My experience going to custom IEMs
Hey TB! So I’ve decided I want to chronicle my journey from wedges to custom-molded IEMs in hopes that someone can learn from my experiences. I’m going to try to break this out into a few different sections to make this a little easier to follow (hopefully). I hope it helps and as always: all conversation, opinions and feedback are welcome. That said, here we go.
Background – Post 1
Research – Post 2
My Choice – Post 3
Tips & Comparisons – Post 4
Final Product Review – Post 34
Pics - Post 37
Background (I know it’s long, but worthwhile IMO):
I’m a self taught musician, and like many of us who started in our teens, my first experience playing with a band involved big amps in a little room to compete with a heavy handed drummer. I learned quickly about “volume wars” and learning where the instruments should sit in the mix. I mention this because that understanding is probably the single most useful thing I know when it comes to using IEMs.
After many years of gigging with wedges, I began playing at my church which exclusively runs IEMs. It took some acclimating, especially when you’re used to feeling an amp pushing you off the front of the stage, but the clarity and comfort easily outweighed the sensation for me. Do I miss the amp? Absolutely, and I try to use one whenever possible but again in the cost-benefit game, the IEMs win.
My first experience with IEMs was running SkullCandy earbuds through a mixer’s headphone output. Obviously this left a lot to be desired in tone, clarity and durability. Luckily the church bought a bunch of Shure SE215 and Westone UM1 earbuds for all of us to use while playing. Of the two, I’ve had better luck with the UM1’s over the SE215’s. For me, the UMs had better reliability and didn’t clip the bass frequencies as quickly as the Shure earbuds.
These generic-fit earbuds were a good starting point, and I have been using them for about 2 ½ years now. During that time frame I’ve been saving pennies and reading up here on TB, on Head-fi.org, and scouring google for as much info on custom-fit IEMs as possible. I really recommend checking out head-fi.org for more specific info on all the brands out there and the differences between them, especially if you’re a bit of an audiophile.
The companies I looked into the most were Ultimate Ears, Westone, JH Audio, Alien Ears, and 1964 Ears. While doing my research I came across an Audiofest being held here in Denver where I could see all of the companies except for Alien Ears. Many were offering free moldings, and in some cases discounted prices! I couldn’t resist so I went. The best part about the show was I was able to sit down and listen to the products from each company and compare them side by side. This helped narrow my options on how many drivers I needed, as well as compare differences between each company’s comparable products. I’ll get into that more in the “Tips & Comparisons” post.
For my choice I relied on the following factors in order:
• Reputation (both from online reviews and endorsing artists)
• Customer Service
• Product Offerings
Armed with that information I made my choice.
Each company offers excellent products and carries serious reputations and backing artists. They all also offer a good range of products, which left me with customer service and price as my two biggest variables left. Price quickly limited what I could get dollar for dollar from Westone, Ultimate Ears, and JH Audio. The prices of the 1964 Ears had originally left me skeptical, but once I sat down and listened to them after hearing the others, I was shocked that I couldn’t tell a difference. DISCLAIMER: I am NOT an audiophile, I know what sounds good and clear, past that if a driver is rolling off frequencies above 5Khz…. I’d never notice much of the difference.
Once I started talking with Vitaliy, the owner of 1964 Ears, it was an easy choice. He explained to me that he and his wife started the company looking to make high-quality IEMs for worship leaders and other musicians who can’t afford to spend $1K on a good, multiple-driver monitor.
There at the show I ordered a pair of Quad-drivers complete with recessed jacks for the cable (for better cable protection, since I’m wired to a board that was big), and my own artwork. Got my molds made (check out my “Tips & Comparisons” post for more on that), and now the wait begins.
Tips & Comparisons:
Here are some tips I came across while going down this path and some comparisons of the different driver combinations I tried. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the 1964 Ears drivers for simplicity, but I noticed the same nuances between driver offerings from each of the companies I tried.
