Poor man's IEMs - custom moulds or more drivers?

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by TheHiltz, Jan 11, 2019.

  1. TheHiltz


    Mar 31, 2015
    Hey all! I don't have a lot of experience with IEMs, but I've gotta sort some out for a gig.

    If I want to spend under $1000 but still have manageable bass, am I better off putting my money into a consumer brand set with triple drivers (ie. SE535, Westone UM Pro 30), or a model with fewer drivers with custom moulds for better seal (I've seen quotes of ~$200 for the moulds)? Where is best to put that money, the drivers or the fit?

    On a related note, anyone had the opportunity to compare the SE535 and the Westone UM30 on stage?

    Thanks all!
  2. bpmben


    Jan 13, 2018
    Hertfordshire UK
    If I had to choose I’d go for fit before drivers as I think the main benefit of IEMs is to protect hearing.
  3. s0c9

    s0c9 Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2014
    1964 Audio artist, Fractal Audio Beta Tester
    I'm with @bpmben, but I'd still angle for triples or better for playing bass.
    That said.. you can get the Z6's for a whole lot less than $1k while you get thru the gig and figure out what you want to buy.
    musicman7722, delta7fred and bpmben like this.
  4. DonaldR


    Mar 26, 2012
    Like @s0c9, I have the KZ Z6 and really like them for the needs I have (way better than my Shure se215). I put Comply foam tips and the seal is perfect (strange but I have a medium in one ear and a large in the other). The key is the seal, whatever the price.
    Will not go up on consumer brands as the Z6 are very good, will either wait and save money for custom instead.
    s0c9 and bpmben like this.
  5. biguglyman


    Jul 27, 2017
    Pownal, ME
    Me too...perhaps not so strange? I second the KZ Z6.
    DonaldR likes this.
  6. saabfender

    saabfender Inactive

    Jan 10, 2018
    You can have all the drivers you want, but if they ain't sealing; you got nothing.
  7. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Truth, seal determines both the level of isolation and the bass response, so a terrible seal is a non-starter.

    OTOH, with seal and drivers, it's possible to take "the pursuit of better" way past the point of diminishing returns. For some players' ears and gigs that point will be in the realm of 8+ drivers and -28 dB customs, but other players will prefer ambient ports, or find little practical value-added in jumping to 12 drivers instead of 8 or 6 or 4. Other players happily gig with universal IEMs costing well under $100.

    OP, what is your previous IEM experience? Have you tried some of the better low-cost IEMs just to figure out how your ears work (or don't) with standard eartips?

    If you've never used IEMs, I'd recommend trying some of the current crop of better multi-driver universals to test whether you need custom fit. If you have very small, very large, or oddly shaped ear canals, you might need to use custom molded IEMs. (Also, if your stage schtick is highly gymnastic.) But for many players, the good universals can give plenty useable seal and sound and isolation. And knowing whether you can use universals is worth the low up-front cost of a test pair and a pack of foam Comply eartips in S, M, and L.

    Those giggable universal IEMs are not necessarily expensive—some good ones can be had for ~ $50-75, although most musicians will want to upgrade the cable and the eartips.) And unless your ears are off-the-charts, at worst the experiment will steer you toward customs and leave you with a back-up pair of universal IEMs for your gig bag.
  8. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Another vote for KZ in ears. Paid $57 for mine. They are amazing with the Comply foam tips.

    Will they sound better than a $1000 set? Of course not. Will the $1000 set sound $943 better. No.
    JRA, DonaldR, s0c9 and 1 other person like this.
  9. TheHiltz


    Mar 31, 2015
    Really!? A sub $60 in-ear will beat out any of the more expensive Shure or Westone models? I have a hard time wrapping my head around that when I was preparing to pay upwards of $600 for a usable setup - but that's a good problem. So maybe Z6 + custom mould is my solution?

    I'm not sure if these count as "better" low-cost IEMs, but I have the Shure SE215s, and I used them live once - but I was playing guitar and it was five years ago so my reference is not very accurate. I do remember pulling one ear out, wasn't a fan of the isolation. When I now compare my SE215s to my consumer Bose QC20 noise cancelling earphones, the Bose definitely sound better, but they're probably not a flat response and I'm not sure I should trust them on stage for that reason (also, I'd like to exhibit a hint of professionalism at this gig... don't wanna show up with Bose, ya know?) I'm not sure if I'm getting a proper seal with the SE215s tips... it's very possible I'm not, my ears are small.

    These are such tricky and expensive pieces of gear to buy and try... I wish it was easier and the consequences lower :laugh:
  10. hopwheels

    hopwheels Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2015
    Atlanta, GA
    Can you link the KZ IE’s? Thanks!
  11. Relsom

    Relsom Supporting Member

    Nov 23, 2013
    The Old Dominion
    Let me say up front that my hearing is pretty well shot. Been that way before I started using IEMs. That being said, I'm getting good results with my Carvins. They usually run about $85. Now and then they put them on sale for about $60. I can't tell you how they compare to a set of Shure's, but they are better for me than my Sennheiser HD280 cans. Bass response and overall sound quality are great. But that is me, with my impairment.
  12. DonaldR likes this.
  13. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Find IEMs that suit the sound you use and the music you play.

    As a rule of thumb the top end multiple driver sets may not compliment your actual hearing experience, as say a top end rig and cab may not give you more than you already have in a frequency situation.

    Check out and try different sets and see what works for you.
    Mine are a cheaper set from MEE audio, see the link, and i got given mine for a theater show i was doing and after the show i was told i can keep them.
    The fact is they suit the sound i use, not a fat sound but a flatwound played on a semi-acoustic archtop mid sound if you get my drift.

    The buds are great, lots of sizes to choose from and even a set of foam ones.
    The test was when i used them against my pro set and i prefer these M6PRO....because the allow me to hear may bass clearer but balso because they are not 100% isolating i get a bit of onstage weep in them, so i kinda have the best of both words with them and the also reduce that onstage volume by maybe 20-30% (that's a guess) and i do use them as defender in their own right....no need to plug in to the system, just fit them and play.

    For me i would check specs, check drivers, check fit, check price and compare...some brands you are paying for the name as well as the product.
    But IEMs are a great move so do it once and do it right....If you spend £200 on the wrong type you are £200 further away for the correct type.
  14. Roxbororob

    Roxbororob Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2015
    I would "splurge" and get the KZ AS10`s, far superior to the ZS6 IMO (I have both) and still under $100. The aftermarket Comply foam tips are key (must be T500 size), get them as well.

    Edited for errors...

    Really worth trying for 100 bucks or so...





    Kz as10 Online Deals | GearBest.com
    s0c9 likes this.
  15. MDBass

    MDBass Supporting Member

    Nov 7, 2012
    Los Angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: Dingwall-Fender-Bergantino-Dunlop-Tech 21-Darkglass-Nordstrand
    You can get some excellent custom molded IEM's for under $1k.

    No comparison whatsoever to generics, get the molds.
  16. Kevan Campbell

    Kevan Campbell Bergantino Artist, Vibe9 IEM Artist Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2008
    Nashville, TN
    OP, this is pretty solid advice to get you started out! From what you describe starting this thread I think you’d be best served by getting yourself something that’s cheap and readily available everywhere for this upcoming gig and take your time researching nicer IEMs after you’ve played a gig (or several) with the cheapies. That way you’re not diving into the IEM world with little first-hand knowledge and spending a bunch of money on something that may or may not suit your needs in the long run.

    I’d personally recommend the Shure 215’s: they’re usually around $100 from GC, Sam Ash and other stores...and are a solid beginner IEM bud that will last a long time (my first pair lasted me seven years). After playing some shows on these you’ll have a better handle on what things you’d like and what you’d dislike on custom molded IEMs.

    I did this very thing when making the jump from my Shure 215’s to custom Vibe9 Q4’s (custom molded and four drivers). I’m very glad that I did because I knew what I was looking for in these (first pair) customs and I still have the Shure set as a backup which I’ve needed from time to time (my ears produce a lot of wax and if I’m not diligent in cleaning them I can clog up my Vibe9’s). It’s like any other kind of musicians gear, you can spend as much money as you can afford to get incrementally better results but you need to start off somewhere to develop a baseline and some experience.
    TheHiltz likes this.
  17. hopwheels

    hopwheels Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2015
    Atlanta, GA
    Awesome thanks! I have the Shure SE215’s and not thrilled with them.
  18. I own ue and alclair...on paper the ue are superior...

    At a gig the alclair xb win
  19. TheHiltz


    Mar 31, 2015
    For those of you who have the KZs (I'm looking at the AS10s), am I correct in assuming I can fit custom moulds on them? Can any IEM that accommodates different size tips also accommodate a custom mould?
  20. Roxbororob

    Roxbororob Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2015
    TheHiltz likes this.