We all know that in-ear monitoring units
have been out for a few years now, and it
seems like the thing to do for band monitoring.
There are several positives and
several negatives for in-ear monitoring
versus floor wedges and we will explore a
few of those now.
You get what you pay for
Simply put, the better the unit the better
it will sound. Why? It has to do with
the companding circuitry used to transmit
all that audio into wireless format.
Companding is a form of compression
that is used to make the sound fit into
the bandwidth used for wireless transmission.
There is also compression used to
limit the dynamic range of the input of
the transmitter (raw audio in) and the output
of the receiver (output to ear buds).
Different priced units have varying levels
of this and the more you pay, the better
it sounds. Done properly, you should
have the effect of listening to your band
like listening to a good recording on your
Walkman or iPod.
Where to put your money
The best set of ear buds you can afford
a good start. The sonic difference of having
dual driver units or high output units
will be instantly noticeable to the wearer.
Next, you’ll want to invest in the best
transmitter and receiver package you can
buy. If you are just getting into “ears”
want to find out if they will work for you,
suggest getting a basic intro package
planning on upgrading to better buds and
transmitter as soon as it is feasible.
Who benefits the most
The musicians that get the most performance
out of in-ears are lead and backup
singers, drummers, bass players, keyboardists,
and acoustic guitar players. I
have seen rhythm and lead guitarists use
them also, but in general, most electric
guitar players don’t like the “boxed in” feeling
and the tone coloration of their sound.
Also, many high volume players who use
the sound of the cabinet to make their
guitar feedback prefer not to wear in-ears.
Usually these are players that do not sing
or sing minimally in the band.
Loud rock bands also seem to need augmentation
in the form of additional floor
wedges and butt shakers or bass floor
pads for drummers, bass players, keyboardists
and some lead singers. Groups
that have become used to an “aural bath”
of sound seem to use the in-ears to get
better coverage and more “me” when
In-ears are pricey, compact and may
require more gear to support them; however,
they are extremely light and can
save a band lots of cost in transportation
– not to mention backbreaking lifting!
Wedges are nice because, if need be,
several performers can hear one wedge.
If you have an in-ears setup fail, you might
have trouble adjusting to your backup plan
A wedge setup requires an additional EQ
and power amp channel, plus a couple of
wedges. That adds up roughly to $800-
$1200 for one or possibly two performers,
if you can share. Four monitor mixes with
eight wedges, two amps and four EQs
will run you about $4000-$7000, depending
on the quality of the gear you buy; in
addition, the setup will weigh about 500-
A great in-ears setup may cost you and
your band about $2500 per musician (i.e.
a DBX IEM digital processor and a Shure
PSM700 with good earbuds) and maybe
another monitor mixer board and some
special cabling from the front of house to
your snake head. You can get into in-ears
for as little as $400 per system (GALAXY
system), and you might be able to have
two receivers share one transmitted mix
to save cost. Another way to cut corners
is to buy the earbuds and to use a small
mixer beside you to drive your ear buds
– this works well for keyboard players,
drummers and bass players.
Be aware that in-ear systems are not a
cure-all, but just another tool that we can
use to get our music across to our fans.
Most systems out there are combinations
of in-ears and floor wedges. So, get some
cash together and start experimenting on
what works best for you and your bands.
The future is here, so get on board and
have fun already!