Monitoring is a central, day-to-day topic if you are working as an audio engineer or musician. As a professional, you usually want permanent quality, be familiar with the sound characteristic and know what you can generally expect from your gear. Using different monitoring equipment almost every time lets you unaware of how things need to sound to result in a satisfying or even outstanding final product. Especially in the live music environment but also in the studio environment as a reference monitor, custom-made in-ear monitors are a must-have tool for every music professional!
The traditional way to provide a monitor mix for live performers was the so-called wedges (also: floor monitor speakers) directed toward the musician. That equipment is still commonly used in the amateur, or semi-professional sector where the budget for those in-ear monitors (short: IEMS), needed additional equipment like transmitters and receivers (to wirelessly send the mix to the musicians) or even own monitor mixing console is not available. Using wedges impair the overall sound in the live environment because of generating additional noise. To be able to hear anything from them, their volume needs to be increased to cope with the noise of the audience and surrounding. Moving around on stage (because nobody wants to see a static and unemotional band performance, right?) will let you hear a monitor mix of your band members or - at its worst - you can not hear anything properly and could get offbeat or miss your entry.
With in-ear monitors, you bring down the stage volume to a minimum. Furthermore, every musician can adjust his individual monitor mix and volume to be completely independent. Most of those in-ear solutions - especially in the professional sector - are custom fitted headphones providing comfort besides a high level of noise reduction to reduce ambient surroundings drastically. The live audio engineer can monitor his mix cancelling out the noisy surrounding, or the studio engineer can use his pair of in-ear monitors as a listening reference for playing back without room impact.
Nevertheless, as a live performer using an in-ear system, you may lose touch with the audience and the environment if your monitor mix only consists of microphone signals of the instruments. Special ambient drillings in the headphones or placing ambient microphones capturing the audience are possible solutions that should help to stay in touch with the audience, their comments and singing. The volume of the ambience can be adjusted individually like all other mix elements.
Hand-made in Germany - Vision Ears
Unhesitatingly, I can say that the sound and the building quality of my VE-3 are amazing! Their sound is very honest that makes them the perfect tool for an audio engineer and producer. If the song sounds crappy on them, it is quite likely that it sounds crappy on all other playback systems and you definitively should adjust your mix. In the recording and live environment, it is just a pleasure to listen to your individual monitor mix with exactly the volume and sound you want. On top of that, they are looking just super fancy and sexy (if in-ear monitors can) :D
Prices are ranging from 790€ (VE-2) to 2.330€ (VE-8) plus your individual design options, optional accessories and shipping. For audiophiles, Vision Ears recently designed their flagship in-ear system "Erlkönig", starting from 4.200€. Custom made ear protection is available for 175€ plus shipping. From my point of view, that tool is a must-have for all musicians and audio engineers and are a true lifesaver when you are going to concerts, clubs or other noisy locations.
Taking care is essential!
The expensive and hand-made in-ear monitors are relatively sensitive as well as your ears. If you maintain your pair of in-ears conscientiously and your weight will not change drastically over the years, the piece of superb technology will last for your entire life and is consequently a worthwhile investment. Like every electronic system, it is very sensitive to moisture. Professional musicians who perform a long set on stage often use two or more pairs of in-ear monitors during their show to prevent outages caused by moisture. Dancing, singing and jumping in the spotlight on stage makes you sweat - also in the ears, that are tightly closed thanks to your headphones. In a break, the musician can switch his pair of in-ear monitors and let the used one dry in a dehumidifier (e.g. a pot with drying capsules). But not only the moisture is important to care about. The overall cleanliness is essential, too. Bacteria and earwax need to be removed. The auditory canal of the in-ear monitors is exceedingly sensitive because earwax is easily collected there (even with very clean and neat ears) and can clog the canal or noticeably change the acoustics of the monitor system. The cleaning is usually done with a soft cloth and a special cleaning spray. If you are in a hurry, you can clean them with alcohol prep pads if they are not too moist. A cleaning brush should facilitate the cleaning process and normally comes along with your headphones.
That was another tech talk to give our less experienced readers an understanding of the use, importance, benefits and downsides of in-ear monitoring. If you are an upcoming band starting regular touring, considering upgrading your monitor system to in-ear technology would be worth it. Next week we will talk about my implied and long-overdue Hackintosh upgrade to an up-to-date Thunderbolt 3-supporting studio computer. Guys, wish me luck with the assembling and software setup!