Best In-Ear Monitors for Drummers – Locked In The Groove

Best in-ear monitors for drummers

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Whether you’re a beginner playing in a garage band with your friends or a professional session musician recording in studios or performing to crowds, you should never go without a pair of IEMs, or in-ear monitors, in your kit.

Giving you the ability to properly track what you’re playing on top of many other benefits, IEMs for drummers are as useful to your playing as the right pair of sticks. 

That said, choosing the perfect IEMs for you is quite a bit more complex than drumsticks. From the fit and feel to the sound, it can take a few tries to find the one that works just right. Our guide, though, has a few of the best in-ears for drummers that we’ve found from testing on and off the field. 

We’ll be going through our recommendations here, as well as a few tips to help you narrow down your search.

  • Editor’s Pick: Etymotic ER4XR
  • Contender: Etymotic ER2XR
  • Premium Option: Sennheiser IE600
  • Budget Pick: Shure Aonic 215 / SE215

Why are in-ear monitors for drummers important?

Although this guide focuses on IEMs for drummers, in-ear monitors offer the same two benefits for all musicians and live performers: providing clear monitoring and protecting your hearing. 

When you’re practicing alone in a relatively quiet environment, it’s easy to keep track of what you’re doing on the kit. This doesn’t quite apply when you’re performing on a stage with big, loudspeaker systems blasting the full mix to the back of the crowd.

In-ear monitors, keeping in line with their name, allow you to monitor your own playing as well as what the rest of the band is doing by connecting directly to the venue’s sound system through a wireless transmitter. That way, you can block out most of the noise of the crowd and venue and stay focused and in sync with your bandmates. 

And blocking out that external noise is the key to protecting your hearing. While there are headphones and earphones with active noise canceling or ANC, we don’t recommend them; they don’t provide the same level of protection since they don’t physically block out as much noise. Instead, they 

Even in a quieter environment like a studio, in-ears help a lot with monitoring since keyboards, electric guitars, and basses produce very little acoustic sound; more often than not, your drum kit will be the loudest instrument in the room. IEMs let you tune in to the recording so you can hear what is actually being recorded. 

And with that, let’s get into our picks. 

Best In-Ear Monitors for Drummers Reviewed

Etymotic ER4XR

Editor’s Pick: A top-class reference earphone with the signature Etymotic noise isolation

4.5/5
Price Range: $$$
Brand: Etymotic
Etymotic ER4XR in-ear monitor

The Download

Notable pro audio earphones tend to fall into one of two price categories: the extremely high-end custom IEMs that usually go for over $1000 and the more affordable ones that cost below $200. While there are a ton of options within that $800 chasm, not a lot of examples come to mind when I recommend the best in-ear monitors for drummers

I think it’s because most are beaten out by the Etymotic ER4XR. 

Its retail price of $300 isn’t an easy amount to cough up, to be sure, but as far as technical ability is concerned, these earphones offer some of the most detailed, “reference-grade” sound signatures of any IEM at any price. But its near-perfection of the diffuse field sound target is a point of contention for a lot of listeners—and it’ll be hard for most to get used to. Even the “Extended Response” XR variant with slightly boosted bass over the “Studio Edition” SE version doesn’t get over the balanced armature driver’s generally unimpressive bass power by design. 

Etymotic is also pretty well known for providing some of the best isolation figures even among pro in-ear monitors for drummers. This is made possible through their deep insertion fit, which just from the name alone will give some people pause. 

Like its sound, the fit of an Etymotic ER4XR takes some getting used to. Some may never do. But those who get past that acclimating curve will be rewarded with one of the best in-ears for drummers you can buy. 

The Specs

  • Headphone Type:  Closed-back in-ear monitor
  • Driver Type:  Single balanced armature driver
  • Frequency Response:  20 – 16,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity:  98 dB
  • Impedance:  45 Ohms

What’s in the Box?

