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What is the difference between a pro or "stage" monitor and a regular audiophile type IEM?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

As the title asks, I'm trying to get an idea of what is meant when people say this or that IEM (usually customs but not always) is more "pro oriented" or "better for use on stage". What exactly does that look like?

 

I have very little experience with IEMs apart from the Ety ER4S and the Westone W3. I know the Westone W series (for example) has been described as being for "home use" while the UM series and ES series are more of a "pro tool". But not everyone has the same take on what that means. Enhanced treble detail? Or more smooth and non fatiguing? Or more dynamic to help you hear your performance? I could see why various options would make sense, even contradictory options, so that's why I'm asking.

 

 

post #2 of 13
There are probably other differences, but stage monitors would at least be/have:
- custom molded to fit performers ear;
- high isolation from outside noise (or some models are vented);
- extremely durable body;
- replaceable over-the-ear cable to protect against performance sweat, damage, etc.;
- excellent sound quality.

You might notice that a number of head-fi'ers have "stage" monitors have day-to-day listening for several of the above reasons even tho' they are not stage performers.
post #3 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by kmhaynes View Post

There are probably other differences, but stage monitors would at least be/have:
....

 

Stage monitor doesn't need to be custom molded, nor have replaceable cable. It just need to meet the demand of the stage. Every companies does stage monitor sightly different but something are always the same: Mainly comfortable to be used in lengthy period of time and with a tuned sound that won't easily cause fatigue to the listener while still provides the essential detail and clarity in normal to low volume. For example, Boyzone actually wore UM2 as their stage monitor at their reunion concert a few years ago.

 

post #4 of 13

I've wondered the same thing over the years and never really got a satisfactory answer. I've talked to different performers who have used various customs and there doesn't seem to be any common thread. It's more like "I like this one" rather than a hard and fast set of rules on the design.

 

ClieOS covered the comfort and durability thing well. And the lack of fatigue factor makes total sense too. I still don't know if there is a set standard though. 


Edited by project86 - 4/19/11 at 11:50am
post #5 of 13

It's mainly marketing hype....

 

....but I believe dedicated stage monitors (for example, how Westone markets UM3X)  have a relatively closed in presentation and small soundstage, lean on the neutral side but are very good and instrument separation and pinpoint of sound placement as opposed to the W3 which is more about the overall presentation, a larger soundstage and a more colored ("fun") sound.

 

The "pro" oriented....I have no idea.


Edited by Spyro - 4/19/11 at 11:54am
post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by project86 View Post

 

ClieOS covered the comfort and durability thing well. And the lack of fatigue factor makes total sense too. I still don't know if there is a set standard though. 


That's what I've heard as well: Secure, comfortable fit and durability, with a particular sound profile which is characterized by a non-fatiguing highs and a bass that is prominent enough to be clear with crowd noise. While each company may have their own idea about how best to meet those needs, I think most stage monitors will be designed with these needs in mind.

 

post #7 of 13

Also, custom monitors can be designed with ambient vents (to allow performers to hear how the performance sounds to the audience) and can be tuned to account for a person's hearing deficiencies or sensitivities.

post #8 of 13

Historically, IEMs were created for stage use. The IEM concept was driven by artists who both hated wedges and wanted more control over what they heard - people like Todd Rundgren and Steve Miller - for three (primary) reasons:

1. Floor wedges tend to sound bad, are the primary source of acoustic feedback, and create "volume wars" between adjacent performers

2. A loud stage creates excessive leakage into the front of house system, muddying the house mix and forcing the FOH to run at significantly higher volume.

3. Performer want to hear the same monitor mix when moving about the stage.

 

It started with Sony buds and progressed from there. With a properly sealed IEM, the artist hears everything he/she wants in the monitor mix (and what each player wants varies widely) and virtually nothing else. Both the audience and the performers benefit from the quieter stage, which allows greater fidelity and lower volumes for musos and fans alike.

