You can use IEMs as normal earphones

In-ear monitoring: tips for switching to an in-ear system

Wireless, splitter, bluetooth, mixer and mixing - what should be considered?

With our tips you can make the right switch

Useful tips for switching to in-ear monitoring systems: The better the monitor sound, the more official the performance. There is no doubt about that. However, a good monitor sound cannot be taken for granted, especially if the band cannot or does not want to afford the luxury of having its own monitor technician. In addition, a large monitor system with power amplifiers, EQs and floor monitors overwhelms the transport capacities of many bands. As an alternative, the switch to in-ear monitoring is tempting (here a long-term experience report).

Tips for Switching to In-Ear Monitoring Systems Quick Facts

In this workshop we will tell you what musicians and bands should consider when switching to in-ear monitoring,what advantages and disadvantages arise in practice and what it is in terms ofPay attention to wireless systems, splitters, mixer and mixing.Tired of fighting the noise war on stage? Then you are right here.

When people talk about in-ear, most people think of a wireless solution. A radio system does not necessarily have to be used. A wired system is often a grateful alternative, especially when it comes to costs. Band members who have fixed positions on stage (drummers, keyboardists, backing vocals, etc.) usually get along with a wired beltpack or a signal from the headphone amplifier. In addition, there is no need to worry about radio frequency management and antenna positions.

If you are generally skeptical as to whether in-ear suits your band at all, a test run in the rehearsal room with normal headphones (preferably closed design) and headphone amplifiers is a good way to familiarize yourself with the advantages and disadvantages. Another alternative to the in-ear radio link is available to those who already have a digital mixer. Some manufacturers have prepared their mixers for so-called "Personal Monitor Mixing" (PMM).

PMM makes it possible to use a small mixing unit to create an individual monitor mix from preset signals and to pass this on to headphones. Appropriate additional devices are available, for example, from Behringer, Roland or Allen & Heath.

The gateway drug is the bare in-ear system without a lot of accessories. One or two systems can usually be accommodated well. If the whole band wants to switch to in-ear, further investments cannot be avoided.

More me!

Regardless of whether it is wired or wireless: Switching to an in-ear system has advantages and disadvantages. Professional in-ear headphones are well shielded from outside noise and therefore offer good sound insulation. In this way, the musician can easily control how loud the monitor signal should be in his ear. With a loud band on a small stage with classic floor wedges, the regulatory options are significantly more limited. In addition, an in-ear mix always remains the same, no matter where you are on stage.

The sound of an in-ear mix is ​​also more transparent and “closer” than classic monitoring. Some musicians therefore need a period of getting used to in order to be able to get used to this sound. Some never make this transition.

This mainly happens to veteran musicians from the rock and metal sectors. The warrior simply lacks the physical element when the 2x12 "/ 2" wedge lets the pant leg flutter with every bass drum. In addition, singers in particular complain that they are acoustically isolated from the audience. That cannot be dismissed out of hand.

This situation can be weakened by using ambient or atmospheric microphones. More on that later. In addition to the acoustic characteristics, it is also important to deal with some system-immanent hurdles that make the use of in-ear systems more difficult.

Which setup do i need?

Getting started seems temptingly easy: You buy an in-ear system and plug the XLR cable, which up to now has supplied the power amplifier of the floor monitor with a signal, into the back of the transmitter and immediately have the mix on your ears instead of on the wedge. That’s the theory.

In practice, however, one experiences the first surprises. In the rehearsal room in particular, all signal sources are rarely picked up. Therefore, if the singer wants to hear the entire band on his in-ear in addition to his voice, all the relevant signals must actually be present on the mixer.

In addition: I strongly advise against using the low-budget solution of only using one handset! This has to be driven so loud, especially in rehearsal rooms and on small stages, that hearing damage is inevitable. If in-ear, please do it correctly and for both ears!

In addition, it is rarely done with the pure in-ear tracks. The infrastructure around the system must also be in place. Please consider: Every in-ear system occupies at least one aux path on the mixer. The classic cover band with five or six musicians therefore needs at least six aux paths if everyone is using in-ear. Most rehearsal room mixers or power mixers quickly reach their limits.

The same goes for the touring band that performs in clubs, city festivals or festivals. One cannot assume that the local technology can provide sufficient aux paths for all in-ears. If the other bands use conventional floor monitors, there is a shortage of auxes. One or two in-ear tracks for the singers can usually be accommodated. But if the whole band wants to be supplied, the next step is inevitable.