  • Etymotic ER4XR earphones
  • 5 ft. braided cable (MMCX to 3.5mm TRS)
  • 2 pairs of triple flange silicone ear tips (M, L)
  • 4 pairs of dual flange silicone ear tips (S, M, L, XL)
  • 2 pairs of foam ear tips (M)
  • 4 replacement earwax filters
  • Filter removal tool
  • Shirt clip
  • Storage case
  • 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter

Stuff I like

  • Reference-grade flat sound signature
  • Exceptionally clean and clear sound
  • Some of the best isolation of any IEM

Stuff I like less

  • Deep insertion fit is not for everybody
  • Bass feels “dead” sounding
  • Stock cable feels a bit too light
  • Cramped soundstage
Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars

Etymotic ER2XR

Contender: A rare dynamic driver attempt from Etymotic—and by far their most impressive

4/5
Price Range: $$
Brand: Etymotic
Etymotic ER2XR in-ear monitors

The Download

Etymotic doesn’t make a lot of dynamic driver earphones, and when they do, it’s often relegated to an alternate product line. This time, though, is a bit different.

As one of their cheapest models yet, the ER2XR is the budget set of Etymotic’s ER lineup of reference earphones. Like the flagship ER4XR before it, the ER2XR is the bass-boosted version with a flatter-sounding SE variant also available. Unlike the ER4 however, the dynamic driver of the ER2XR allows it to do some very interesting things.

We’ll save the nitty-gritty details for a separate article but the main draw of a dynamic driver is its ability to move more air, which produces more bass. And the ER2XR produces enough of it to break free of the sterile and flat response of its other variants. In other words: the ER2XRs are fun IEMs for drummers to listen to. 

Keep in mind, though, that the ER2XR is still an Etymotic at its core: it’s not a basshead IEM, its fit is still tricky to deal with, and it still provides incredible isolation. But it does have the most pleasing bass responses to come from the brand, and at a much more palatable price. 

Although the ER4XR is still our Editor’s Choice for its crystal-clear sound, the ER2XR is arguably the better choice for a wider range of listeners, and could definitely pass as one of the best in-ears for drummers, especially at this price. 

The Specs

  • Headphone Type:  Closed-back in-ear monitor
  • Driver Type:  Single 6mm dynamic driver
  • Frequency Response:  20 – 16,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity:  98 dB
  • Impedance:  45 Ohms

What’s in the Box?

  • Etymotic ER2XR earphones
  • 4 ft. braided cable (MMCX to 3.5mm TRS)
  • 4 pairs of triple flange silicone ear tips (M, L)
  • 4 pairs of dual flange silicone ear tips (S, M, L, XL)
  • 2 pairs of foam ear tips (M)
  • 4 replacement earwax filters
  • Filter removal tool
  • Shirt clip
  • Storage case

Stuff I like

  • Most enjoyable sounding Etymotic
  • Clean upper frequencies
  • Similarly excellent isolation

Stuff I like less

  • Fit takes some getting used to
  • Rather average detail
  • Still doesn’t have that much more bass
  • Cramped soundstage
Overall Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

Sennheiser IE 600

Premium Option: Arguably the best pro audio earphones you can buy—an earphone worthy of the 600 moniker

4.5/5
Price Range: $$$$
Brand: Sennheiser
Sennheiser IE 600 in-ear monitors

The Download

The Sennheiser HD 600 is a legend among headphones. Initially released in 1997, they set a bar for premium headphone audio that’s high and cemented enough that many still consider them the benchmark over 25 years later. It’s a name that has been hard to top, even for Sennheiser, so imagine my surprise when they finally put the number on one of their IEMs.

The IE 600 is part of Sennheiser’s new pro IEM lineup, marking a return to form for the venerable audio brand.

Sound-wise it’s one of the best earphones Sennheiser has come out with in recent memory, arguably succeeding the IE 800 with a more focused and engaging tone with delightfully powerful sub-bass with only a hint of warmth at most. It’s by no means a reference sound but it’s clean, highly detailed, and all somehow coming from a single driver—one that easily makes it one of the best in-ear monitors for drummers we’ve heard.

Another way it upends the IE 800 is in its ergonomics. Going for a more traditional pro audio monitor shape, the IE 600’s housings fit flush in the ears and the cable goes up and around the ears to minimize cable noise and make it easier to route. The IE 600 also isolates a lot better thanks to this fit style and its included foam ear tips.

At an eye-watering $800, it is a premium earphone in every sense of the word. With its price and the competition nowadays, I doubt the IE 600 will have quite the same reputation as its headphone counterpart, but it definitely lives up to the name.  

The Specs

  • Headphone Type:  Closed-back in-ear monitor
  • Driver Type:  Single 7mm dynamic driver
  • Frequency Response:  4 – 46,500 Hz
  • Sensitivity:  118 dB
  • Impedance:  18 Ohms

What’s in the Box?

  • Sennheiser IE 600 earphones
  • 1.2m unbalanced cable (MMCX to 3.5mm TRS)
  • 1.2m balanced cable (MMCX to 4.4mm TRRS)
  • 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
  • 3 pairs foam ear tips (S, M, L)
  • Hard carrying case
  • Shirt clip
  • Nozzle cleaning tool
  • Cleaning cloth

Stuff I like

  • Fun but clean U-shaped sound
  • Excellently tuned bass
  • Flush, comfortable fit
  • Beautiful but tough amorphous alloy housings

Stuff I like less

  • Painfully expensive
  • Seal might not be the best with silicone ear tips
  • Treble can get a bit overexcited at times
Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars

Shure SE215

Budget Pick: Workhorse pro audio earphones that are just as dependable today as they were over 10 years ago

4/5
Price Range: $
Brand: Shure
Shure SE215 in-ear monitors

The Download

Right around the start of my audiophile journey, the Shure SE215 was hailed as one of the best in-ear monitors for drummers and musicians at the sub-$100 price bracket. As the cheapest model of the brand’s new IEM lineup at the time, the SE215 kept all of the pro audio styling and fit characteristics of the higher-end models and brought it down to a much more manageable price. 

Ten years later, there has been a lot of competition since then in the audiophile space. Many IEMs have proven themselves to be more comfortable, better sounding, or a better deal. Maybe even all of these. 

The SE215, after all, wasn’t super impressive. It had an energetic but not aggressive V-shaped sound signature that does well at emphasizing drums in a mix, although the bass did overstep its bounds at times. The midrange was expectedly pushed back and the treble was sparkly and in-your-face, but lacked upper extension and was peaky in the lower regions. Ultimately, the SE215 just sounded pretty generic.

But the SE215 isn’t made worse by any of these. If anything, it made the SE215 a very easy and approachable in-ear monitor for drummers to get into. And more importantly, it had the benefit of excellent ergonomics. A simple around-the-ear fit and their trademark “olive” foam ear tips gave them concert-ready comfort and noise isolation that isn’t as big of a priority on sound-first audiophile earphones. 

Now also available as the Aonic 215, the Shure SE215 continues to be the reliable option that I would still recommend.

The Specs

  • Headphone Type:  Closed-back in-ear monitor
  • Driver Type:  Single dynamic micro driver
  • Frequency Response:  22 – 17,500 Hz
  • Sensitivity:  107 dB
  • Impedance:  17 Ohms

What’s in the Box?

  • Shure SE215 earphones
  • 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
  • 3 pairs of “olive” foam ear tips (S/M/L)
  • 46″ cable (MMCX to 3.5mm TRS)
  • Soft case

Stuff I like

  • Excellent isolation and durability
  • Easy, all-day comfort
  • Solid accessories package

Stuff I like less

  • Bass is a bit bloated
  • Closed-off soundstage
  • Can have ear pressure issues
Overall Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

Previous Items On This List

As there are new products being released each year, we keep this list updated based on the current market. Below are some previous items on this list that are still worth considering.

The JH Audio JH13 v2 are custom-fit IEMs and have been a solid performer for professional musicians for years now. As a premium option, these in-ear monitors boast 8 individual BA drivers in each ear. Meanwhile, the CCA C12 is a budget-friendly option with 4 BA drivers and 1 dynamic driver.

Other great options that used to be included in this list are the Zildjian in-ear monitors and the Etymotic Research ER4SR.

Headphones vs. IEMs for Drummers

Keen followers may have already seen our recent guide for drummer headphones. While there’s a decent range of great options for noise-isolating headphones, we believe, that pound-for-pound, the best in-ears for drummers are the better choice. 

First off, IEMs are a lot more mobile. The drums are an instrument that demands a lot of movement—lots more than keys or guitars (unless you’re on stage). The diminutive size of earphones should keep you moving freely on the kit without anything bogging you down the same way headphones do. 

Second, IEMs for drummers generally provide better sound isolation than their over-ear counterparts do at the same price. As the name suggests, in-ear monitors fit in your ears with the help of silicone or foam ear tips that physically block sound from entering your ears. Depending on how they’re designed, they can perform about as well as professional-grade earplugs. 

Headphones, meanwhile, are quite a bit larger and therefore will need more material to provide similar isolation figures. So coming from our recommendations list, something like a Shure SE215 will provide much better isolation than a headphone at a comparable price like a Shure SRH440. 

Isolation Figures

While we’re on the topic of isolation, it’s important to note that the rated isolation figures you find advertised by earphones aren’t wholly accurate. 

There are two reasons for this—the first being that noise isolation is never consistent. Because of the way sound waves work, high-frequency sounds (i.e. treble) are easier to block out than low-frequency ones (i.e. bass). Even if you did try to design your earphones in such a way that you get a more “neutral” noise reduction, there will still be variations on a person-to-person basis. 

That inconsistency leads us to our second reason, which is that manufacturers report different figures when referring to their IEMs’ noise-isolating ability. It’s pretty tempting from a marketing standpoint to just pick the point where your earphone isolates the most and use that as a selling point.

Of course, that’s nowhere near representative of real-world conditions, though, so most will rely on other approaches. Some might take the average across the frequency range and use that, while others will pick a standard frequency (usually 1 kHz) and measure how much the IEM isolates at that point. 

At this point, you might be thinking, “Why don’t they use a standardized isolation figure like NRR?” Honestly, we’d like to know that, too. 

Universal vs. Custom IEMs for Drummers

As you may have noticed, all of the best in-ears for drummers we’ve picked out have been a “universal fit”—that is, they’re designed to fit all ears. And if you’ve seen popular performers live on stage, you may have also seen that their monitors are a bit different. 

These CIEMs or custom IEMs are, as the name suggests, custom molded to fit the wearer’s ears and only their ears. For people who have had fit issues with typical earphones (like maybe no ear tips work or one ear has a different size than the other), these custom IEMs can be a valid solution.

With it being custom-made though, buying and testing them is very time-consuming. Getting a pair is a process that often takes weeks at the very least; it starts with getting ear molds from an audiologist, then getting that sent to the CIEM maker to craft, and then waiting to receive the thing in the mail. 

And, well, custom IEMs are just really expensive.

If you do want that custom fit without breaking the bank, there are services that’ll create custom molded ear tips that you can put on any regular IEM for drummers. MEE Audio and ADV Audio are two companies with these services, although you will still need to schedule the audiologist visit yourself.

Alternatively, you could also try going the DIY route if you have more time on your hands than money. 

Conclusion

Earphones are a must-have accessory for drummers of any skill level. Providing both protection for your hearing as well as a way for you to monitor yourself, the best in-ears for drummers are more than just a tool, but a stepping stone to improving your playing. 

With tons more options on the market than the four we’ve recommended here, there is a lot to see when you’re shopping around for your perfect pair. But if you don’t know where to get started, we hope our picks here will put you on the right track. 

Endless hours of experimentation, professional work, and personal investment in Home Theatre, Hi-Fi, Smart Home Automation and Headphones have come to this.

Former owner of Headphones Canada, a high-end headphone specialty retailer.

This post was last updated on 2024-02-19 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.


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