Make Life Click is reader-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. More details


MAKE LIFE CLICK
Best Custom in-ear Monitors
2021

It’s been a long time coming, this post on the best custom in-ear monitors. I’ve put it off and put it off as there was always more appeal in pulling together recommendations on a Universal IEM list for singers, drummers and all the budget options out there.

I figured as universal IEMs are so much more accessible the appeal of a list with the best custom in-ear monitors would have less benefit for people.

But, here we are. I’ve already showcased companies where you can go to get your custom in-ear monitors from and also provided some help for beginners and tips on getting ear molds done.

So now it’s time to tackle the custom IEM list with as much gusto as I can. I am passionate about in-ear monitors and custom IEMs are like the Formula 1 of audiophile bliss. While sometimes the mold needs tweaking, once it’s done it’s all yours down to every curve.

In the last 10 years, I’ve watched so many in-ear monitor companies come to life as they have become more popular well beyond musicians and singers. Now audiophiles are adopting them as their portable listening perfection.

Advertisement
End Advertisement

The driver configurations have also become quite astonishing. I blame Jerry Harvey for that when he came out with the JH Roxanne the idea of 12 BA drivers per side was not ridiculous anymore.

I had a set of the first generation JH Roxanne and they were nothing small in the ear, and still aren’t. Keep that in mind when shopping.

Some questions to ask yourself before choosing your CIEM:

  • How much money am I prepared to pay? (we’re only doing high-end in this post)
  • How many drivers do you need?
  • What will your source be and will impedance/resistance matter (ohms)?
  • Does design matter to you? Some of these companies, like Noble, are real IEM artisans
  • What is your primary use occasion – singing, drumming, live mixing, listening to music?

So, if you’re looking for the best custom in-ear monitors you can get your hands on, this list will showcase a really great selection. The truth is, there are so many companies it’s important to cut through the pretenders and reach the players.

For each represented company we’re putting forward their top of the line CIEM but most will also offer universal versions and more affordable custom in-ear options.

In no particular order:

1: Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver

Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver Custom In ear monitor
Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver

Drivers configuration:
4 x Balance Armature Drivers (BA) (Bass)
4 x BA (Mids) Drivers
1 x BA (Highs) Drivers
4 x Electrostatic Drivers

Other things of note:
4-Way Crossover
Fore Bore

Perfect for:
Full Band
Vocals/Singer
Drums
Bass
Keys
Audiophiles

Advertisement
End Advertisement

Tech Specs
Noise Reduction: -26dB
30 Ohm resistance
110 dB Sensitivity

Alclair is a different custom in-ear manufacturer as they include electrostatic drivers in their CIEMS. This is unique as typically electrostatic drivers take some serious power to drive them.

Surprisingly, these only have a 30 Ohm impedance which means you don’t need a solid power amp or hefty belt pack to run them. You could even get away with your smartphone although audiophiles will usually extend their source with a DAP/DAC/Headphone Amp or similar.

With this range of drivers, it’s not hard to imagine how much headroom these things must have.

Most of all the soundstage should be wide open and really clearly separated.

While aimed at musicians and singers first and foremost there is no doubt that this driver configuration and price point will impress even hardy audiophiles.

Throw in the electrostatic drivers as a cherry on top of all the Balanced Armature drivers and audiophile fans of HiFi Man and STAX will surely be curious here.

2: JH Audio Layla

JH Audio Layla Custom in-ear monitor
JH Audio Layla

Drivers configuration:
4 x Balanced Armature Drivers (BA) – Bass
4 x BA Drivers – Mids
4 x BA Drivers – Treble

Other things of note:
4-Way Crossover
Triple Bore

Perfect for:
Vocals/Singer
Drums
Bass
Keys
Audiophiles

Tech Specs:
Impedance: 20 ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz-23 kHz
Sensitivity: 117 Db @ 1mW
Sound Isolation: -26 Db

At first, I was going to pick the Roxanne’s based on my ownership of the universal model but clearly, that would be to short change the evolution the Layla CIEM has gone through over the years.

This Custom in-ear has been tuned and tuned to perfect by Jerry Harvey and is the pinnacle selection from his range.

