EPIC! IN-EAR MONITORS FAQ 😇 10+ things to know!

Keno Hellmann    Updated on 04 Oct 2022

Have you ever wondered what musicians put into their ears while performing on stage, and what these little things do? These “earbuds” are called in-ear monitors, and here's what you need to know about these little helpers.

FAQ about In-ear monitors

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Good morning, and thanks for joining me on Midnightdrummer.com today!

In this blog post, I try to answer the most frequently asked questions about in-ear monitors and in-ear monitoring systems.

Both are important for musicians on stage and in the rehearsal room, because they help improve the performance independent of the venue.

Ready? 

Let's go.

What are in-ear monitors used for?

In-ear monitors are used for making music on stage and in a rehearsal room. An in-ear monitoring system allows the musicians to hear themselves- and what their band members play. This is crucial for a good performance, independent of the venue where a band plays. Without being able to hear your own playing and what your colleagues do, will cause an acoustic blind flight which becomes even worse, the bigger the stage and the venue is. 

What does in-ear monitors do?

An in-ear monitor system consists of earphones – which you can see on the following images —, a body pack and a rack mounted transmitter unit.
In-ear monitors help musicians to listen to their own playing and what their band members play. This is absolutely crucial for a good performance.

Before in-ear monitoring systems were established, each musician was dependent to monitor loudspeakers. These are still being used, but there are many disadvantages in comparison to in-ear monitoring:

  • They are heavy.
  • Musicians have to be close to these monitors to listen.
  • Due to high volumes, these can severely damage your hearing.
  • They are quite expensive.

Do in-ear monitors protect hearing?

All Shure in-ears I have tested so far, protect your hearing while making music and listening to your band members!
How much noise it can defend you from, and how long, also depends on the ear-tips you choose.
Most in-ears come with several ear tips in different sizes, so that a noise reduction up to 37 dB is possible.
Here, you can learn more about it in my review about the best in-ear monitors for drummers.

Shure se215 sleeves (foam & silicone)

Shure se215 sleeves for perfect fit

How should in-ear headphones fit?

In-ear headphones should fit very tight!
That's the only way to isolate from any outside noise effectively. This is important to protect your ears and also being able to listen to your own playing.

Can in-ear monitors be used as earphones?

Yes, you can use in-ear monitors as earphones, and I do it all the time!

To avoid misunderstandings:
The in-ear monitors you can see in musicians' ears are, so to say, earphones. Still, a complete in-ear monitoring system consists of several devices like a transmitter, a body pack and finally, the earphones (in-ear monitors).

These aren't that different compared to conventional earphones and can be plugged into any device like smartphones etc. 

What in-ear monitors do professionals use?

There are numerous types of in-ear monitors from many companies and with different (sound-) features.

Entry level in-ears have a single sound driver. More sophisticated products come with dual- or triple drivers, so that a very distinct and individual sound profile for each musician can be realized.

The ladder is important when making music on stage, in the studio or during rehearsals, because low, mid, and high frequencies can be influenced individually, which isn't possible with single driver in-ear monitors.

In addition to triple driver in-ears, there are also custom-made earpieces available by some companies, which many professional musicians prefer over a standard sizes earpiece. 

The most popular companies which build professional in-ear monitors are:

  • Shure
  • Sennheiser
  • Westone
  • Audio-Technica
  • Mackie
  • Audix

What do in-ear monitors do for singers?

Using in-ear monitors help to listen to your own voice while singing and also listen to, what your band is playing. This is crucial to sing correctly and find the right tones.

Also, professional in-ears will protect your hearing capacity on stage, during rehearsals and in the studio.

Can in-ear monitors damage your ears?

If used incorrectly, any earbud can damage your ears, but it shouldn't!
Most professional in-ear monitors like the Shure SE215 even protect your ears, because they isolate your ears from outside noises very efficiently.

If you want to learn more about this topic, please read my in-depth Shure SE215 review.