To make yourself independent of local technology, it is best to bring everything with you. In addition to the in-ear tracks, you have a suitable mixer in your luggage as well as a splitter to be able to send all signals to your own desk as well as to the FOH desk. Ideally, all of the microphones also belong in the suitcase. This scenario is expensive, but it has charm: You are independent of the local technology, you have your usual monitor sound on your ears and stage managers or FOH supervisors are happy because you are ready to play in the shortest possible time.

In-ear for self-catering

Such a system can be used in any situation: in the rehearsal room, in small clubs or on a large open-air stage. The number of bands and artists who come with such complete solutions is steadily increasing. I've been experiencing this at festivals and clubs for a number of years.

With the latest digital rack mixers, this solution is also affordable. Depending on the line-up, a digital mixer in stage box format is often sufficient, for example a Soundcraft Ui16 or a Behringer X-Air XR18. If you need 24 to 32 inputs, you can use digital mixers such as the Behringer X32 or Presonus RM32. Like many digital mixers, these offer the advantage that every musician with a tablet or smartphone can control his monitor path himself if a W-LAN router is docked.

In this way, the musician can easily readjust his in-ear sound during the gig. A splitter is required to route the input signals to your own mixer as well as to the FOH console. Here, too, there is a solution for every budget. From simple Y-cables to cheap, passive 19-inch splitters (e.g. the t.racks Eight, Thomann article number 221024) to expensive active splitters - the selection is huge. A simple passive split is usually sufficient and can be built yourself with a little skill.

You can also build a passive splitter yourself. Here is a passive splitter with 32 inputs.

Small summary

If you want to keep the reins in your hand at all times with the monitor sound, the following things are on your shopping list: digital mixer, in-ear tracks (wireless and / or wired) and a reasonably sized splitter. All of this fits easily into a large 19-inch roll rack that can be parked on the edge of the stage. If you want to shorten the setup time again, the outputs for the FOH console are already plugged into suitable subcores and labeled. The stage crew puts these inputs on their stage box while the band connects their signals with the splitter. Using your own microphones has the advantage that the familiar sound is available in a short time without having to crank up EQs and gain pots. So investing in your own microphones is not a bad idea. In order to be able to produce a good monitor sound quickly, you should also have a suitable mix scene in the console.

Mix rules

Word has meanwhile got around that professional earphones including an impression by a hearing aid acoustician (otoplastic) are well worth the money. In addition to top sound and a secure fit for the listener, the isolation of ambient noise is also significantly better.

The good sound insulation is easy on the ear and is beneficial to the sound of your own mix, but it has a disadvantage. If the listener seals very tightly, you have to communicate with each other as a band via microphones or constantly fumble in and out of the listener. Additional ambient microphones make communication easier and also capture the audience. However, they often also ensure that the actual monitor mix sounds washed out. The only thing that helps here is experimentation. A good middle ground is to tame the atmosphere microphones with a ducker, expander or gate so that the microphones are only open when the song is quiet or after a song.

What is the first official act before putting on the earphones? Correct! We check whether a limiter is activated. Almost all higher quality in-ear systems have such a limiter, which intercepts level peaks in the event of mixing accidents, defects or unintentional unplugging of an instrument and thus prevents hearing damage. Otherwise you should at least activate a limiter in the mixer in the aux master. Better safe than sorry.

If the level limiter is active, you plug in both (!) Earphones and create your monitor mix. Most in-ear radio links offer three modes: mono, stereo and mix. If your monitor mixer has enough aux busses, you can use the stereo version or the mix mode. This can be used to create much tidier mixes. The mix mode is basically a dual mono operation. One way is the band's mix and the other is your own signal. You can then adjust the ratio between the band mix and your own signal on the bodypack receiver.

A separate monitor space can be this compact: rack mixer, in-ear units as well as split and subcores on Harting plugs

Equalizing and Compression

Officially something on the ears

First, only give the signals to the mix that you absolutely need. "As easy and quiet as possible!" is the motto. Let's start with the kick drum and turn it up just enough to be heard properly. That's enough for now, because there are still signals. If all the necessary signals are in the mix, you can purify them with targeted equalizing. You are welcome to use a lot of high and low cut.

Careful with compression

Singers in particular don't like to fight against a wall of gain reduction. Your own instrument or voice should therefore, if possible, be limited in terms of dynamics. In contrast, rebellious signals from band colleagues can easily be compressed. Your own signal is above the mix and is always easily audible. If there is a mix and basic sound, a pinch of reverb helps to combine all signals well with each other so that everything sounds like a single piece.