Many professional musicians rely on this unique piece of device for their performances, but how do they actually work? Do you think it will be a benefit to you as well? Whether you are a serious musician looking forward to a full time career as a performer, or a budding audio engineer who is still learning the ropes, you’ll need to ask yourself – What are In Ear Monitors?
In this article, we will go through the fundamental concepts surrounding the use of this convenient audio monitoring device. Understand the system that it is a part of, and how it benefits musicians or audio enthusiasts. Also learn more about the core components that are crucial in driving in-ear monitors. Are you ready to start? Then let’s not wait any longer!
Introduction – Who Needs It?
Commonly referred to as “IEMs”, in-ear monitors are devices often used by audio engineers, musicians and audiophiles, for casual or critical music listening. Professional performers also use in-ears in order to hear their own custom tailored mix of vocals and instruments on stage during live performances or studio recording sessions.
The earpiece of an in-ear monitor is often custom fitted for the user’s ears, in order to maximise the level of comfort and also further reduce the amount of noise induced by the environment. In-ear monitors generally cost much more than consumer level listening devices, and are typically utilised in professional audio situations.
In order to understand more about IEMs, we need to first look into the concept of an audio monitoring system, which is a crucial part of any live sound system.
Audio Monitoring System
Any sound system that allows the operator to provide a mix of multiple audio sources to performers on stage, is essentially a monitoring system. Conventionally, loudspeakers are used as monitors and are carefully placed on stage, to direct sound towards the performer (usually called wedges). Since IEMs are used in both ears, users are able to hear a stereo mix, if the monitor system is capable of it.
Having a stereo mix adds more depth into the audio quality, as the different sound elements on stage can be panned to each ear. Due to recent technological enhancements, users are now able to incorporate an ambient feature, allowing the attenuation of ambient noise that is filtered by the IEM.
It is important to take note that while IEMs are effective in enhancing the overall accuracy and transparency of the monitor mix and also minimises the overall volume on-stage, performers are now unable to hear the noise coming from the crowd. To remedy this, microphones are placed on both sides of the stage, pointing towards the audience, in order to record some of the crowd noise.
The recorded noise from the audience can then be channelled back into the performer’s in-ear monitors. Live shows that are of a larger scale could incorporate several microphones for the same purpose, spread out across the front of the stage, which could then be routed to a multi-track recording equipment used for broadcasting production, or other uses.
The two core components in an in-ear monitoring system are as follows:
- Transmitter and receiver
Transmitter and Receiver
If you take a look at most professional in-ear monitor systems in the market, they typically incorporate a wireless system in order to send mixes to the IEMs. This wireless system consists of a transmitter and a receiver pack that is worn by the performer. For every monitor mix, there is usually a transmitter and each IEM will always have a receiver.
The transmitter units are usually designed to output either a single stereo mix or two mono mixes. If a transmitter unit is set to send two mono mixes, then that same unit can be used for two separate mixes. All receiver units can only receive a single mix (either stereo or mono). The wireless audio transmission between transmitters and receivers is done via a VHF or UHF radio frequency.
The general professional consensus is that UHF systems are superior to VHF systems in terms of performance, thus making them more expensive in the market. UHF systems are known to be less susceptible to frequency interference, which enhances its capability in transmitting quality audio signal.
The term IEM actually refers to the earpiece itself, and is at the final stage of the monitoring system’s signal path. The earpiece is usually custom moulded (to fit the user’s ear) in order to provide maximum comfort and allow the sound to be projected directly towards the user’s ear canal. This unique design also provides better noise isolation, which ultimately reduces the level of ambient noise heard.
A custom fit in-ear monitor is typically capable of noise reductions between 25 and 34 decibels. However, keep in mind that this result varies depending on the quality of the fit and length of the canal portion of the earpiece. Manufacturers often offer custom IEMs in a variety of colours, but most of them are clear or in a colour that closely matches the performer’s skin tone.
With enough research, you will find some manufacturers that can place your own custom artwork on to the custom in-ear monitors. IEMs usually use cables with a 3.5 mm stereo jack connector that is plugged into the receiver pack, which is typically clipped onto the belt or clothing of the performer, or placed in a pocket.
You can also look for non-custom IEMs that comes with a variety of foam and silicone tips. These earpieces are designed to be universal and can fit into most people’s ears. They are also generally much more affordable as compared to custom moulded IEMs and thus, suitable for musicians on a tight budget.
We have come to the end of this article. I hope you guys have enjoyed reading and at the same time found this to be very useful in helping you decide if you really need those pricey IEMs!
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