In-Ear Monitors

In-ear monitors are a special type of earbud-style headphone used by live musicians and sound staff to monitor audio signals, effectively mix multiple audio sources, and ‘master’ audio for performance or other live events. Due to their small design and relatively simple operation, in-ear monitors have become the de-facto sound monitoring choice for thousands of high-profile international musicians.

While in-ear monitors are an innovative audio product, they’re by no means the first devices used to monitor live sound. Monitor speakers – speakers which faced away from crowds and towards stages and other performance areas – were used for decades before in-ear monitors became the norm. Due to their bulk and relatively poor sound quality, however, in-ear monitors have since replaced them.

But that’s not the only reason for large monitor speakers to have been phased out. While monitor speakers offer direct sound and the ‘atmosphere’ or a live event, they can have major effects on a performer’s hearing over the long run. Due to the complete lack of ear protection required for an ordinary monitor speaker system to function, many musicians developed hearing loss over time.

This is because a monitor speaker system has absolutely no protective effect – lacking any sort of shielding to protect listeners from the louder, booming PA speakers. An in-ear monitor, unlike the standard monitor speaker system, generally includes its own insulation materials to stop ‘leaks’ of noise that could potential damage the user’s hearing temporarily, or cause long-term hearing issues.

There’s more to the in-ear monitor than just the earbud itself, however. As with any monitor sound system, both an input and an audio output is required for normal operation. A monitor needs to be linked with a preamplifier and input source to create a signal in the first place, and again to a large transmitter unit that can be used to create a signal for the in-ear monitor itself to pick up and play.

The type of receivers used with in-ear monitors are fairly similar to those seen on wireless audio or guitar playback systems – small belt-type kits that pick up a signal. These are linked to a transmitter system, which is given the task of creating this wireless signal and encoding it so that each monitor is only capable of picking up its own, independent signal and playing it back to the wearer.

While this sounds fairly complex, it’s actually quite a simple process, requiring just three systems to work effectively. The first is the audio source – typically a musical instrument amplifier or personal microphone, which is used to create sound in the first place. The second is the transmitter, which is used to transmit the signal to the wireless in-ear monitor and split the signal onto its own frequency.

The third and final piece is the monitor itself, which is attached to a receiver. For the most part, each separate in-ear monitor will need to be attached to its own transmitter. This requires the use of racks – split-area boxes designed to house audio equipment. In a live event, anywhere from one to several hundred monitors and transmitters may be used at once, resulting in hundreds of different signals.

That’s the technical side of an in-ear monitor – now, what about the benefits of using one? For most musicians, the key benefit of an in-ear monitor is its sound insulation and protection. While monitor speakers offer the same level of playback quality as their in-ear counterparts, they do not offer quite as much protection. A standard in-ear monitor can reduce total sound by as much as 34 Decibels.

In a noisy live concert, in which sound quantity is often just as important as sound quality, this large reduction in total noise can result in healthier and stronger hearing. Musicians have complained of a troubling degree of hearing loss for decades, with dangerous consequences showing in many of the world’s older musicians. An in-ear monitor doesn’t completely eliminate this, but it certainly helps.

Other key benefits include the freedom to move around on stage, particularly to areas where there are not any stationary monitor speakers present. This can be a major benefit to eventful and flashy live acts, many of which require simple movement to put on a show. It also eliminates risk areas on the stage – speakers, cables, and other hazards that could be tripped on to cause a dangerous injury.

While in-ear monitors are widely used by professional musicians, many amateurs shrug them off due to their higher purchase price and more complex set-up. We advise doing the opposite. While it’s certainly more expensive to buy individual in-ear monitor kits, the hearing retention offered by the system, combined with its obvious performance benefits, makes it a simple and obvious choice.

This In-Ear Monitors Review is Written/Updated on Jun 17th, 2011 and filed under Consumer Electronics. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed