in-ear Monitors – All your questions about IEMs answered

Pair of in-ear monitors on a desktop

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in-ear monitors are an increasingly popular choice for audiophiles and music lovers all around the world.

What many people don’t know is where and when IEMs were invented and what they are good for. 

in-ear monitors, or IEM for short, continue to be used for live music use. It’s almost impossible to watch American Idol, America’s Got Talent, the Grammy Awards or any other live music even without seeing the band or vocalists using IEMs.

In addition to this live newscasters, news anchors and media presenters use IEMs to stay connected to the control booth and the military use them in the field.

Read also: Beginners guide to in-ear monitors

It will be a long time before any live vocalists, musicians or news presenters use wireless IEMs due to the need for 100% guaranteed connectivity. 

So let’s learn more about IEMs in this every growing list of easy to digest in-ear monitor FAQ and ‘did you knows’.

Did you know?

  1. By volume, Church groups are one of the highest purchases of in-ear monitors in the world, especially the USA
  2.  In-ear monitors are one of the best hearing protections available on stage
  3.  Jerry Harvey is the most recognised original developer and inventor of the in-ear monitor although earlier work by Chris Lindop with Stevie Wonder is also credited. Karl Cartwright (Westone) also worked with Jerry Harvey. Later, Dale Lott also helped push the hybrid IEM in to the market.
  4. A hybrid in-ear monitor is typically a combination of both dynamic and balanced armature drivers
  5. In-ear Monitors were originally designed for musicians to use as a replacement of on-stage fold back speakers. It allowed musicians to reduce onstage noise and isolate only the vocals and instruments they wanted to hear in their ears
  6. in-ear monitors are unique in that they are designed to be molded as closely as possible to a persons ear. By running the cables up and over the ears a better, more secure fit can be achieved.
  7. in-ear monitors are used by musicians, newscasters, sports teams, armed forces and military across the world.
  8. in-ear monitors can be used for live use and also for recording in studios. They also make great upgrades from earbuds
  9. Jerry Harvey was the founder of Ultimate Ears (UE and UE Pro) which he sold and later created JH Audio
  10. Westone worked with Jerry Harvey to create early molds for musician in-ear monitors for Ultimate Ears
  11. Heir Audio was a company developed by Dr John Moulton who later went on to form Noble Audio after a business split
  12. IEMs can range in price from $29 to over $4000
  13. in-ear monitors typically come with MMCX or 2 Pin cable connectors. There are 4+ Pin cables and proprietary connects used by companies such as Audio-Techinca (A2DC) but these are rare.
  14. in-ear monitors are named such as they were originally designed to act as as monitors for musicians
  15. CIEMs is the abbreviation for custom in-ear monitors
  16. Universal in-ear monitors are IEMs that can be used by anyone – they are not custom molded to a specific persons ears

in-ear Monitor – FAQ

How Do In Ear Monitors Work?

Two small transducers called Dynamic Drivers are used in the most common type of in- ear monitor. These are placed inside your ear canal and work together to reproduce sound waves. The driver doesn’t need batteries like some types of headphones because it has no moving parts. They’re very durable and reliable because of this. They have been proven to last longer than traditional headphones.

Why do singers wear in-ear monitors

in-ear monitors allow singers to have their vocals mixed in to their own ears which helps reduce voice strain and improve pitch. They also allow singers to reduce onstage noise to reduce hearing damage and isolate only the instruments and vocals they would like to hear e.g. Drums for better timing.

What is the use of in-ear monitors?

in-ear monitors help protect hearing by isolating external noise on stage. They reduce overall on-stage volume which can benefit sound engineers and they help musicians hear what is best for them in their own sound mix e.g. Vocals like kick and snare for timing and some guitar and keyboards for pitching.

Can you use in-ear monitors as earphones?

Yes. In fact more and more audiophiles and music enthusiasts are using in-ear monitors for listing to music.

What are the differences between in-ear monitors and earphones?

in-ear monitors are molded to fit the shape of the ear and the cables are typically designed to go over and behind the ears and then down the back. While IEMs and earphones often use dynamic drivers, in-ear monitors often have multiple drivers and include additional driver technology like Balanced Armature (BA) drivers.

What do singers hear in their earpieces?

Singers typically have their own voice in their earpieces. This helps to reduce their need to strain their voice when singing. It also helps them to pitch their notes better as they can hear themselves more clearly. Other instruments singers often have in their earpieces include Kick drum and snare for timing and melody istruments like keyboards or guitars to help with singing in tune and pitch.

Why do singers remove their earpieces?

Singers use in-ear monitors which are often custom molded to their ears. This creates a seal which isolates external noises and sounds. This means they cannot hear easily and must remove them to hear what people are saying when they are not singing.

Are in-ear monitors bad for hearing?

Like any hearing device it is possible to play music and audio through an in-ear monitor at damaging levels. In fact, in-ear Monitors were created to reduce external damaging noises for musicians and allow them to listen to their singing and playing at reduced levels by creating a sound isolating seal in the ear.

How much to in-ear monitors costs?

You can purchase in-ear monitors for as low as $20 and as expensive as $4000 or more.

What in ear monitors do professional musicians use?

There are a range of companies popular with professional musicians. See our list of custom in-ear monitor companies.

Why do musicians wear in-ear monitors?

By creating sound isolation they reduce onstage noise which may damage hearing. IEMs can also allow a personal mix of other instruments so not all the band is needed to be heard.

Do in-ear monitors use active noise cancelling?

in-ear monitors do not use active noise cancellation. They are designed to fit the ear and create sound isolation. This lowers the overall DB of stage volumes.

How do bands on stage hear themselves without in ear monitors

If a band isn’t using in-ear monitors they typically have a fold back desk, or line-out feed from the sound desk that runs to a set of fold back speakers. Fold back speakers are normal speakers but designed to lie on the ground in front of the band and play back towards the band. If a separate channel monitoring mix is available each musician can. have their own holdback speakers with their choice of instruments and levels mixed through them.

Why are Custom IEMs so much more expensive?

Customer IEMs are more expensive than Universal IEMs as they require a custom mold to be created from an ear impression taken, typically, by an audiologist. The drivers and wiring must be manually installed in the custom ear mold shell and the casing must be manually machined and polished to be perfect to the ear. This is a time consuming and manual process requiring artisan skills.

What are the cheapest in-ear monitors I can get?

In-ear monitors can be very affordable. We have a list of budget IEMs available.

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.

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