3 Common Problems With In-Ear Monitors

Many sound engineers and musicians have already made the switch to in-ear monitors (IEMs). Although the best earbuds for drummers offer practical benefits, they also come with their own set of problems.

Today, we’ll discuss the 3 common issues that users face with IEMs and how to fix them.

3 Most Common Problems with In-Ear Monitors

Poor Fitting and Seal

Ensuring a proper fit is one of the important things you need to do when buying in-ears. If the tip of your in-ears doesn’t tightly seal the walls of your inner ear, you’ll hear more of the outside noise and less of the sound transferred from the drivers to your ears (especially the bass).

There are many possible reasons your in-ears are too tight, too loose, or too deep:

1. Sweat

Sweating is inevitable for any musician, even for a pianist. Sweat could cause the silicone ear tips to become slippery, which in turn causes your in-ears to keep falling out.

2. Middle Ear Size and  Structure

The human ear canal is nearly 2.5 centimeters (or 1 inch) long and 0.64 centimeters (or 0.25 inches) wide. Of course, not all of people’s ears have the same measurements. Therefore, even if an in-ear monitor comes with one-size-fits-all earpieces, there’s no guarantee they’ll fit every person perfectly.

There are people who have an ear canal that’s wider than the “standard.” If the ear canal is too wide, then the tip of your IEM can’t put pressure on the walls of your ear canal to prevent it from falling out. In contrast, an ear canal that’s too small will prevent the ear tip from going deep enough to comfortably fit into your ear.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

  1. Nowadays, achieving a proper fit for IEMs doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. All you have to do is look for models that have different choices for high-quality ear tips. Brands typically offer sets that come with different ear tip sizes and materials.

Some aftermarket brands for ear tips that you could consider:

  • Azla Sednafit
  • JVC
  • Spinfits

Note: Make sure you check the dimensions of IEMs you plan to buy since brands might sometimes mistakenly apply different-sized tips (i.e., bigger on the right and smaller on the left, and vice versa).

  1. Even custom-molded IEMs will have to be replaced at least every four years. That’s because the structure of your ear canal will slightly change throughout the years. So, once your IEM starts to loosen, get a new pair using the measurements from a new fitting.

Channel Imbalance

If one earpiece doesn’t have any sound or is louder than the other, the issue is called a channel imbalance. There are many possible reasons this happens, and usually any of the following issues:

1. Manufacturing Defects

So, because of stiff competition, every IEM brands strive hard to offer the best to their customers. That’s why manufacturing defects rarely happen because of strict quality checks before shipping.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

If your in-ear monitor is still under warranty, the best way to solve this issue is to contact the brand or the retail shop from where you bought the product.

2. Loose Adapter Connections

Many of the IEMs on the market already come with stock balanced cable and adapters. The purpose of adapter cables or connectors is to provide a simpler way to switch to a different type of connection.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

The first step is to simply check the connectors on the cable and earpieces to see if they’re intact. If they’re not completely plugged in, the most obvious solution is to push the adapter slightly more until you hear the clicking sound. In most cases, this will solve the issues related to loose adapter connections (e.g., hearing sound only on one earpiece).

3. Damaged Cables

Cables don’t enhance the sound of in-ear monitors. They play an important role in carrying the signal from the source to your bodypack receiver and earphones.

However, even if the quality is high, these cables are still subjected to damage due to wear and tear and rough handling. They can get twisted during performances and costume changes, snagged on door handles, or crushed in their protective cases.

Here’s how to test an in-ear monitor [How To Test An In-Ear Monitor] to determine if the cable is faulty:

Once your IEM starts having channel imbalance problems, one of the first things you could do is use a different cable for it. If you don’t have extra cables lying around, you might be able to borrow from others (a friend, a band mate, a sound engineer, etc.).

4. Damaged Bodypack Receiver Jack

The earphone jacks of an IEM belt-pack receiver isn’t really delicate. However, like most parts that are constantly used, they become susceptible to damage over time. A good way to determine if a defective earphone jack is the culprit is to check the connections between the adapter connectors, cables, and earpieces.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

  1. In most cases, this issue is technical in nature, which a professional sound engineer can easily solve. On your part, you could try contacting the manufacturing company or retail shop where you bought your in-ear monitor to claim the service warranty.
  2. Or, there’s really nothing wrong with your IEM earphone jack. Perhaps the real defective part is the earpieces. It’s relatively simple to confirm this. Just plug the earpieces into other IEMs. If they work fine, get your earphone jack checked.
  3. Another solution is to clean the earphone jack. Over time, it could gather dust (and even lint), which will eventually interfere with the connection between your device’s jack and earpieces.

