Tried IEMs for the first time and my tone was terrible, help me understand why

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by Reedt2000, Oct 8, 2021.

  1. Reedt2000

    Reedt2000 Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    So the main band I work with is going IEM to lighten the load of what we bring out to gigs. We got together this week to test this out and my bass sounded horrible. I took the SBMM Ray35 which is what I've been gigging with and has been a great fit for this band (rock-oriented 80s cover band). I ran it both with and without the Sansamp programmable bass DI and in the IEM it was thin and brittle. I bought the KZ ZS10 PRO buds after reading a bunch of threads here where people love them. I did realize that being seated in the ear canal right is crucial for low end, but even when I did that, the lows were super low and not the warm defined sound that comes out of FOH. We setup a single speaker that we use FOH (without the sub underneath) and my tone was good coming out of it.

    I have to think it's the ear buds (we're using the Xvibe system for the radio bit). Maybe that and the general awkwardness of using this setup for the first time. I'm hoping those more experienced will chime in. I don't want to spend a ton on this but what I heard at this test run will be really hard to work with so I have to do something.

    Thanks in advance TB :D
    Dubious Aa likes this.
  2. The struggle is real (i.e., I think you're not experiencing some specific problem but simply what a raw DI signal sounds like in IEMs).

    What's your gigging situation in term the use of the IEM mixer? Meaning has your band added a mixer that is just for IEMs or is the mixer also used for FOH?

    I dealt with the same issue but would probably want to get the answer to that question before going much further.
  3. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    "thin and brittle" makes me think you didn't get the earbuds sealed in your ears. A good seal (try some different tips) is the starting point for anything with IEM's - if you don't have that, work on just that until you do. I ended up preferring triple flange tips - for a good seal, and (just as important) so that they'd stay in my ears. Nothing else works for me.

    I've done hundreds (600ish) of gigs with in ears at this point. There is a learning curve, but once you get past that (don't try them on a gig first!!!!) you'll never want to go back.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2021
  4. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    For rehearsals, it's also a possibility to bring another set of headphones - Over the ear models.
    You can try not only try out your sound against the KZ audios, you can also pass the cans to whoever runs the board and let him listen to your sound and discuss it on equal terms.

    It could be a million things. A raw DI signal. Compression applied in the wrong way.
    Your earbuds. Accidental HPF somewhere. Gains all over the place. etc. etc.
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  5. Reedt2000

    Reedt2000 Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    Yeah, I think there is definitely a learning curve. They are much like recording and playing through cans, I always need a couple takes to get used to hearing it that way.

    Right now we've just got a 16 channel yamaha mixer w 4 aux sends. We're coming directly out of the 2 which are pre-fader (drummer has an older set that isn't compatible with the Xvive system so he gets his own mix and vocals/bass/guitars are gonna share a mix).
    Iristone and Spidey2112 like this.
  6. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    If the raw DI signal sounds horrible, then what you're sending to FOH needs to be fixed. If you want to sound good in the PA, what you send to FOH should give him or her a fighting chance. I've spent a lot of time working on my pedalboards - not for the purpose of using lots of effects, but from the viewpoint of doing whatever I can to make my signal to FOH something that they can bring up on a fader, and say "that sounds good". IN an IEM situation, your output doesn't come through an amp - it comes out an xlr cable. You need to spend as much time tweaking that as you would an amp in an old school scenario.
    Sascha Erni, walterw and Luigir like this.
  7. Reedt2000

    Reedt2000 Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    Seal was definitely an issue at first. I figured that out and things were better.

    @el murdoque mentions compression and I think he might be on to something. The board has built in compression and I didn't look at where that was set. It may have been accentuating the articulation and attacked making it feel treble-heavy and click-y.
  8. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    Turn off all extraneous processing, eq, etc. - start from scratch, and add only what helps. I never have any compression between my bass and my ears.
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  9. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    Turn off everything, null every eq, check every gain.
    Raw bass to headphones. That's the starting point.

    Compressors are very popular nowadays because you can peak limit everything when doing IEM and basically any of your modern digital mixer has a dsp which offers at least one kind of comp.
    It IS nice to know that your eardrums won't pop when the guitarist unplugs his cable.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2021
    roccobass, DirtDog and Reedt2000 like this.
  10. chandman1004


    Jun 28, 2008
    What headphone amp are you using? The I am using this one. Most likely there are cheaper on Amazon. I don't think it's actually necessary, but it helps me 

    Attached Files:

  11. Is the bass you're hearing coming all the way back from the Aux send on the board?

    You should look into having your own on-stage IEM kit with a preamp just for you. Rather than just getting the board to send you a fold-back of what you're sending via DI, look into a nice preamp you can use to shape your in-ear sound, and then send a clean DI signal out to the house for them to process to the room. A pre-fader return may not work for headphones/earphones.

