Over the last four decades, innovations in technology have changed the way we experience music. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of in-ear monitors. In-ear monitors, sometimes known as earphones, are finding their way into the ears of musicians, sound engineers, and audiophiles alike. But many are still wondering, what is an in-ear monitor? Questions still arise as these small, but impactful, pieces of audio equipment keep surfacing on the music scene.
Originally created for musicians and sound engineers, in-ear monitors (IEMs) are a relatively new type of earphone designed for optimum audio enhancement while creating isolation from external sound. Musicians previously preferred wedge monitors for this type of musical feedback. But the age of amplification (think the rise of rock and roll) lead to a serious catch-22 of increasing sound levels on live stages. Between the roaring crowds and the powerful amplification equipment, stages were becoming louder than ever. One solution was the wedge monitor, or floor monitor.
This allowed sound engineers to deliver a tailored mix of sound to different parts of the stage without directing it at the audience. Wedge monitors meant a singer could hear their voice, but it was coming at them from the floor. This limits movement for many artists onstage so they’re able to hear their mix throughout the performance. It also means the sounds of the crowd and other wedges compete to be heard and sound levels can increase to dangerous levels.
Low and behold, the wedge monitors did not solve the sound war. Still unable to hear clearly, band members would turn up their own wedge monitors, which in turn, caused other members to turn their monitors up, making the stage even louder. You can see how the escalation continued. Among interruption of band chemistry and other hinders of stage performance, this noise escalation proposed a series of concern for the hearing health of performers.
What happens next is somewhat unclear in the history books. The inventor of IEMs and time of creation varies depending on the source consulted, but it was likely around the mid-1970s. However, IEMs didn’t really rise to popularity until the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until the last decade or so that they have become widely affordable, breaching the mainstream and causing an influx in demand.
Now is where we should revisit what IEMs are. Folks tend to use the words earphones and in-ear monitors (IEMs) interchangeably because ultimately they are the same thing. This portable audio solution provides the ear with a personalized monitor mix. A complete in-ear monitoring system consists of a transmitter, a receiver and a set of IEMs. The transmitter sends signals to the receiver, which is typically a cellphone-sized pack worn by the performer. This receiver is where the IEMs plug into.
Then the magic happens. IEMs house miniature speakers, otherwise known as drivers, that convert electric audio signals into an audible acoustic by moving a diaphragm, which in turn creates the sound that you hear. The most common type of driver found in IEMs is a balanced armature driver.
Think of your most standard earbud. These devices have, at most, two drivers. Higher-end IEM models, however, can house anywhere from two to 18 drivers.
Here at 64 Audio, we offer a wide variety of models with driver counts ranging from two to eighteen drivers. Multi-driver IEMs allow the listener to better tailor their mix to their needs. A great benefit to performers, sound engineers and audiophiles alike. Each model caters to a specific type of ear. For example, our N8 model is a hybrid design, utilizing a 9mm dynamic driver for the lows and 8 balanced armature drivers for the midrange and highs. The result is an incredibly intimate and smooth sound with punchy lows, luscious mids, and a silky treble with an analog sensation. Whereas the A3e possesses a spacious and detailed soundstage, making it a perfect match for vocalists, guitarists and keyboardists, bringing those overtones to life. Each IEM has a unique sound image that allows the listener to hear exactly what they need.
Besides the drivers, the other noticeable difference with IEMs is the customization. IEMs come in both custom-fit and universal fit for the ear. Custom-fit tend to provide more noise isolation (less ambient noise leaking in, less of what you want to hear leaking out) and are less likely to fall out of the ear during active use. However, since audiophiles don’t tend to have these same concerns, the universal fit can provide the same sound image without the custom-fit process.
So where is this technology heading in the future? While isolation is one of the IEMs greatest features, it also has its downsides. Many performers feel overly isolated from the crowd and band, creating a disconnect during the performance. Recent innovations to compensate for this potential downside include 64 Audio’s apex™ modules. The apex™ modules are inserted into the IEMs and they allow for varying degrees of isolation. Because these modules can be interchanged according to isolation preference, users get to choose how much ambient noise they want to experience. Two modules are currently offered at at -20dB (apex™ m20) and -15dB (apex™ m15). These modules also relieve pneumatic pressure which helps to reduce the occlusion effect; a result of sealing the ear canal.
Hearing preservation and sound quality are two other important benefits offered by apex™. Because they absorb some of the air pressure in the sealed ear canal, apex™ modules aid in the prevention of ear fatigue and long term damage caused by excessive movement of the eardrum. This absorption of pneumatic pressure also results in a clearer sound and a more natural listening experience.
But, because we are always evolving with the times, we are adding to our approach by improving resolution. This is where we welcome tia™. The tia™ driver is an open balanced armature speaker which produces sound with a direct-radiating, fully unobstructed diaphragm. This eliminates excessive vibrations and resonances found in conventional closed balanced armature driver designs. The single-bore design also facilitates the elimination of unwanted resonance. With a short distance to travel through the specially crafted single bore, tia™ has a remarkable high-frequency extension and smoothness.
There is no doubt that the invention of IEMs was a major turning point in music history. As IEMs continue to become the norm for performers, sound engineers and audiophiles, we will continue to be at the top of our game to deliver the best and most trusted IEMs in the music industry.