Advantages And Disadvantages Of In-Ear Monitors

Floor wedges or floor monitors are slowly being overshadowed by in-ear monitors throughout the years. If you’re thinking of exchanging your floor wedges for good-quality in-ear monitors for drummers, it’s important for you to know their primary advantages and disadvantages first.

The Advantages of In-Ear Monitors

Let’s start with the benefits of using in-ear monitors.

Protect Hearing

It’s no secret that prolonged exposure to loud noise could permanently damage the ears, causing tinnitus and/or hearing loss. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, research shows that professional musicians are roughly four times more likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) than the general public. Plus, they have a 57% chance of developing tinnitus (ringing in ears).

In-ear monitors (IEMs) don’t just help you hear yourself better. The earpieces tightly seal your inner ear to isolate you from the outside noise, which could be extremely loud. The device lets you hear only the sounds you need to hear at a safe volume level. Compared to stage monitors, they’re by far the healthier choice.

Caveat: IEMs can protect you from irreversible ear damage, but it doesn’t mean you can just abuse them. If you keep misusing them (e.g., turning up the volume to unhealthy levels), they could also harm your ears.

Deliver a Great Performance

Every musician wants to give a great show for their audience. However, it can be difficult to perform your best if you can’t hear yourself and your band mates. Therefore, it greatly helps to reduce the noise pollution from the stage for better live performances.

One of the most unmistakable advantages of in-ears is the lowered stage volume. This helps you clearly listen to yourself and other instrumentalists and singers on stage. You can also choose not to listen to other people you’re performing with and just focus on the back track and click track (audio cues).

In this way, you can play in harmony with the song and the rest of the group. The reduced noise pollution also helps sound engineers to do a better job of mixing and preventing feedback.

Easily Transported

Is it easier to carry around a bulky 30-pound floor monitor or a 2-pound in-ear monitor system? The answer to the question is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Just imagine you’re a drummer. You need to carry around floor wedges and a standard 5-piece kit with extra hardware, which could weigh approximately 65 to 100 pounds, to your gigs all the time.

Wedges could easily weigh around 45 pounds each. Depending on the venue and number of people who need them, you’ll need more than one. The more equipment you need to carry, the more vehicle space you need and the more money you spend on gas.

In-ear monitors are the clear winner when it comes to being portable. They’re small, compact, and lightweight. You don’t need to deal with speaker cables, freeing your stage from clutter and giving it a more professional look. You can actually bring in-ear monitors with you on a plane [Can You Take An In-Ear Monitor On A Plane].

Caveat: Since they’re small, it’s easy to lose in-ear monitors. And if you’re sweaty or the IEMs you’re using have poor fitting and seal, they could keep falling out.

Individual User Control

Even if you’re on the same monitor mix as your band mates, you can still control what you listen to. You can control the volume of your channel on-the-fly. For instance, if you want to make your bass drum louder and stronger, you can do so without disturbing other performers on stage.

Depending on the brand and model, there are also in-ear monitors that let you make your own monitor mix. And if you’re working with a highly skilled sound engineer, you can ask him or her to make adjustments to your IEMs, so you can hear the crowd (if it helps you perform better)./IEMs have three operation modes, namely:

  • Mono – Choose this setup if you want to listen to the same (mono) sound in both earpieces.
  • Stereo – A stereo setup allows you to clearly listen to other performers on stage with you. And if you prefer, you can listen at a lower volume.
  • Mixed – A mixed setup lets you have ultimate control over what you hear on stage. It allows you to adjust the volume, receiver operation mode, your own mix, and so on.

Greater Freedom to Move Around

If you were to go back to the late ‘80s, in-ear monitors didn’t offer performers the mobility on stage that they enjoy today. There were still cable-related issues that they need to deal with. That changed when Chrys Lindop designed the in-ear monitor version in 1987 that would finally let performers move around the stage freely.

This is another area where in-ear monitors have better advantage over floor monitors. Traditional floor monitors wouldn’t let you just walk away far from their emission area because the music will fade away. You’ll probably end up hearing the monitor of your neighbor.

With IEMs, as long as you respect the distance between the transmitter and your belt-pack receiver, they’ll let you hear yourself while you bring down the house. The rule of thumb is the transmitter (with an output power of 10mW) and receiver antennas should be at least 3 meters apart.

Decreased Feedback

Feedback is the ringing sound that happens when a microphone receives sound from the floor monitor or speaker. The sound it picks up goes through a loop, which passes through the PA system and gets continuously amplified with every loop.

Why is feedback bad? Feedback disrupts both the performers and their audience. It’s annoying, exhausting and time-consuming to fix, and takes the focus away from the performance. Not only that, it increases the risk of hearing damage.

This issue is more likely to happen when you’re using traditional stage monitors. While it’s not impossible, it rarely happens between a microphone and an in-ear monitor.

