Taking control of your monitor mix in a live situation can be seen as a pretty bold move, but sometimes the best in-ear monitors (or IEMs, for their English name) are simply a must, especially if you’re looking for playing over a track, you want greater precision or need more control over what you’re hearing on stage.
Despite being viewed as a luxury in live performance for some, the in-ear monitor can also be beneficial in other situations, such as in the studio or rehearsal room. At this point, no one knows when live music will consistently return, but there is good reason to consider in-ears for your productions. And of course, when live music finally returns, don’t you want to be ready for action? If so, rehearsing is something musicians can still do, and it’s another great app for in-ear monitoring.
One area where EIMs triumph over over-the-ear or in-ear studio headphones is the elimination of external fatigue. Not all of us were blessed with little earholes, and in some cases, long hours in the production chair can cause a lot of pain when you have a set of ill-fitting cans crushing your ears against the skull.
Whether you can walk into a rehearsal space with bandmates, are practicing on your own, doing a lot of production at home, or just preparing for the return of live music, IEMs are an ideal solution for monitoring in any situation.
1. Shure SE846
The problem that arises with the review of the in-ear monitors is that many of them look the same. Across the price spectrum, you will find ‘generic clear plastic housings with various electrical special type arrangements’. But, as we discovered when we tested the Shure SE846, not all IEMs are the same.
These in-ears basically blew us away. In terms of sound reproduction, you can see why the crowd of audiophiles gravitate towards them. A stylish touch is the inclusion of a set of three ‘mouthpieces’ (headphones), which can be interchanged to tailor the listening experience. But more importantly, they also offer up to 37 dB of sound attenuation, making them ideal for loud stages and studios. You might not realize the Apocalypse if you had them on and with such good sound, the Apocalypse can frankly wait.
If you’ve spent money on a decent wireless system but found the included headphones to be somewhat lacking, don’t worry; it is the easiest part to replace. And, taking a step forward, you’ll want to look for something that improves overall sound and isolation from ambient noise.
The Audio-Technica ATH-E70 is an option when it comes to choosing the best in-ear monitor for medium budgets. Located in the mid-range, these headphones feature three drivers that provide a balanced and accurate soundstage. Going a step further from the entry-level, there is an increase in cost, but if you’ve used basic headphones for a while, you will surely notice a difference in performance.
3. Sennheiser IE 40 Pro
Sonically, the IE 40 Pro sounds reasonably natural, with good articulation in the high frequencies and full but not overpowering bass. They are quite bright on the high end at higher volumes, but this is not a deal-breaker.
The comfort and fit are also quite positive. With a medium-sized in-ear module and quickly replaceable tips, you can achieve a decent fit quickly, which is important if you will be wearing them for long periods. In fact, we’d say these are some of the most comfortable in-ear monitors we’ve tested; impressive given the modest price. It’s a shame the rather short cable (1.3 m) and the lack of a cable extender.
The IE 40 Pro in-ear monitor provides decent sound without costing a lot of money and is suited to live use as well as general playback tasks.
4. Shure SE215
Shure is known as a true heavyweight in the world of sound recording and production, which is why we expected great things from the Shure SE215 in-ear monitor. Fortunately, for the most part, they complied.
Shure claims that the SE215s block out about 90 percent of ambient noise, making them ideal for most music applications. The thickened detachable cable also indicates a degree of robustness, although we detected slight magnetic interference when they came into contact with our hands.
They are not high-end, only one driver is used here, however, as a gateway to the world of IEMs, they are very respectable. And, as a bonus, they are phenomenal when only used to listen to Spotify or the like. Exaggerated? Not at all…
5. Sennheiser EW IEM G4 Twin
Musicians working on it should look a little further up the chain when it comes to choosing the best in-ear wireless monitoring system for them. When your livelihood depends on delivering quality performance, night after night, then you must ensure that the equipment you are using can handle the situation.
The Sennheiser EW IEM G4 system offers that guarantee. As one of the biggest names in audio streaming, Sennheiser can be trusted when it comes to your monitoring line. The G4 system is reliable, high-quality, and offers useful features like a 330-foot transmission range and easy synchronization between transmitter and receiver via infrared.
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