So, get your flashlight to see how dirty it is. There are many ways to clean this area. For example, you can blow air into it using your mouth or a can of compressed air.

5. Damaged Driver

The driver is responsible for the sound of in-ears. Most IEMs on the market today consist of more than one driver—usually one dynamic driver and one or more balanced armature drivers. And you know what they say, more drivers, more problems.

It’s not uncommon for one or more drivers to become faulty. You can easily identify this issue because it can result in channel imbalance. Fortunately, there are many reputable companies that offer a solid warranty period for their in-ears.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

There’s not much you can do once the driver starts to fail. The best thing you can do is to have your in-ear monitor replaced, if it’s still under warranty.

Cutting Out Problem

Like most issues related to IEM use, there are many reasons for cutting-out problem. It might merely be due to loose connections between the cable and the in-ear monitor. Bad signal flow is another possible culprit.

However, the usual reason for getting cut out when using this device is the buildup of ear wax, grease, and other debris in the earphone nozzle, ports, and crevices. This doesn’t only affect sound quality and volume, but it could also increase your risk for serious ear infections.

Suggestions for fixing this problem:

People often don’t pay careful attention to the overall cleanliness and maintenance of their in-ear monitors [How To Maintain In-Ear Monitor]. In many cases, doing this could help you avoid or solve sound cutting problems.

The rule of thumb is to lightly clean your unit after every use. Below are a few basic steps for cleaning IEMs:

Step 1. Clean the exterior.

First, check what your brand manufacturer recommends for cleaning the outside of your in-ear monitor. You could use a soft cleaning cloth or microfiber rag and rubbing alcohol to clean the shell and the outside of the earbud. Some people use equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar as a cleaning solution.

For foam ear tips: Some audiologists recommend soaking them in a small bowl filled with hydrogen peroxide or warm water mixed with some type of cleaning solution. Leave it for a few minutes or until the hydrogen peroxide turns cloudy.

Reminders:

  • Don’t soak your cleaning cloth with rubbing alcohol because it could get into the inner parts of the earbud and cause damage.
  • Don’t forget to occasionally take out the cable and clean the sockets.
  • Check the cable, especially the male part of the cable end. There’s usually a buildup of oil on this area. Most of the time you won’t notice it until you run your fingers on the cable.

Step 2. Use recommended cleaning tools for the inside.

Most trusted brands already include small cleaning tools with their in-ear monitors. Use the provided tools to gently loosen up and remove the hard wax from the holes. If they’re not long enough to reach the inside of your IEM, you can use other cleaning methods and tools, such as a paper clip.

If you’re going to use a paper clip, keep this in mind: Since it’s thin, a paper clip can easily go into the deeper parts of an IEM. The downside is it’s relatively difficult to gather the wax and dust that are clogging the interior portion of the device.

What should you do? A good solution is to wrap clear or double-sided adhesive tape around the paper clip. This method can effectively gather all of the dirt and wax, without using a cleaning solution or too much force in cleaning areas that other tools can’t reach.

Step 3. Use an in-ear vacuum.

Vacuum cleaners specifically for in-ear monitors exist! IEM vacuum cleaners have a long needle that’s attached to a clear tube, which makes it easy to check on filter status. A ball behind the filter gives you an idea if there’s a suction or clogging problem.

IEM vacuum cleaners are great for cleaning into the deeper areas of in-ear monitors. They’re affordable, compact, and efficient tools for quickly removing earwax and maintaining your personal IEM sets.

Step 4. Use an in-ear monitor listening tube.

If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem, use an IEM listening tube to save time, money, and effort. This device allows you to quickly check every port to make sure the drivers are working properly. Whether you’re a sound engineer or a performer, this low-tech diagnostic tool is perfect for you.

Conclusion

These are just three of the most common problems with in-ear monitors. If the solutions we’ve suggested don’t fix your problem, or if we didn’t cover the issues your unit is having, it’s best to contact the brand’s customer service to help you.

Remember, in-ear monitors can be the most expensive and important purchase you make in your career. So, it’s worth taking the time to buy the right pair for you and make sure you regularly clean and maintain them to extend their usable life.

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