Perhaps it relates back to my over-protective Italian mother, but I’ve always been leery of loud stages. When in-ear monitors first began working their way into Nashville touring acts, I couldn’t wait to embrace this technology in hopes of saving my hearing while improving my live mix. I imagined in-ear monitors would transform a sonically cluttered stage into a studio-like, high fidelity headphone experience. Live stages are, for the most part, doomed to sound bad. The omnipresent bass muddies the mix, drums painfully bash away, that snare spiking your brain every two and four beat, which forces us guitar players to crank loud enough to cut through the noise. In-ear monitors, in theory, cure all of these wrongs. Regrettably, the first few in-ear monitor rigs I worked with made the wedge nightmare not seem so bad. Poor fitting buds never sealed out the noise and primitive bud design reduced the powerful, warm tube driven roar of my guitar to a wimpy, transistor- ish sigh. Vocal tone was equally bad, not just lackluster, but embarrassingly thin and lifeless. Sadly, that remained my experience with in-ear monitors for years. Slowly things improved, though I never reached the ear nirvana I had first imagined ... until now.
A Joyful Noise
The Ultimate Ears 4 Pro series makes good on the early promise of in-ear monitors. Imagine a world where guitars sound like guitars, voices sound like voices, and drums and bass reside in the mix rather than over the mix. The UE 4 are very transparent, giving you back an extremely accurate representation of the natural timbre of instruments and voices.
Now I understand why 75 percent of today’s top touring professional artists—including bands such as Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Van Halen, Sheryl Crow, Sugar Ray, The Killers and SwitchFoot—use Ultimate Ears custom in-ear monitors.
I test-drove the UE 4 on a large, open-air festival gig and a smaller 2,000 capacity club gig with a low ceiling, (a potential stage mix nightmare). In both environments the UE 4 Pros worked perfectly; they were comfortable and sounded clear and accurate with no discernible distortion. Being able to hear everything so well really made the gigs fun. The UE 4s sounded better than any in-ear system I’ve ever used. I was so impressed with the UE 4 Pros that I brought them along to a recording session where they soundedmuch better than the cans provided by the studio. My only suggestion is that the cord could be a little longer. It’s the perfect length for live work, unlike other in-ears rigs that give you miles of cord that has to be awkwardly stuffed underneath your shirt or pants. The UE cord makes for a short leash when you have to reach a mixing station, however. It was worth working around this small inconvenience because they sounded so great, and I’m told that a longer cord can be purchased from the website for $39.
Another unexpected pleasure came when I brought the UE 4 along on my last four flights. Usually in-flight movies are painful to watch because the poor sound quality ruins the experience. The UE 4 cut out all that loud ambient airplane noise, reproducing a clean audio signal with both the movies and the music I listened to. They were far easier to carry than noise canceling headphones, which cost about the same but don’t sound nearly as good.
The Final Mojo
At this point I’ve gone through probably six disappointing in-ears monitors. Had I started with the UE 4 Pros, I would’ve stopped right there and saved myself lots of money and aggravation. For those of you who have not yet owned in-ear molds, the fitting process may sound a bit intense, but it’s remarkably easy. Once you’ve decided to make the jump into in-ear monitors, schedule an appointment with a qualified audiologist. The UE website will help you locate an audiologist near you: ultimateears.com/_ultimateears/ support/audiologist_instructions.php
. The audiologist shoots some pink goo in your ears and you leave with the impressions. Next, send the impressions to Ultimate Ears, where a pair of custom monitors will be created based on an exact replica of your ears. Plan on roughly a 30-day turnaround.
you’re just getting into the in-ear world or if you’ve had the same in-ears for five or six years.
you were born a wedge rocker and you will die a wedge rocker.