Here you can see Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill
using skin-colored in-ears during a live performance.
Good afternoon, audiophiles! Last night while checking out some of the local bands here in Hermosa Beach, California, I noticed something interesting that I can’t say I caught during any other slew of shows – all the bands we wearing ear buds. For those of you unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, I’m talking about in-ear monitors (IEMs) – wireless headphones used to listen to music or to hear a custom crafted mix of vocals and stage instrumentation for live performance (or recording studio mixing).They are often custom fitted for a player’s ears to not only provide comfort, but more importantly, to give a high level of noise reduction from competing sounds (such as the drummer right behind you if you’re a singer). Anyways, the reason as to why they were wearing these wasn’t what surprised me as it has gotten pretty common for bands to employ in-ear monitors instead of floor speakers in order to better hear themselves, but the fact that they were all using them – something that would have been unheard a few years back thanks to their enormous price.
In the history of modern music, in-ear monitors have only really been around for a short amount of time. First introduced in the late ‘80s, they only recently became affordable to the average consumer a little over 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that their use has seen enormous growth, especially in the touring industry. Many live bands and acts use them regularly and for some tours, they’re pretty much essential! Although in-ear monitors are pretty much made to do the same job a floor monitor would, the reason so many prefer them is mainly due to the freedom they can give the performer, especially singers. The ability to have a consistent sound not matter wherever you go onstage has enabled uncluttered stage design, increased freedom of movement and even enhanced performances. Along with wireless microphones, they are pretty much a common sight on many tours.
For those of you who have never seen or used in-ear monitors, they are essentially comprised of a two part system; a transmitter which transmits the monitor mix wirelessly (via radio) and a receiver the performer wears – usually the size of a smartphone with and input for headphones – which receives the signal. This picks up the monitor signal and amplifies it through a pair of earpieces. The transmitter and receiver operate in the UHF band, between 606 and 614 MHz. Other bands are available, but some require a special license.
Before you go out and decide that you might one some in-ear monitors for yourself, there are a few things that you should know. Anyone who has used radio equipment before will know that interference and dropouts are always a potential issue, and the increasingly busy wavebands are making finding clear frequencies a lot harder than it should be. However, modern systems tend to use carrier signals, which lock the belt pack onto the transmitter’s frequency, and this has done a lot to calm interference problems. Also – as with any radio signal – dynamic-range compression and reduced bandwidth compromise audio quality, but the good news is that technology has become increasingly sophisticated and today’s modern in-ears can deliver high-fidelity sound with reasonable consistency. Modern systems are also very stable and produce a good-quality signal, and though the sound is not quite up to hi-fi standards (due to the restrictions of broadcasting) the advantages of being wireless, and the freedom this provides, usually outweigh any minor sound-quality concerns.
You should also know that the earphone side of in-ear systems can vary greatly in price and quality. Most systems are provided with you with generic buds — the kind of headphones you would normally get with MP3 players (not the best in the business to say the least). The next step up from there is a generic mould; these are more ear-canal shaped and fit a bit more snugly, making them less likely to come out and offer better noise reduction. The best option – and the ones most professionals employ – is to have a mould taken of your ear and a custom ear bud made for you. These vary in price depending on the model and can range anywhere from a little over one hundred dollars to one thousand. Custom moulds have the advantage of being a snug and usually the most comfortable. And best of all, they cut out a lot of external noise which makes them great for loud stages. But with all of the added noise reduction, they can easily lead to a feeling of detachment – especially for those new to in-ears – which makes you reliant on a properly balanced mix in order to compensate. Still though, it’s nothing a few good weeks or months of use can’t fix. Alright, now that we know a bit more about in ear-monitors, let’s check one out to get a better sense of what they can bring to the table. And don’t worry; we selected one of the best pro-quality, affordable models around.
As the least expensive in ear monitor system offering both Shure's renowned quality and innovative new features, the PSM 200 makes the benefits of in-ear monitoring accessible to a wide array of cost-conscious musicians. Beyond cost, the PSM 200 components deliver exciting new features including the built-in ability to upgrade the receiver from wired to wireless (as is the case with this system), a transmitter that is also a mixer, and a high fidelity earphone. For those users that can't initially afford wireless, the P2R Hybrid Receiver protects their investment by allowing them to upgrade at a later date. The hybrid receiver starts as a wired bodypack and with the addition of the TransMixer component, operates fully as a wireless receiver. Check out the rest of the features below!
Complete features of the P2R Hybrid Receiver include:
* A dual-function receiver that operates as a wired and wireless bodypack to offer users a cost-effective upgrade, and greater flexibility.
* A built-in limiter to aid in hearing protection that can't be defeated.
* LED indicators for power, RF (radio frequency) signal strength, frequency, limiter, and battery level.
* Volume control.
* An integrated cable management system to keep cables under control.
* A 1/4" line input jack for convenient, integrated line input to connect monitor mixes, click tracks, or effects.
* Up to 6 hours, volume dependant, on a standard 9V battery.
PSM 200 P2T TransMixer
By combining frequency-agile wireless transmitter functionality and a two-channel mixer, the PSM 200 TransMixer offers the end user complete control of the in-ear mix right on the stage.
Complete features of the P2T TransMixer include:
* A frequency-agile transmitter with eight channels per system.
* Up to four simultaneous compatible systems (country dependent).
* A range of 100 m (300 ft.) under optimal conditions.
* LED indicators for input level and frequency.
* Volume controls for mic/line inputs to help you create your own mix.
* Integrated mix control with two mic/line XL-1/4" combo input channels for personal control.
* XLR split outputs that connect signals to a mixing console or other device without affecting original settings.
PSM 200 SCL2 Earphone
Highly accurate, comfortable, and lightweight, Shure SCL2 earphones are the professional standard in in-ear monitoring.
SCL2 Earphone features include:
* Single Dynamic Microdriver technology delivers full range sound and isolation from outside noise
* Frequency Range: 22Hz-17.5kHz
* Weight: 30g (1oz)
* Output connector: 1/8" stereo, gold-plated
* Cable Length: 62"