    You can get a preamp with an effects loop and its own EQ controls so you can run some sweetening through it directly to your IEM input. Then ask the FOH to send you a monitor feed without your bass signal, and you can use the IEM mixer to blend between your bass and the house.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2021
    Reedt2000 likes this.
  12. I went through a couple of sets of earbuds before I found a good pair.
    Here’s something else to keep in mind. A di signal typically doesn’t sound like you would think it sounds.
    Guitarists that run in ears are running off a mic’d cab or they are running a processor that simulates a mic’d cab for di.
    More low end doesn’t mean more drivers and good reviews mean good for them but maybe not for you. Unfortunately I have learned this the hard way multiple times.
    There is a YouTube channel called guns and guitars. He has a couple of budget iem videos that are actually really interesting. I bought a set he recommended and it blew away an old set I had that was much more expensive.
    Staccato and Reedt2000 like this.
  13. Ohhhh….if you want to test your ear buds plug them in to your phone or whatever and see if you can clearly hear the bass. If you can’t, ditch them.
    To piggyback off of my mic’d cab comment, darkglass makes a pricey but really really good headphone amp geared toward bass. It has changed my idea of what I thought I could get out of in ears, especially for quiet practice. Well worth every penny I paid.
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  14. s0c9

    s0c9 Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2014
    1964 Audio artist, Fractal Audio Beta Tester
    and therein lies the problem. Most folks don’t know how to use them, and just because you have one for each channel doesn’t mean you have to use it!
    Subbed last weekend and they had a compressor (and gate) on EVERY channel… it was horrible, but they let me play with it and clean it up.
    And many buss mixes allow a brick-wall limiter (compression) insert or on the channel itself.
    JRA, DirtDog, el murdoque and 4 others like this.
  15. dbsfgyd1


    Jun 11, 2012
    Mascoutah, IL
    Definitely, IEMs need a good seal in the ear canal to get good bass tones. Secondly, molded ear buds are better than foam ear pieces, which are much better the hard plastic ( like apple ear buds). You may need to spend some time working with your EQ to get what you need.
    Reedt2000 likes this.
  16. JohnnyBottom

    JohnnyBottom Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    New Jersey
    Sharing mixes certainly could be problematic. As said above, I put my DI into my rolls and thru out to FOH.
    I do my own mix and turn the bass off in the mix I get from FOH. The rolls lets me mix me in with the house mix as much as I want. I dont need to EQ much for my IEMs, what I send to the rolls via the Olympic mkiii is just fine for my IEMs and a good starting point for FOH.
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  17. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Inactive

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    What kind of mixer do you use?

    Do you have your own monitor mix?
  18. Preach
    s0c9 likes this.
  19. john_g

    john_g Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2007
    Recently bought a wired headphone amp and a 6 driver "chifi" earphones and used it last week on my gig. I figured I would try this and once I get used to it, buy a wireless system eventually. The sound kinda of stunk IMO. My bass sounded like crap and I think the singer, who runs the sound, had a massive amount of compression on it. When I played a note it took half a second to get full volume. It was weird but it was an extremely rushed setup so I didnt have time to ask him to fix it. He plays a few times a year with another band and said that bands bass player has a funky setup and has to compress/gate the hell out of it. He forgot to set it back to a normal setting. However, just about every other instrument sounded like garbage too. I mean, i could hear it and for the first time i could hear the singing (especially mine) really well, but the guitar also sounded like crap. It really did help control volume though so that and being able to hear my singing made it worth it, but Im right there with the OP.
  20. Okay, so while you didn't specifically say, I'm taking that to mean that this is your band's foh mixer and you're replacing wedges with IEMs, is that correct?

    If so, that would be different from my situation. What's the same is that in my experience, if you simply move to from hearing your bass in open air from an amp and pa to hearing it with no specific adjustment through IEMs and expect it to sound the same, you will be disappointed; you'll have the experience that you just did. That's because, by comparison, the same signal that sounded good through the amp can be expected to be "thin and brittle."

    I think the the first step for you is to do as much EQ as you can on your Sansamp for the benefit of the sound in your ears. By "as much EQ as you can", I mean so that the signal still works for the FOH to sound right. If you boost something for the benefit of your ears, it can be cut for FOH if need be. But the other way around doesn't so readily work. If you too deeply cut something prior to FOH, it can't necessarily be added back (EQ can't really create something that's not there).

    If I've understood your situation correctly and you're using an analog mixer, you have some limitations versus other setups. For example, if you were using a remote control digital mixer for FOH and monitors, even if you were still sharing a mix, you would have at least EQ for each monitor mix. If you were using a separate IEM mixer, you could additionally EQ the bass channel specifically for your ears (because it has no effect on FOH).