A unique feature of JH Audio in-ear monitors is the Variable Bass Attenuator. This allows you to tune the bass in the CIEM to your preferred levels, just with the twist of a dial. You can increase or decrease bottom-end bass response from flat (0) right up to +15dB.

It’s something you have to experience to see how cool this feature is. Each JH Audio unit with VBA comes with a small screwdriver so you can adjust it as you like. If you lose the included hardware you can always use a small screwdriver or similar.

JH Audio have an epic reputation in the pro audio and musician/singer space so you’re dealing with a company led by someone who is considered the inventor of the modern in-ear monitor.

3: Noble Audio Prestige Kahn Custom in-ear Monitor

Noble Audio Prestige Custom Kahn - best custom in-ear monitors
Noble Audio Prestige Custom Kahn

Drivers configuration:
1 x 10mm dynamic driver
4 x BA drivers
1 x 10mm Piezoelectric driver

Perfect for:
Audiophiles

Tech Specs:
Tech specs from Noble are hard to come by but we’d estimate:
Impedance: 20-30 ohms
SPL: 105-110dB

Noble can only be described as one of the most artistic CIEM companies around. They are also one of the older, more experienced companies. Dr John Moulton has a long impressive history in the audiophile world which is where he made his name early on with Heir Audio.

Noble Audio has always focused on HiFi enthusiasts and audiophiles first and foremost. That’s not to say they are not perfect for live musician use, just a little bit reversed from what most in-ear monitor companies have done, and are doing.

No cast acrylic or 3D printed shells on this CIEM. The Prestige Custom Khans are carved from solid materials.

The driver configuration stands out from the crowd with the less is more and quality matters configuration. Where Alclair plays with electrostatic, Noble (Wizard) play with a Piezoelectric driver.

This is considered a Tri-level Hybrid with its three-driver configurations.

Noble’s reputation precedes them and while their prices are high, if you have the money it could be worth a go.

4: 64 Audio A18s Custom in-ear Monitor

64 Audio A18s Custom in-ear Monitor
64 Audio A18s

Drivers configuration:
1 x Tia BA – Treble
1 x BA – Highs Mids
8 x BA – Mids
8 x BA – Bass

Advertisement
End Advertisement

Other things of note:
4 Way Crossover

Perfect for:
Audiophiles

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 106 dB/mW @ 1kHz @ 1mW (84mV)
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz
Impedance: 8Ω (easy to drive)

I started selling 64 Audio when they were transitioning from 64 Ears to 64 Audio. I was impressed with their ADEL technology and when they parted ways with ADEL their APEX technology seemed even more impressive.

You can swap out the APEX modules based on your preference and this comes with two.

I love that the A18s come with a humidifier in the package. At this price, I think all custom in-ear monitor companies should include this kind of hardware to protect your investment.

64 Audio have always boasted more tech than most IEM companies and for many, they always land as an end-game CIEM. Audio is subjective so this might change for different consumers.

18 BA drivers per ear is not a small package so. you can expect to be noticed in these. If you have small ears, think long and hard about how far out of your ears these might need to go to fit the drivers in.

The A18s also come in a universal, the U18, if you’re too scared to commit to a custom model.

5: Empire Ears Odin Custom in-ear Monitors

Empire Ears Odin Custom in-ear Monitors
Empire Ears Odin Custom()

Drivers configuration:
2 x W9 Subwoofers – Bass/Sub Bass
5 x BA – 2 x Low-Mid, 2 x Mid, 1 x High Mids
4 x Electrostatic – 2 x High, 2 x Super High

Other things of note:
7 Way Crossover
Japanese designed cable in collaboration with PWAudio and PENTACONN

Perfect for:
Vocals/Singer
Drums
Bass
Keys
Audiophiles
Full Band

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 100kH
Impedance: 3 Ohms @ 1Khz

The first comment here is that these are big. Like the A18s, these are not for small ears or you must at least have to be prepared to send in photos of your molds prior to sending them in as Empire Ears need space to build out such a lot of BA drivers into the space.

I love the storytelling element of this CIEM. Odin is the name and the finish is called Bifrost. How cool is that? No, it won’t help the sound quality but it will certainly have some negative placebo affect mentally.

The Odin cable is a partnership between PWAudio and PENTACONN of Japan. Even in our list of the best XLR cables we found Japan quality topped the list with the MOGAMI cable. That to say Japan has a reputation fo excellent cable manufacturing.