 

Another point on "what is a pro stage monitor" -- Most bands have a dedicated monitor engineer with individual control of all sound sources, plus extensive DSP and EQ tools. Starting from a neutral response earphone allows this process to be done with greater accuracy. (That said, there are plenty on non-neutral IEMs that find their way to the stage.) Most monitor engineers prefer that the band all wear the same model; it makes their job much more doable.

 

Side note: Ambient vents are, in fact, evil, and antithetical to the primary design goal of most IEMs -- creating a closed system with high isolation. Externally vented designs were developed to meet artist requests, who naturally complained that they were "too isolated." But vented IEMs are epic fail in practice (IMO), mostly because they (a) muddy the sound and (b) are uncontrolled. In other words, they basically provide uncontrolled leakage. There are only two viable ways of adding desired ambience back into the monitor mix -- stage mics, and the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient system.

 


Edited by JackKontney - 4/22/11 at 11:59am
post #9 of 13

I just want to say that was a very insightful post, thanks Jack.  It's always interesting to hear about the history and current state of headphones, especially from an industry insider. 

 

I find your view that ambient vents are a bad idea somewhat surprising, since I've read about many artists who want to have them.  I even saw a Kanye West performance where he was only wearing 1 side of his customs--I guess that's enough for him to hear the mix and be able to hear how it sounds to the audience.

 

Just curious, do you think that some degree of a bass boost is necessary or desirable in a custom IEM meant for stage performance?  From what I've heard, it seems that the most popular customs from JHA, Westone, and UE (except maybe the UERM) have varying degrees of bass impact and warmth that might be considered above what would be purely neutral.

post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by dj nellie View Post

I just want to say that was a very insightful post, thanks Jack.  It's always interesting to hear about the history and current state of headphones, especially from an industry insider. 

 

I find your view that ambient vents are a bad idea somewhat surprising, since I've read about many artists who want to have them.  I even saw a Kanye West performance where he was only wearing 1 side of his customs--I guess that's enough for him to hear the mix and be able to hear how it sounds to the audience.

 

Just curious, do you think that some degree of a bass boost is necessary or desirable in a custom IEM meant for stage performance?  From what I've heard, it seems that the most popular customs from JHA, Westone, and UE (except maybe the UERM) have varying degrees of bass impact and warmth that might be considered above what would be purely neutral.

I liked his post as well, although there's room for disagreement, surely. Just a note, the UE IERM isn't meant to be a stage monitor, but a studio reference--different job with fewer screaming fans. That only strengthens your point, of course.

post #11 of 13

Kind words, dj nellie. Thanks.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dj nellie View Post

I just want to say that was a very insightful post, thanks Jack.  It's always interesting to hear about the history and current state of headphones, especially from an industry insider. 

 

I find your view that ambient vents are a bad idea somewhat surprising, since I've read about many artists who want to have them.  I even saw a Kanye West performance where he was only wearing 1 side of his customs--I guess that's enough for him to hear the mix and be able to hear how it sounds to the audience.

 

Just curious, do you think that some degree of a bass boost is necessary or desirable in a custom IEM meant for stage performance?  From what I've heard, it seems that the most popular customs from JHA, Westone, and UE (except maybe the UERM) have varying degrees of bass impact and warmth that might be considered above what would be purely neutral.

 

And now, a small rant about ambience and IEMs on stage...
 

It's important to realize that, from the stage, Kanye cannot hear what the FOH sound system sounds like -- not even close. Lots of artists, on occasion, wear only one IEM, and some do it habitually. In terms of hearing health, this is a downright dangerous practice, as it exposes the open ear to uncontrolled ambient levels (which reach upwards of 110 dB on a lot of stages) while at the same time requiring the "in" earpiece to be turned up 6 dB to compensate for the lost synergy of having the two earpieces working together as a system. Some artists pop one earpiece out in order to hear the audience, or to hear their amp acoustically, or to have a conversation between songs, but most often the core problem is bad wireless performance (or the fear of it). And eventually, it becomes a habit - because the artist is concentrating on the performance, not the equipment.

