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The attenuation of In-Ear Monitors? (for live playing, metal concerts)

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hey everyone,


I always thought that when musicians play live with in-ear monitors, they need to blast the signal on a really high volume in order for the monitors to work (which would lead to some serious hearing damage I guess). I never realized that the monitors can actually attenuate the surroundings. When we play, I usually wear earplugs to protect my hearing (club gigs tend to get really loud and muddy).


What my question is: is it possible with in-ear monitors to achieve a situation, when you clearly hear everyone in the band that you want to hear, at a comfortable volume without having to fear going deaf?

If you know any particular models, feel free to mention them, I don´t think that I will be able to afford (or actually need) them any time soon, but I would like to know about the options available.

post #2 of 8

It feels like from your post, there may be a few facts that you're not aware of for implementing IEMs on stage. So I'll go through the basics in detail, I hope it's not repeating information you already know.


The way IEMs are implemented for a live stage performance:


- Each musician in the band are mic'd and routed through a sound board

- The IEMs are plugged into a battery powered wireless belt pack

- The sound board feeds the sound from each musician into a wireless transmitter, which sends the signal to the belt packs

- The sound engineer can adjust each of the mic feed from each of the musician and adjust their volume

- The musicians also have volume control on their belt pack just to control the overall volume.


So basically, all of your band and the crowd's noise is completely attenuated by the IEM. A good custom IEM will attenuate the sound by about 26db-ish, give or take depending on the material of the IEM. This gives you a very quiet, almost silent environment to start working from. That's how IEM protect musician's hearing, by blocking out everything and allow the musician and the sound engineers themselves to determine what sound is being let in.


The obvious issue here is, you are isolating the crowd almost completely. Most of the time the sound engineer will also mic the crowd, and feed the crowd through a reduced volume, so the musicians can feel some interactivity with the crowd and get a sense of the crowd reaction. This is very much something that takes a little bit of getting used to, some musicians never get used to the "lack of real crowd interaction sound" thing, and that's why you see some musicians perform with one IEM in their ear, and they will take the other side out to hear the "real crowd". The problem with this, is that you're prone to cause even more damage to one of your ear when you do this.


Your perception of sound coming in from both ear at the same volume, goes up by about 6 db. Meaning if you're hearing the same volume coming from the earphones, with both of them in, your brain combines the sound image and your perception of the sound is approximately 6db higher than it really is. To achieve the same loudness hearing from only one ear, you'll have to turn up the sound by about 6db. So you can imagine how much damage that is to your ear if you use only one IEM when performing on stage.


Sensaphonics actually makes an IEM called 3D Active Ambient, which has microphones built into each of the earphones to not only "mic the crowd", but basically create a binaural mic feedback loop from the perspective of the individual musician. So the musicians can adjust how much crowd/surrounding noise they want filter through from the custom belt-pack. Having the microphone on the earphone, creates feedback that feels more natural and realistic than simply pointing microphones at the crowd.


Overall, even if you were going to go with the cheapest solution, using only universal IEMs instead of custom, you still have to spend a fair amount of money on a soundboard (if you didn't have one already) and wireless transmitter/receiver packs. I don't know much about the quality of wireless transmitters for personal monitoring systems, but Shure does make a lot of them, and at least it's a good place to start looking.

post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 

thanks for the reply, I appreciate the time you took to answer something that might seem trivial to you guys.

even tough I did know most of the thing you said, I had no idea that the crowd was mixed into them as well, and I never realized that about the 2 ears combining the sound pressure. wery interesting stuff and I feel a bit more educated, thanks :D

post #4 of 8
I've researched this a bit myself, although my band isn't exactly at the point tht we're concerned about IEMs. I find it and interesting read anyway.

I remember coming across a few models that were vented so that the wearer has environmental leakage that allow for crowd feedback.I don't know if this really works, but I suppose when one considers open-backed headphones, it's similar in theory. And possibly cheaper than miniature microphones on each IEM.

I'm sure someone with more experience could give their opinion on the design.
post #5 of 8

Those are "passive ambient" systems. The problem is that they sacrifice the biggest advantage of IEMs -- isolation -- while offering little if any control of the amount of stage noise entering your ears.


The whole point of IEMs is (or perhaps "was" is more accurate) to create a closed listening environment, eliminating the screaming wedges and allowing the user to hear only the monitor mix. The isolation provided by well-fitted IEMs lowers the noise floor by about 15 to 35 dB (depending on earphone material and fit), allowing the musician to monitor more clearly, yet at a lower, safer volume.


This isolation is a problem for some musicians, which is why most sound engineers have adopted various crowd-miking methods. This is far preferable to drilling a hole into an IEM. Some musicians have adopted the practice of playing with one earpiece in and the other out, which is downright dangerous, as the IEM has to turned up another 6 db (or more) to achieve the same apparent level.


It should be noted that balanced armature IEMs require full isolation in order to deliver full fidelity. If the seal is broken (whether in the ear canal or by puncturing the back of the case), there is a huge loss in bass response. Passive ambient "systems" (IMHO) pervert the design integrity of the closed-system design of balanced armature IEMs.


While isolation isn't the be-all and end-all for audiophiles and home listeners, it's much more important on stage, and should be maintained if at all possible. Again, IMHO.


At the end of the day, it's all about what maximizes the artist's performance on stage. The 3D Active Ambient is the only IEM that provides a solution to the isolation problem (feeling "disconnected" from the rest of the band) without compromising the fidelity and hearing health advantages of a closed, highly isolating system.

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

hmm, sudenly I have an urge to start believing the frontmen when they claim that they "can´t hear" the audience shouting :D

post #7 of 8

Thanks for the info, was gonna ask for the samethin

post #8 of 8

Happy to help, and glad to see some performance-related chatter from musicians on Head-fi!

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