I am seeing more and more musicians in my practice, and they often ask about in ear monitor (IEM) systems. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these systems over traditional floor monitors?
This is a great question, and I'd refer you to the following article for a more in depth discussion:www.audiologyonline.com/articles/article_detail.asp?article_id=2115
The main advantage of IEMs that audiologists can certainly appreciate is that they provide performers with hearing protection from loud stage volumes. This potentially allows for monitoring at lower volume levels, however, the onus to keep the volume level down is on the performer. Isolation from outside noise also enables singers to often have better pitch and to utilize less vocal effort, reducing vocal fatigue and thus the risk of vocal problems especially on long tours. The disadvantage to the sound isolation of IEMs is that it makes conversation difficult and also separates the performer from audience noise, which can be desirable, especially between songs. The audience issue can be somewhat addressed by the use of ambient room microphones and creative sound mixing.
Another advantage of IEMs over floor monitors is the absence of feedback, which is a bonus for performers and audience members alike. IEMs are also more cost effective than floor monitors when you consider not only the cost of the equipment, but also the cost of transportation, labor for set up and take down, cables, etc. A disadvantage of IEMs is the possibility of occlusion, which can usually be addressed by long, deep ear impressions and fit as well as counseling and acclimatization. Finally, a complaint of IEMs having a lack of bass energy is sometimes heard from performers who rely on bass energy such as bassists or drummers. The Future Sonics Atrio series produce the strongest bottom end of any IEM on the market;custom-fitted Future Sonics Ear Monitors are also available and employ the same driver (speaker) technology.
It's important to note that performers should always wear two IEMs rather than one. Sometimes performers will try using one in order to hear the audience, or because of occlusion. It is better to address these issues directly, rather than encourage use of one IEM. Two IEMs allow performers to take advantage of binaural summation, and use lower actual volume levels to achieve the same perceived volume. In addition, using two helps ensure the performer is benefiting from hearing protection in both ears.
The benefits of IEMs outweigh the downside for most performers. This is particularly true once a performer has had some experience with them and has taken the time to become acclimatized to wearing them.
Keith Gordon is Director of Marketing and Sales at VitaSound Audio Inc. (www.vitasound.com). He is a veteran audio engineer who mixed monitors for over a decade before overseeing development of a DSP-based hardware/software IEM system in conjunction with Westone Laboratories. He can be contacted at email@example.com