1. Clean your ears. I know it sounds dumb, but hear me out. I had a friend who is a registered nurse look at my ears before I went to have the molds done and I had a full obstruction blocking my ear drum in each ear. I was recommended DeBrox, which is just a solution you put in your ears to loosen up hardened wax. PARENTAL WARNING: This isn’t pretty. What came out of my ears was a large, dark block of wax about the size of my pinky fingernail. I got one from each ear. The DeBrox came with a special syringe that you can use to flush water through your ear on a regular basis to help keep them clean. I’ll never let a build up like those happen again!
2. Know how much you can spend and save up BEFORE hand. The worst thing that may happen is you save up for 6-drivers, and then decide on only getting the quads. That’s what I did, and my wife enjoyed the nice dinner we went to with the excess.
3. If you have the chance to visit and audio festival or convention where the companies are, DO IT! It was unbelievably helpful to sit down and listen to how 6-drivers sounds compared to 4, or 3, or 2 drivers.
4. If using the mini-mixer (or wireless for that matter) it may not be a bad idea to put a limiter in the mix feed somewhere (I've never done this, so I don't know where it would go) as one poster mentioned below, one wrong twist of a knob could destroy your hearing, a limiter could prevent this.
Comparisons (1964 Ears products):
At the show I tried the triple, quad, and six driver options (not the duals though). Here’s my comparison between them.
6’s: 2 Low, 2 Mid, and 2 High Drivers per ear. These offered amazing clarity and near perfect balance. They were like sitting in front of a pair of really nice studio reference monitors. Everything was there, crisp highs with an airy quality, defined mids that tied everything together, and defined lows. The lows weren’t what I’d call “thundering” but were impossible to miss. Plenty of tightness and definition down low. If I sang, or maybe played keys, the 6’s would’ve been the ultimate choice for me.
Quads: 2 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High driver per ear. These absolutely were what I’d call “thundering.” They had a little less air in the top, but the real difference between these and the 6’s was the amount of bass. These do not sound like your missing a high and a mid driver, but rather sound like you’ve added a low driver for bass. The clarity is still amazing, and the bass is still focused, but these felt MUCH closer to the feeling of standing in front of an amp rather than studio monitors.
Triples: 1 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High driver per ear. The triples had the balance of the 6’s but with less openness to the sound. These sounded like what you’d expect really nice headphones to sound like. They lacked the thunder of the quads, but certainly would suffice as an IEM choice if your budget was tight. These really seemed perfect for singers IMO.
Here's a scan of there current product guide that I picked up at the show.
Great advice, thanks.
It's great to be able to read a clear description of the sound qualities of the different driver combinations. Sounds like the quads would be the ideal choice for a bass player.
I don't suppose you have any knowledge about the 'ambient' option that manufacturers like Ultimate Ears offer, whereby outside sound is allowed to penetrate the mould a bit? Would that have practical applications if, say, you wanted to just have your bass and mic going into the two input channels for your in-ears, and then just rely on ambient real-world to hear and lock in with the rest of the band? Or is that just ridiculous?
Thanks bassfacer! I agree with KingRazor. All the companies I spoke too about the ambient feature implied that it was an option purely because some people insist on it. For bass players the ambient feature bleeds out too much low end and takes away the extra bass response you'd get from the quads.
At the church where we play we have a few "house mics" in the audience that we can blend in the mix to give a more "natural" feel, but I honestly don't use it. Without the house mics I get a great tight mix and enough crowd bleed gets in through the vocal and drum mics. This is my experience with the generic fits though, it may change in about a week when the molds get here!
And just for fun, here's the artwork I did. 1964 provides the template along with the order form which was cool. The right ear is one of about 6 logos 1964 offers for free, the left ear is my own design (and my TB avatar).
