In-Ear Monitors are used both for recreational listening and as professional monitoring headphones in live audio situations, whether in broadcasts, movies, and TV or music performances. For live music performance, in-ear monitors or IEMs are the preferred monitoring tool. First, they keep a small profile, and secondly, they isolate noise particularly effectively.
The expansive foam ensures a perfect fit in the ear canal that is sealed from the outside environment. There’s no question about it, the in-ear monitors are incredibly well insulated and soundproof. Here are some benefits:
Protection for your hearing
Live music performers are exposed to tons of loud noise, that goes without saying. However, have you ever done a series to realize that you are slowly turning up the volume on your headphones? Experiment with the volume of your headphones in a typical setting and listen in a quiet environment, you might be surprised how loud you press it.
In a live situation with music coming from the main speaker system and monitor speakers, you just don’t realize that the volumes are reaching dangerous levels. Live performers need their ears – wearing in-ear headphones helps protect them.
It can be difficult to hear things properly through on-ear headphones for the exact reasons mentioned above, they are poorly isolated and ambient noise is filtered out. This may confuse you, where is the bass line? Are those hi-hats coming from the monitors or from the headphones?
Loud noise can be difficult to decipher, and poor control leads to mixing errors. The internal monitors mute everything and allow you to hear your mix internally as it plays through the mixer signals.
With no outside interference, you can really focus on nailing the mix to perfection. If you want to hear the overall mix as your audience listens to it, simply turn on the master output signal.
Internal monitors vs. headphones
In-ear monitors are headphones, but not all headphones are in-ear monitors. Headphones come in many shapes and sizes, from AirPods to bulkier models that clip over the ear. Headphones designed for recreational listening, such as AirPods or any other headphones with hard plastic earbuds, are not suitable for live music performances.
These types of headphones are not designed for use in very noisy environments, and while some are reasonably well insulated, they somewhat undermine the sense of using internal monitors. The internal monitors you want to look for are those with foam headphones. Foam headphones expand into the ear canal to provide the acoustic seal that gives IEMs their advantages over regular headphones.
Internal monitors can protect your hearing while providing an ideal monitoring environment with no background noise. However, they are markedly different from traditional on-ear headphones and getting used to them can be tricky.
Find Your Fit
Internal monitors may or may not hook over the ear with their cables or a real ear hook. IEMs with this type of fit will stay in your ear as you move across the stage, but can rub the back of your ear.
You may also find it difficult to remove your headphones frequently. That being said, the ear hooks are handy and don’t need to be hooked every time you insert and remove the earbud.
In the case of DJs. forget about monitoring just one side – they often have one headphone on their head and the other off their head. This allows them to hear the monitor speakers and the mix.
With headphones, it’s best to leave them more or less for as long as you mix. Why? Because this allows you to keep volumes in check while mixing, protecting your hearing and enhancing your monitoring experience.