If feedback does happen, you’ll definitely hear the screeching noise through your in-ears. That’s why you should always use the built-in limiter to block out sound that goes above the safety threshold.

Better Sound Quality

In-ears offer better sound quality through different ways. For one, they deliver sound straight to your ears and isolate yourself from sources of noise pollution (e.g., noise from the crowd and other performers). Therefore, your audio feed is clearer.

When the sound quality is clearer, it’s easier for you to catch any mistakes from the sound of your instrument and the band’s mix. If you’re a singer, you can avoid that embarrassing moment when you sing out of tune because you can’t hear yourself.

All in-ears have one or more drivers, which are responsible for the sound you hear. They could either have a dynamic driver, balanced driver, or a hybrid driver. Among the three, hybrids provide unparalleled sound output by combining the strengths of the other types of drivers.

Reduce Voice Strain

Losing your voice can be costly. Anyone who uses their voice to make a living knows that too well. That’s why they take every possible steps to preserve their “instrument.” And in-ear monitors play a crucial role in helping them keep singing for many years.

When singers are unable to hear their voice and the songs they’re singing, they tend to over-sing to compete with the environmental noise. This could cause inflamed vocal folds, which could lead to permanent vocal cords damage if they chronically misuse or overuse their voice.

Like what we’ve mentioned, in-ears will help singers and instrumentalists to clearly listen to themselves and the mix they’ve chosen to hear. By doing so, they can sing in tune and avoid competing with the loud environmental sound, which could lead to vocal strain—or worse, permanently damaged vocal cords.

Make the Job Easy for Sound Engineers

Sound engineers are in-charge of the technical aspect of a recording or live performance. They set up and operate the necessary equipment and record every musical instrument before amplifying, enhancing, or mixing recorded tracks to produce a high-quality recording.

One of the common issues with floor monitors is spill from the stage to the area of the audience. The excessive low-frequency information that radiates from the backs of these monitors makes it harder for the front-of-house (FOH) engineer to manage the front-of-house sound (heard by the audience) and the stage sound.

As you can see, being a sound engineer is a tough job. However, getting rid of these floor monitors could somehow help. And by using in-ear monitors, it’s easier for them to manage the technical side of every live performance and recording session.

Cleaner and Safer Stage

With in-ears, you don’t have to deal with bulky floor wedges and speaker cables. Therefore, you have a stage that’s cleaner and more professional looking. You also don’t have to worry about tripping over long cords on the floor while you’re performing.

The Disadvantages of In-Ear Monitors

But despite the incredible benefits of these devices, they still have their own set of minor and major disadvantages. Here are some of the common issues linked to in-ear monitor use [Common Problems with In-Ear Monitors]:

Expensive Device

These are expensive. That’s one of the major reasons many musicians don’t use them right now, even though more affordable models are available on the market. Depending on the brand, model, and setup, you could spend around $300 to $1,000 for a good set of in-ear monitors.

You also have to consider the costs of other accessories and operation. For instance, if you want to buy a rack mount kit for your transmitters, you could spend $15 to $50 or more per set.

There’s also the batteries. You need fresh ones (at least two AA batteries) for every belt-pack receiver for every show. If you’re a solo performer or part of a small band, and if your show is only short, then this isn’t a big problem. The story would be different if you’re part of a big group of musicians and the show will last for two hours or longer.

Lack Ambient Sounds

Many musicians don’t like the total lack of ambient sound. They feel like being inside a box or disconnected from their audience. Although they make it difficult to listen to yourself, there’s no denying that the audience can send your energy levels to the roof, especially when they cheer and sing along.

Fortunately, there are a few solutions to this. For instance, you could place ambient microphones to capture crowd noise and other ambient sounds. Another solution is to use in-ear monitors with built-in ambient feature. In-ears with this feature has a controlled hole in their shell, which allows you to decide the level of bleed you want to hear from external sources.

Prone to Cutting Out Problems

There are instances wherein you won’t hear any sound from one or both earpieces of your IEMs. There are a number of possible reasons for this issue. It could be due to loose connections, signal flow interference, bad antenna placement, and/or dirt buildup in the sound ports. In most cases, common problems with in-ear monitors are easy to fix.

Uncomfortable

In-ears can sound awful and become uncomfortable due to poor fitting and seal. The secret to proper in-ear monitor fit is to use the correct ear tip size. Many manufacturers offer a wide selection of good-quality ear tips to make sure your IEM is seated well in your ear.

For a customized in-ear monitor, the usual advice is to replace it approximately every four years. Custom-molded IEMs typically become too tight or too loose through the years because of slight changes to your inner ear’s structure.

Conclusion

In-ear monitors or IEMs can definitely make a huge difference in your performances, regardless if you’re a vocalist or a drummer of your band. However, since it can be expensive, it’s important to seriously consider their pros and cons (like what we gave in this article) to get the most out of your money.

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