This is great information, but what confuses me about IEM is how it works from the board. Are you tethered to the sound board or going wireless? Can this work when other band members are not using them? I would abosultely love to go to gigs with just my bass, DI and IEMs. But I also worry that I could increase my chances of getting ear damage since we have no sound man and we have had at least one situation where someone kicked the mains up all the way while trying to make a pool table shot - (end of pool stick was tapping on the sound board). So maybe these are not the best for bar gig bands?
Thanks, and subscribed.
Great thread ! Subscribed
Hey Gab, I am "tethered" to the board, but the singers and a couple of the leaders are wireless. Keep in mind this is a large church with a huge board dedicated to monitors (not bragging, just the way it is)
The rest of the band members all have monitor feeds run from the board into a Behringer mixers (either a Xenyx 802 or 502). Then we run a headphone cable out of the Phones out and the mix is controlled at the monitor board. The drummer runs independent channels for his band mix, a dedicated bass, and a dedicated metronome. I run a band mix and a dedicated bass mix. (this really helps avoid the "more me" situation).
This could be used in combination with wedges. The same feed that your sending a wedge would be what you send to the mixer. To avoid the ear blow-out problem you could place a limiter in there somewhere. I'm not sure where exactly it'd go (effects loop would be my guess), but that would keep you from ending up with 4 senses instead of 5. Thanks for bringing that up, I'm going to add that to the Tips & Comparisons post.
Hope that helps.
Thanks Bobby bass. I am following the same route and have done hours and hours of research. I visited Headfi a million times looking for opinions. I was originally drawn to Ultimate Ears and JH audio but the price was really too high to justify. I then came across 1964 ears and from the reviews it transpires that they are basically offering a comparable product at a lower price. I am getting my impressions tomorrow.
What may be interesting to some is my solution to actually using IEM in a live setting. I am pretty active on stage and was considering some kind of wireless system. However, good wireless systems are really expensive and coupled with the cost of IEM the whole move to IEM from amp and cab started becoming unfeasable.
So I considered a wired option but I know that I didn't want to have a cable running from the bass to the amp and another from a mixer to my ears, basically dragging around 2 cables on stage. However, I had no particular desire to loose the cable from the bass to the amp and go wireless I found two products which seemed to suit me.
They are two similar products made by Rock On Audio or by Jump Audio. Essentially what you have is a cable which combines the cable going from the bass to the amp and a second cable carrying the IEM signal, both within one cable. Essentially you plug the cable into your bass and you have a 1/8' female jack located roughly next to the bass's strap button where you can connect your earphones. At the other end the cable splits into two jacks, one going into your amp and a second going into a monitor mixer.
I will then get a line from the board's auxiliary output with my monitor mix feeding my personal monitor mixer (a Xenyx 802). I can also link a line out from my amp into the monitor mixer and control my bass level in my ears without having to ask the monitor guy to give me more me.
This is great info! I'm also ordering from 1964 Ears. I have an appointment tomorrow morning to get my impressions done at an audiologist, and will be sending them in after that.
I currently use the universal Westone UM2's, and I'll probably be ordering the V3's from 1964 (although your review has me thinking about the Quads...)
Wadge, those Rock On Audio cables look very intriguing. I looked into them a while ago but never went that route.
My trick is that I use a coiled cable and run my headphone cable through the middle of it. It's not perfect, but definitely keeps the stage mess down.
Vision: The trips with custom molds will be great, but they really did a great job with the quads. IMO they can't be beat for a live monitor.
Obviously charts are no substitute for listening with your own ears, but do you know if they have frequency response charts available for these?
Great question, I'll shoot over an email to them and see what I can get.
I know that some charts were available on headfi but they might have got pulled. I emailed 1964 ears because they have recently released a 6 driver IEM and was thinking of going for it in favour of the quads. They told me that the 6 driver model (the V6) was more of a music reference model and that I would be better served with buying the cheaper quad for live purposes, particularly as I am a bass player.
Here you go!
I checked and the cable seems to be a guitar cable + a headphone cable in a sleeve with heatshrink... Their headphone monitor is impressive though..
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