water jets
- IPX6: Resists powerful water jets
- IPX7: Can be submerged in water up to 3 feet
- IPX8: Can be submerged in water over 3 feet
Note: Not all manufacturers indicate the IP rating of their in-ears.
But water isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when using in-ear monitors. There’s also sweat, which isn’t often talked about. When you’re giving it your all on stage, excessive sweating is inevitable.
So, do in-ear monitors tolerate sweat well? Ideally, IEMs for musicians should perfectly hold up to sweat and moisture.
The real problem happens when you’re halfway through a performance, and then you decide to take off your IEM earpiece. By doing that, you’ve just compromised the tight seal of your earpiece.
Once you put it back in, your sweat also goes into your inner ear. Your sweat can’t come out because the earpiece of your in-ear monitor is blocking the entrance to your ear canal.
Moral lesson: Don’t take them out, especially when you’re sweating a lot—or at least dry your face before taking out the earpiece, as well as your ear area before putting your earpiece back inside your ear canal.
But fortunately, most IEMs come with dampeners and filters. These two help shape the sound curves and smooth out frequency response. They’re also responsible for preventing earwax and moisture from building up and reaching the drivers, which could become permanently damaged as a result.
IEMs have another protective feature—a trip switch. So, if there’s too much moisture or solid particles inside, this feature protect the components by temporarily shutting down the device. It won’t reactivate the device until the filters have completely dry out.
The Right Fit is Critical
There are rare instances when sweat could still get inside the earpiece of an IEM even if you wear it properly [How To Wear In-Ear Monitors] or don’t remove it. The possible cause is a poor fit. If your IEM doesn’t have a tight seal and sit flushed in your ear, contact the manufacturer to ask about how you can send it back to them for a minor fit adjustment.
Below are a few signs that your in-ear monitor doesn’t have a good seal:
- Suddenly have no bass and lots of high-pitched sound (treble)
- Unable to completely block off noise from your surrounding environment
- Lots of movement of the earpiece
- Difficult to determine stereo sounds or overall effect of musical sounds
In-ear monitors can either have a universal fit or custom fit. Between the two, custom-fit (or custom-shelled) in-ear monitors offer the most secure seal because an audiologist makes sure they’re molded to fit only your ear canal using ear impressions, which you’ll send to your chosen manufacturer.
But custom-fit in-ear monitors can be pricey. For a more affordable option, consider a model that has a universal fit.
Try different ear tips that fit on the nozzle. Start with smaller ear tips with a good ear hook or “wings” to make sure your in-ear monitors will stay in place while performing on stage. If that doesn’t give you a good seal, try the medium size ear tips next.
Listen to a song to determine if it sounds good or bad. If it doesn’t, try another size until you find the most comfortable and best-sounding ear tips.
Other ways to find the right ear tip size and keep a tight seal:
- To find the earpieces or sleeves with the right size, put your fingers inside your ears. Begin with your pinky finger then move to your other fingers.
- You’ll know if you found the right finger if it gives a good seal and muffles the noise around you. Then, match that finger to one of the ear tips that come with your IEM.
- You could also use memory foam strips. Simply wrap the foam strips around your in-ear monitor’s sound port, giving you a more optimal seal and enhanced in-ear retention.
- Avoid excessive cleaning of your ear canal. Earwax can actually help prevent your IEM’s earpiece from falling out, thus preventing your sweat from getting inside.
Small amounts of sweat and moisture can cause issues with in-ear monitors, but they’re usually temporary—that is, if you address the issue immediately. It’s important to keep them clean and dry [How To Maintain In-Ear Monitor] after every use, even if they have a high IPX rating.
To be honest, there are no in-ear monitors that are completely resistant to sweat, water, or any types of liquids. The key is ensuring a good seal, which you can achieve by using customized IEMS or ear tips that mold to your ear canal.
Remember: If you’re unsure your in-ear monitors are sweat- and waterproof, reach out to the manufacturer, so they can address your specific concerns and questions.