IEM's - A New Convert Reports

JustJames

Platinum Member
Some background:

My band runs through an ancient Peavey once-powered mixer which I picked up for peanuts. We have three wedge monitors (two powered, and one passive which is run off one of the two powered mixers). For a band that plays out 5-10 times per annum it's adequate. Sound is usually run by me and the lead guitarist.

Recently I acquired a pair of Shure SE215's, which I bought to use as earphones, but decided that they fit so snugly, I'd try using them as IEM's.

In order to be able to use them I needed some sort of headphone amp, and went for a Behringer Powerplay P1, which I use in mono mode.

Overall, I loved playing with IEM's, but there were some surprises. The first thing that I noticed was that the more isolating earbuds were TOO isolating, so my drum kit sounded too removed. I'm not a hard hitter, so I don't need too fierce a level of isolation. In between sound check and first set I swapped over to the less isolating earbuds which reduced the level of sound getting through, but without making me feel removed from what was going on.

The second thing that I noticed was that IEM's make a person way more dependent on the mix being fed through than wedge monitors do. I was very aware of instruments that were mixed 'wrong' than my band mates who were using wedges. Our lead singer plays keys for some songs, but not all, and when the keys came in, I found them overpowering, but my bandies, who were getting the same mix, but through the wedges, had no such complaint.

The third surprise was with singing. Specifically on background vocals. I've learnt to move away from the mic and sing along with the last half of the line before I come in, so I know that I will be in key, but with IEM's I really struggled to do that.

For lead vocals, the IEM's were fantastic, but a challenge for singing BV's. (Anybody else noticed this?) I suspect that it's largely a matter of practice.

Overall I am absolutely a convert. I'll need to do a little more work to get what I want from them, but IEM's are definitely the way to go. Drummers have the advantage that wired IEM's are an option, but pretty much everybody else (especially in a pop/rock band) would need to go wireless. Going wired keeps the costs down, but even wireless doesn't have to be eye wateringly expensive, there are economical options for wireless IEM's, some of which seem to do the job.

Similarly, earphones do not need to be ferociously expensive. The biggest thing is that they should be capable of staying in place and remaining comfortable.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
I've been using IEMs for years, and I recognize most of your findings from when I first started. But I wouldn't go back for anything.

If you are shooting for full isolation on your earpieces, you need something, anything, that also puts your drums in the mix you hear. This can be a single mic near the kit that only goes to your feed, or you can have other options. I use a dedicated 6-channel mixer for my in-ears, and in cases where the drums aren't miked up, I throw a simple boundary microphone in front of the kick drum. It picks up the kit superbly, and I run it back to one of my empty channels and adjust the level during soundcheck to balance with the other instruments at an appropriate level. The other option, of course, is to go to a less isolated earplug as you found.

Open-air monitors can be deceiving in terms of mix quality, especially in a noisy room. Hopefully you have a way of adjusting the mix to your in-ears that doesn't affect their monitor send.

As far as singing BVs, I actually don't include much of my voice in my mix. But if you need it in order to be on pitch, hopefully (again) you can get a separate adjustment. Does your band's board have multiple monitor outs? If so, you can appropriate one all to yourself.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
In between sound check and first set I swapped over to the less isolating earbuds which reduced the level of sound getting through, but without making me feel removed from what was going on.

Ultimate Ears offers an "ambient vent", which is really just a hole bored straight through the earpiece, that allows you to hear the outside noise, but cut by 15db. So you're not completely relying on the IEM mix so much. You can still hear the drums and cymbals; usually a bit of kick in the IEM mix is enough.

The second thing that I noticed was that IEM's make a person way more dependent on the mix being fed through than wedge monitors do. I was very aware of instruments that were mixed 'wrong' than my band mates who were using wedges. Our lead singer plays keys for some songs, but not all, and when the keys came in, I found them overpowering, but my bandies, who were getting the same mix, but through the wedges, had no such complaint.

On an old mixer, you won't have much control over your mix, because there usually isn't a spare aux send. Newer iPad-based mixers, like the Behringer XAir and QSC Touchmix, have spare outputs for aplenty.

The third surprise was with singing. Specifically on background vocals. I've learnt to move away from the mic and sing along with the last half of the line before I come in, so I know that I will be in key, but with IEM's I really struggled to do that.

For lead vocals, the IEM's were fantastic, but a challenge for singing BV's. (Anybody else noticed this?) I suspect that it's largely a matter of practice.

Backups are MUCH easier with IEMs, but only if you're able to dial up your own mix. Otherwise it's just as difficult.
 
Top