The high end is represented really well in these thanks for the electrostatics drivers powering the upper treble frequencies.

There is a built in transformer to overcome the challenges driving ES drivers which Empire Ears have done a good job of. The challenge with electrostatic drivers is there need for power and their inability to function well with other drivers in the same arrays.

EE has overcome this with their proprietary EIVEC technology.

Advertisement
Advertisement

6: UE Pro – UE Live

UE Pro UE Live
UE Pro UE Live

Drivers configuration:
8 x Balanced Armature (BA) Drivers

Other things of note:
5 Way Crossover

Perfect for:
Full Band
Vocals/Singer
Drums
Bass
Keys
Mixing / Mastering / Foldback Engineers

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 120 dB @ 1 kHz, 1mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1Khz
Noise isolation: -26db (ambient noise)

Ultimate Ears and UE are owned by Logitech. They were purchased back in 2008 from Jerry Harvey who now owns JH Audio, previously mentioned on this list.

There is one thing that UE Pro get’s right that makes it hard for some of the boutique CIEM places to compete and that is their ability to mass-produce and lower the prices of their products. That in part will be because of the huge financial backing from Logitech (I’ll now wait for a clarifying notice from their accountants explaining they operate separate P&L…).

But, in truth, UE Pro doesn’t need to be propped up with all that IP and Brand recognition behind, what can only be described as, stellar CIEMs.

Their UE 18+ have been audiophile magic – like a glitter bomb went off in your ear canal. Their UE Live was launched a few years ago aimed at live performance musicians but there is plenty here for audiophiles.

If the UE Live is pricier than the UE 18+ so if you’re more audiophile than live musician / singer, they are still a very, very attractive option.

7: Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM

Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM
Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM

Drivers configuration:
5 x Balanced Armature (BA) Drivers

Other things of note:
Beryllium cable points
MMCX Connectors

Perfect for:
Audiophiles & Music Lovers
Full Band
Vocals/Singer
Drums
Bass
Keys
Mixing / Mastering / Foldback Engineers

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 112.8 dB SPL/mW
Frequency Response: 10Hz–28 kHz
Impedance: 12.8 Ohms @ 1kHz

Half the fun of owning your own custom in-ear company is naming them. Campfire Audio with their cool semi-hipster logo is no exception to this joyous nomenclature event.

What I love about Campfire CIEM is that they have 2 core offerings, at the time of publishing anyway. The two models are so different it makes it easy to choose between the two. One is a dynamic driver CIEM and the other uses BA driver.

The first is the Equinox which is the dynamic driver model. The second, and my choice as I like the way the balanced armatures are collated is the Solstice.

The sound signature pushes the mids forward which is a personal favourite sound sculpting outcome of mine. I love to hear the crunch of the valves of the guitar amp and the spit on the microphone of the singer.

Their Universal range has a very cool angular design aesthetic if you decide to opt for that rather than other custom in-ear monitors

The last thing I like about the Solstice is the MMCX connectors. Most custom IEMs use 2 Pin connectors which many believe to offer better sound transferrence. I like MMCX as they have a solid connection and there is far less risk of the earbuds dropping off the cables when you take them out and hang them around your neck…which you will do.

Summing it all up

The build of most of the custom IEMs on this list is made in the USA. I’m not sure how that affects price considering comparative units made overseas. For each, there is a strong artisanal element to both the design, build and technology that goes into each.

Each company works hard to develop proprietary technologies that improve the audio production for its users. Competition is a good thing in this space.

The build quality, while supported by machining (3D printing most common), is usually meticulously finished by hand, as is the external finish.

CIEMs for me are the pinnacle of the personal audio and live monitoring industry. They represent innovation, artistic invention and the quest to create the perfect audio experience.

If you have the budget, you can try more than one.

The only suggestion I would have is to consider trying a set of affordable universal in-ears before you pony up for a set of customs. This way you can get a feel for what they are like to wear on stage and whether they work for you.

Any questions? Fire away in the comments below.


Helpful? Sign up and get more interesting posts like this. No Spam.

Get access to insights, deals, competitions and giveaways. Unsubscribe anytime.

* indicates required

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

Scroll to Top