From Chad Smith to Cindy Blackman Santana, the best in-ear monitors for drummers have become practical options for sound engineers and drummers of all levels. So, when did these devices become popular? Who invented them?
Read on to learn the history of in-ear monitors (IEMs).
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In-Ear Monitors – A Brief History
Music has always been a valued feature in all periods of human history. From the 1890s to 1925, people played music without using microphones or big speakers to amplify the sound of their instruments. This is why the typical orchestra contains different groups—the more people, the louder the sound.
This changed when the microphone and simple speaker were invented. Eventually, bands used huge stage monitors and PA systems to fill the concert venue with their music.
However, due to the excessive noise from the audience and powerful PA systems, it wasn’t surprising that in-ear monitors were born. One major advantages of in-ear monitors over stage monitors [In-Ear Monitor Vs Stage Monitor] is they’re a lot quieter.
The in-ear monitor was the brainchild of Stephen Ambrose. Take note: He was only 13 years old when he created this device. (Some sources say he was 12 years old when he made it.)
Stephen’s father, a classically trained musician, didn’t allow him to listen to rock music during that time. So, what does this musical wunderkind do? He made an in-ear listening device, which was the only device during that time to deliver full-spectrum, high-fidelity sound (refers to high-quality sound reproduction), within a fully closed ear canal.
For his first in-ear monitor, he used Silly Putty (initially, he used bubble gum), old crystal AM radio parts, and swimmer’s earplugs. He also used the amplifier of a tape recorder with a mic to power the device.
His first in-ear monitor had an earbud, so he could listen to himself. As everybody would expect, his first in-ear monitor wasn’t perfect yet. It had an earbud, which still needed to be changed. The speaker was very low quality. Plus, during its infancy years, it was usually reserved for a selected group of people.
At his young age, Stephen was already a professional musician. And for many years, he was able to tour with many legendary performers, including Diana Ross, Kiss, Stevie Wonder, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Touring with different performers gave him the opportunity to develop and refine in-ear monitors. He even created custom in-ear molds for Stevie Wonder using self-curing silicone rubber material, which has existed since the late ‘70s.
But there was a serious problem. The use of earbuds was linked to hearing loss. Mild to severe hearing loss has increased to 77 percent since the ‘90s due to earbud use, according to Asius Technologies.
To prevent this, he invented the Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens (ADEL™). This is an inflatable balloon made from polymer. It acts as your “artificial second eardrum,” which captures harmful inner ear sounds and pressures and diverts them away from the sensitive areas of the ear. As a result, it preserves the hearing of those who use IEMs, while allowing them to experience louder and richer sound.
In 2006, he founded Asius Technologies in order to give the public access to his invention. For decades, his company was the sole provider of professional-grade IEMs.
Today, it’s also the only designer of high-end, music-enhancing personal audio devices. In 2016, the company joined forces with Empire Ears, maker of high-quality in-ear monitors for musicians, sound engineers, and audiophiles.
In the early ‘80s, Marty Garcia of Future Sonics pioneered the development of personal in-ear monitor earphones and systems to solve vocal fatigue and ear stress due to loud stage volumes.
In 1982, Marty was working as a monitor mixer for singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren. It was during this time that he created his first custom-built earphones for Rundgren.
Note: Future Sonics is an American company that designs and manufactures professional and consumer monitors and earphones. According to the company’s About page, it’s their full range of award-winning dynamic transducers (which are present in all of their earpieces) that sets them apart from their competitors.
In the mid-’80s, Todd Rundgren had his Utopia tour (not to be mistaken for Björk’s Utopia Tour). It was the first concert tour that it didn’t have stage/wedge monitors. Instead, all of the members of the band were wearing Future Sonics’ new in-ear monitors.
Until this time, artists weren’t still able to move around freely around the stage because of cable-related problems. Fortunately, in 1987, sound engineer Chrys Lindop was also developing an in-ear monitor system that would finally allow musical artists to walk freely around while performing.
The first one to take advantage of this innovation was the legendary singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder. During this time, Chrys was working with Stevie Wonder on his tour.
Chrys used an FM radio station transmitter and a pocket Walkman FM radio receiver, which was in Stevie’s pocket. The receiver was tuned to the Wonderland Radio station, which transmitted his mix to him from around six miles away through his earbuds.
From there, Chrys decided to develop a low-power system that operates on legal frequencies. He then partnered with electronics engineer Martin Noah to form Garwood Communications. And together they developed the first commercially available in-ear monitor system, which they called the Radio Station.
In-ear monitors were still in their infancy stage (but showed amazing promise) at this time. It would take a few more years before they finally become more popular than the now long-established wedge speakers.
In 1995, Van Halen’s monitor engineer, Jerry Harvey, was faced with a dilemma. Drummer Alex Van Halen told him that the extremely loud sound of the massive crowds and stage monitors was hurting his ears and making it hard for him to communicate with his band mates.
At that time, IEMs weren’t still widely used in touring as it is today. But Van Halen was still interested to explore this option to solve Alex’s problem.
After doing research, Harvey found out that the available single-driver earpieces won’t do the job. So, he went on to develop his own two-way custom earpieces with a high-frequency driver and pacemaker speaker. He placed these small loudspeakers in Alex Van Halen’s ear mold impressions.
After his successful attempt to improve the IEM design, Jerry Harvey established his first company, the Ultimate Ears. He then founded the popular JH (Jerry Harvey) Audio in 2007.
The company eventually had a wide range of sophisticated in-ear monitors, including eight balanced armature drivers (produce a fuller sound) and dynamic drivers (produce a more consistent and powerful sound), for all music-related professions (e.g., composers, drummers, studio engineers).
In order to increase accessibility for in-ear monitors, Ultimate Ears developed their custom fit earphones known as the CSX series (UE 5, UE 7, UE 11, UE 18+, and UE LIVE). Each CSX model comes with two to eight high-performing speakers, so you could enjoy clear and balanced sound that’s important for everyday listening.
When you buy any of the CSX series in-ear monitor, it automatically includes a free UE FitKit that you could use at home. This kit consists of gel-filled molding tips to capture your ears’ one-of-a-kind impressions within minutes from the comfort of your home.
Through the FitKit, Ultimate Ears was able to increase the accessibility of in-ear monitors to more talented performers. People didn’t have to be part of the elite performers to experience similar audio quality as the professionals.
Note: In case you’re wondering, Ultimate Ears warranties their in-ear monitors for one year from the date of purchase. In general, in-ear monitors could last [How Long Do In-Ear Monitors Last] around three to five years, depending on how you use and care for them.
In-ear monitors have come a long way since Stephen Ambrose decided to find a way to secretly listen to rock music. Although they were invented in 1965, these devices have only been affordable to all musicians for around fifteen years. But regardless of their price, we can’t deny the fact that they have become indispensable tools for many musicians—including drummers.