How to store in-ear monitors

Most in-ear monitors, like these Shure SE215, come with a small storage box.

Everything you need, fit into that box: In-ears, ear tips, cable, and adapters.

How to clean your in-ear monitors

All professional in-ear monitors come with replaceable ear tips. You can pull these off your in-ear monitors and clean them with water.
The earphones themselves can be cleaned with a soft piece of cloth. Be careful of using water or other liquids, because most in-ear monitors aren't water-resistant! 

How to set up in-ear monitors

To use professional in-ear-monitors on stage, you need to have a transmitter and a body pack. The body pack allows the musician to get a monitor signal from the transmitter wherever he or she is located on stage. The earphones (in-ear monitors) will be plugged into the body pack, and you are ready to go.

How to get used to in-ear monitors

There are several marketplaces, where you can buy used in-ear monitors and complete used in-ear monitor systems.
One of the best resources for used equipment is Reverb.com.

Click here to see all used in-ear monitors they sell right now.

How long do in-ear monitors last?

How long in-ear monitors last, depends on several aspects, which you can read here:

  • How often they are used
  • How good / bad they are treated
  • Are the parts replaceable

I have been using in-ear monitors for several years now.
I started with an entry level system from Shure, and although I am a “heavy” user, these in-ears are very reliable.

The great thing about any Shure in-ears is, that every single part is replaceable. I had to change the left earpiece a few months ago, and – of course – only changing a single part is much cheaper than buying complete in-ear monitors again. 

How are custom in-ear monitors made?

To buy custom-made in-ear monitors, someone needs to create a negative of your ear. Therefore, a modelling mass needs to be applied to your ears by a hearing aid technician. This negative will be sent to your preferred in-ears manufacturer, who will create your in-ears from it.

What do you need to use in-ear monitors?

In-ear monitors are professional earphones, which you can use like conventional earphones. For using them on stage, in rehearsals or in the studio and to monitor everything your band members play, you need a transmitter unit and a body pack. These items are necessary to capture your band's sound and delivering it directly into your ears.

How to disinfect in-ear headphones

Professional in-ear headphones come with replaceable ear tips. Only these ear tips will enter your ear canals and should be disinfected on a weekly basis. Still, the complete earpiece can be cleaned as well. Use a soft piece of cloth, but be careful using any liquid, because to my knowing, no in-ear headphone is water-resistant.

How to fix in-ear headphones?

Opening an in-ear monitor's earpiece can be hard, and replacing the inside isn't that easy either. The great thing is, that many companies like Shure offer replacement parts for every single in-ear headphone they sell. This means, that you don't have to buy a complete set of in-ear monitors when there's only one single damage on one of the earpieces, for example.

How much do in-ear monitors cost?

There are numerous in-ear monitors in different pricing categories available today. There are entry-level in-ear monitors which start at $80,-, more sophisticated ones which cost between $100,- and $350,- and even more expensive in-ears for professional use from $400,- to $3.500,-.

To buy the ideal in-ear monitors for yourself, you need to answer a few questions first:  

  • What's my budget?
  • Do I need in-ear monitors for playing on stage?
  • Do I need to modify low, mid, and high frequencies individually?
  • Do I want the parts to be replaceable in case of damage or loss?

Conclusions

The days are over when big monitor loudspeakers were needed and hurt your ears while playing on stage.

In a modern musician's life, there should be in-ear monitors. They protect your ears, help to perform better and are great earphones too, when listening to your favorite music.

When will you buy your 1st pair of in-ear monitors?

Enjoy making music and talk soon!

Keno Hellmann

Keno is a professional drummer & blogger from Hamburg, Germany.
In his career, he played drums for prominent artists like Elton John and popular German bands like Rosenstolz, Big Soul and others.
Since 2004 he's also teaching drums to students of all age-groups from beginners to advanced and semi-professional drummers.

He loves kitesurfing in Germany's North Sea & Egypt's Red Sea, cooking, and he is a big supporter of the HSV football team.

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