Over the last four decades or so, the music industry has experienced an invention that has changed the way we interact with music. In-ear monitors, sometimes known as earphones, are finding their way into the ears of musicians, sound engineers and audiophiles alike. But many are still wondering, what is an in-ear monitor? Questions still arise as these small, but impactful, pieces of audio equipment keep surfacing into the music scene. So we thought we would dive in and give you some answers.
Originally created for musicians and sound engineers, in-ear monitors (also referred to as IEMs) are a relatively new type of earphone designed for optimum audio enhancement while creating isolation from external sound. Musicians previously preferred wedge monitors for this type of musical feedback. But the age of amplification (think the rise of rock and roll) lead to a serious catch-22 of increasing sound levels on live stages. Between the roaring crowds and the powerful amplification equipment, stages were becoming louder than ever. One solution was the wedge monitor, or floor monitor. This allowed sound engineers to deliver a tailored mix of sound to different parts of the stage without directing it at the audience. Wedge monitors meant that a singer could hear their voice, but it was coming at them from the floor. At the same time, they were also inundated by sound from the stage and the audience. If they walked away from their wedge monitor, their personalized sound mix was overpowered by the band and the crowd. The same could be said for any of the instrumentalists and backup vocalists.
Low and behold, the wedge monitors did not solve the sound war. Still unable to hear clearly, band members would ask for their wedge monitors to be turned up. This, in turn, made the stage louder, so everyone else asked to be turned up, which made the stage even louder. You can see how the escalation continued. Among interruption of band chemistry and other hinders of stage performance, this noise escalation proposed a series concern for the hearing health of performers.
What happens next is somewhat unclear in the history books. The inventor of IEMs and time of creation varies depending on the source consulted. The earliest claim starts in the mid-1970s, or so its been told. However, IEMs didn’t really rise to popularity until the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until the last decade or so that they have become widely affordable, breaching the mainstream and causing a influx in demand.
Now is where we should revisit what IEMs are. Folks tend to use the words earphones and in-ear monitors (IEMs) interchangeably because ultimately they are the same thing. This portable audio solution provides the ear with a personalized monitor mix. A complete in-ear monitoring system consists of a transmitter, a receiver and a set of IEMs. The transmitter sends signals to the receiver, which is typically a cellphone-sized pack worn by the performer. This receiver is where the IEMs plug into.
Then the magic happens. IEMs house miniature speakers, otherwise known as drivers, that convert electric audio signals into an audible acoustic by moving a diaphragm, which in turn creates the sound that you hear. The most common type of driver found in IEMs is a balanced armature driver.
Think of your most standard earbud. These devices have, at most, two drivers. Higher-end IEM models, however, can house anywhere from two to 18 drivers.
Here at 64 Audio, we offer a wide variety of models with a wide variety of drivers. The benefit of having multi-driver IEMs is to allow the sound to be tailored to the listeners liking. This is very beneficial as a performer, a sound engineer and an audiophile. Each model caters to a specific type of ear. For example, our A8 model holds eight drivers and is highly recommended for drummers, bass players, and DJs due to the attention that is put on enhancing the bass in such a way that it does not “overpower” the rest of the frequencies. Whereas the U3 is recommended for singers, keyboardist, and guitarists because it faithfully reproduces vocals and instruments and brings their overtones to life. Each IEM has a unique sound image that allows the listener to hear exactly what they need to hear.
Besides the drivers, the other noticeable difference with IEMs is the customization. IEMs come in both custom-fit and universal fit for the ear. Custom-fit tend to provide more noise isolation (less ambient noise leaking in, less of what you want to hear leaking out) and are less likely to fall out of the ear during active use. However, since audiophiles don’t tend to have these same concerns, the universal fit can provide the same sound image without the custom-fit process.
So where is this technology heading in the future? While isolation is one of the IEMs greatest features, it also has its downsides. Many performers experience a sense of isolation from the crowd and the band and don’t necessarily want to be so removed. Recent innovations to compensate for this potential downside include 64 Audio’s apex™ modules. The apex™ modules are inserted into the IEMs and they allow for varying degrees of isolation. Because these modules can be interchanged according to isolation preference, users get to choose how much ambient noise the they want to experience. Two modules are currently offered at at -20dB (apex™ m20) and -15dB (apex™ m15). These modules also relieve pneumatic pressure which helps to reduce the occlusion effect; a result of sealing the ear canal.
Hearing preservation and sound quality are two other important benefits offered by apex™. Because they absorb some of the air pressure in the sealed ear canal, apex™ modules aid in the prevention of ear fatigue and long term damage caused by excessive movement of the ear drum. When pneumatic pressure in the sealed ear is absorbed, it allows for a clearer sound, providing a more natural listening experience.
But, because we are always evolving with the times, we are adding to our approach by improving resolution. This is where we welcome the The tia™. The tia™ driver is an open balanced armature speaker which produces sound with a direct-radiating, fully unobstructed diaphragm. This eliminates excessive vibrations and resonances found in conventional closed balanced armature driver designs. The single-bore design also facilitates the elimination of unwanted resonance. With such a short distance to travel through a specially crafted single bore, the tia™ has a remarkable high-frequency extension and smoothness.
There is no doubt that the invention of IEMs was a major turning point in music history. As IEMs continue to become the norm for performers, sound engineers and audiophiles, we will continue to be at the top of our game to deliver the best and most trusted IEMs in the music industry.
The Team at 64 Audio