 

The bottom line is that most performers want *some* ambience in their mix, but the technical hurdles to doing that while maintaining the integrity of the sealed system are considerable. Punching a hole in a sealed BA system is epic fail (again, IMH-but-somewhat-qualified-O), as it offers no control over the admitted ambience while simultaneously destroying the seal that the unmodified earphone design attains.

 

Over the years, monitor engineers have gotten pretty adept at injecting audience mics into the mix, which is easily the next-best approach. The problem is directionality of the ambient sound is fixed (so everything is directionally backwards when the performer turns around), and the fact that a few mics can't adequately capture a full venue. Still, most performers find it the least intrusive compromise.

 

The Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient is the only system to have cleared the technical barriers to controlled, natural ambience without compromise. The 3D embeds microphones in the earpieces, creating a binaural system that provides both the same audio the open ears would hear, but also provides full directional cues. The biggest technical triumph of the 3D system is getting those tiny mics to sound natural, and not to overload/distort when exposed to acoustic sources that can reach 140 dB in close proximity (think snare drum). That's the patent-pending part of the design -- and the reason no one else has come up with anything competitive with it.

 

Regarding your other question -- that's really a matter of artist preference. A neutral, reference-style IEM (like the Sensaphonics 2MAX) is IMHO the best starting point in a stage scenario. But some people love the bass, and that can be attained either via a bass-heavy IEM or by EQing from a neutral starting point.

 

In a professional touring scenario, the sound engineer is dialing in whatever the artist wants to hear in the monitors - both the mix and the EQ - so the choice of IEM sound signature isn't really as critical in live sound as it is in the audiophile market, where the music is already mixed and the tools for tailoring the sound are much more limited.


Edited by JackKontney - 4/27/11 at 11:12pm
post #12 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by JackKontney View Post

Lots of artists, on occasion, wear only one IEM, and some do it habitually. In terms of hearing health, this is a downright dangerous practice, as it exposes the open ear to uncontrolled ambient levels (which reach upwards of 110 dB on a lot of stages) while at the same time requiring the "in" earpiece to be turned up 6 dB to compensate for the lost synergy of having the two earpieces working together as a system. Some artists pop one earpiece out in order to hear the audience, or to hear their amp acoustically, or to have a conversation between songs, but most often the core problem is bad wireless performance (or the fear of it). And eventually, it becomes a habit - because the artist is concentrating on the performance, not the equipment.

Not in any way to disagree with your overall message (quite the contrary; I enjoyed reading the opinions) it's possible that the artist had originally intended to only ever wear one monitor - UE offers their UE1 which is 4 speakers, but both channels in one ear. They call it "stereo", but I feel like that's not the right term. Of course, that doesn't in any way mean that having it all in one ear is healthy.
post #13 of 13

Yes, that's entirely possible -- just stupid (IMHO). We are generally creatures of habit, and people get used to performing in certain ways. So I can see a scenario where an artist wants only one earpiece, because that's what he/she has always done. But for the reasons mentioned previously, it's unsafe and, long-term, career threatening. [I realize that hearing health is not a fun topic, but facts are facts.]

 

I should point out that the first (AFAIK) single-ear stereo IEM was the Sensaphonics 221 (2 channels, 2 drivers, 1 earpiece). It was developed for customers with profound hearing loss in one ear. We do not market it as a solution for non-impaired monitoring. That would be irresponsible.

 

Both the 221 and the UE1 are, technically, stereo. All the information is presented correctly (as opposed to using a “stereo-to-mono” adapter plug to passively short the left and right channels together electrically). Obviously, there's just no separation (for obvious reasons). But for a listener with unilateral hearing loss, it's the only way to hear stereo information correctly with an IEM.


Edited by JackKontney - 4/28/11 at 10:51pm
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