In-Ear Monitoring For Control Freaks

Fig. A. M-Audio IE-30

After buying three pairs of Shure E2s, I stepped up to the M-Audio IE-30s,(Fig. A) which have replaceable cords (yay!). These worked well right up until last month when I decided to bite the bullet and order a set of custom-molded in-ear headphones from Westone. They’re better than I had imagined. The folks at Westone suggested the dual-driver ES2s for drummers (Fig. B). They have a rich bottom end, a smooth top end, and are comfortable enough to wear all day long, which I often have to do. Although a bit pricey, they are well worth the money.

Fig. B. Westone ES2

Okay, now that we’re all squared away on headphones, let’s get to the rest of the nitty-gritty. Below are two different options for hard-wired monitor setups. The one you chose depends mainly on the level of quality you’re able to afford.

Fig. C

Setup 1: The Budget Option

This first setup is not very elegant, but it has most of the features that the all-in-one units from Shure and Sennheiser offer, and is suitable for acoustic, electronic, or hybrid drum setups. It’s shown here paired with an electronic kit (Fig. C). For this setup you’ll need an audio mixer (eight channel with a minimum of two mike inputs), a compressor/limiter (mono or stereo), one or two microphones (plus stands), two direct boxes, and a pair of in-ear, isolation-type headphones.

For the mixer, I use an eight-channel Behringer Xenyx802. It starts with a stereo feed from the electronic drums that goes into one of the mixer’s stereo input channels. Use the “thru” output on the direct boxes to split the signal. Have a separate “band mix” sent from the band’s PA to another channel on the mixer, first passing it through the compressor/limiter.

Note: the limiter is the most important part of the setup. It prevents an audio signal from exceeding a set level. If you don’t have control of the level (volume) of a signal input to your mixer — such as a monitor feed from the band’s PA — run the signal through a limiter first. This will help protect your ears when the sound person accidentally sends a loud signal to your mixer.

Next, you’ll want to add an ambient mike into one of the mixer’s two mike inputs. Since in-ear systems can be unnaturally isolating, the ambient mike allows you to mix in some “stage sound.” Any decent mike will do, such as the Audix i5 (fig. X).

A bonus of using an ambient mike is that you can quickly point or move it to pick up an instrument that might be too low in the band mix. If the bass guitar is not loud enough in your mix, run over and place this mike in front of the bass cabinet between tunes -— boom! Instant bass! The more microphone inputs there are on your mixer, the more mikes you can place around the stage to control your own monitor mix.

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