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WELCOME TO THE IEM BIBLE! - a beginner's guide to IEMs.

 

After a recommendation to me, I decided that I would start a new thread that is born out of the old super thread at https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/205633-in-ear-monitors-help-needed/

That thread contains a whole wealth of information – however, over time it has naturally become quite fragmented or lost when the Basschat migration happened, a lot of information has been superseded and of course, recommendations change. This thread, I'll summarise everything and try and keep all the important stuff in the first few posts of the thread. I'll do a few posts on IEMs, hardware, radio, tips etc.. and build it up from there and keep chopping and changing stuff in the main posts as it happens - SO PLEASE DON'T QUOTE THE MAIN POSTS AS THE INFORMATION MAY GET CHANGED AND REFINED OVER TIME - thanks :)

What I’ll do, is try and keep this opening posts updated with all the relevant bits and try and tie any bits of interest to posts in the other thread. This should make it easier for people looking to quickly digest information around IEMs than reading the other thread and no doubt bailing out before getting what they need out of it. I'll try and keep it at a fairly high level to make things easy to consume for the complete starter... so let me know if things aren't clear and I can refine them.

So, without further ado.

 

SECTIONS

 

1. IEMS (this post)

2. Wireless vs Radio (https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/389429-the-iem-bible-thread/?do=findComment&comment=3944326)

3. The source (e.g. your mixing desk) (https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/389429-the-iem-bible-thread/?do=findComment&comment=3944327)

4. Haptic feedback for the feeling of "big air" https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/389429-the-iem-bible-thread/?do=findComment&comment=3944328

5. Integrating a monitor solution with other house systems https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/389429-the-iem-bible-thread/?do=findComment&comment=3944330

6. Concerned about "spikes"? - what about limiters? https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/389429-the-iem-bible-thread/?do=findComment&comment=3944331

 

1.       IEMS

OK, so you are here probably because you are interested in finding out more about IEMs or have decided to purchase some and are looking for additional information.

 

1.1   WHAT ARE IEMS?

IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) are basically a set of earphones that are intended to replace the traditional monitor wedge. They tend to range from single driver (single speaker) through to multiple driver units and can be either referred to as a generic/universal fit or a custom fit. As the name would suggest, generic/universal fits are intended to be able to used by everybody, independent of their ear shape, whereas the latter is an earpiece that has been crafted to fit an individual’s ears perfectly (and hence cannot be shared between users).

 

1.2   WHY USE IEMS?

Like traditional monitor wedges, IEMs are intended to provide a musician with a monitor mix that can be tailored to their individual needs. Unlike monitor wedges, as you move around the stage, the sound doesn’t change. (e.g. standing off axis to a monitor wedge, or perhaps moving around the stage and standing in front of an amp’s cab or the drum kit can significantly impact how well you can hear what is coming from that monitor). Additionally, you can run more complex stereo mixes, which can’t be replicated anywhere near as well using wedges. This is particularly good if you are running lots of vocals or stereo instruments where panning the signal can help with the perception of width and stereo position of instruments and vocals. For example, being able to place vocals to the left and right of the central position can help with pitching and clarity in the monitor mix.

IEMs are a safer way (if you run the volumes sensibly) to protect your ears. Like earplugs, IEMs significantly reduce the SPL of the sound entering your ears from the stage. With that ambient volume reduced, a monitor feed can be fed into your ears at a safe volume resulting in a clear mix, delivered at a safe volume. Running IEMs at a safe volume means you can kiss goodbye to post gig ringing ears – which in turn to lead to chronic tinnitus (for which there is no cure).

By removing wedges from the performance area means that you can achieve a significantly higher level of gain before feedback. Less sound on stage means a reduced chance of sound from the monitor wedges entering open mics and causing the feedback loops that we all hate. Cleaner sounds onstage (or even a silent stage) can make your sound engineer happy and ultimately, your band will sound a lot better out front for it.

When running a band on IEMs, you tend to close mic what you want to hear (hence taking the room out of the equation) and the monitor mixes tend to stay pretty similar from gig to gig – leading to quicker setup times and a more consistent and familiar sound in your ears.

IEMs are cool. Turning up to a gig with IEMs make it look like you know what you are doing… even if you don’t. What is also cool, is that unlike the rock n roll dinosaurs, you’ll still be able to hear in your advanced years. Another big plus - even if you aren't a confident singer, a set of IEMs will mean you can hear your vocals - and everybody else's vocals a lot clearer. Your ability to sing and tune with other vocalists will no doubt improve significantly - they really are a bit of a secret weapon on that front!

Here's the thing though - IEMs can be expensive, especially if you go down the custom route. When considering IEMs, I always ask people to think like this - consider buying a wedge. What's the cost of a decent wedge than can cope with a bit of bass? Well, you're looking at circa £300. No buy two so you have one for each ear. Now look at a set of custom ear plugs - they are about £100. So in essence, a non portable version of CIEMs that don't sound as good comes in at £700. Now those ultra portable customs aren't looking quite as expensive as you first thought...

 

1.3   NUMBER OF DRIVERS… and DRIVER TYPE?

IEMs tend to be made up of drivers, from a single drive per side, up to 12+ drivers per side. Typically, these will be of one of two types, namely balanced armatures and dynamic drivers.

Dynamic drivers are typically found in cheaper units or as a hybrid setup with balanced armatures. The difference between dynamic drivers and universal drivers can be quite significant, however.

Generally, dynamic drivers tend to have more headroom and have a better bass response than balanced armatures and come with a lower price tag than balanced armatures. They do, however, give up a little in detail but are perceived to have a warmer tone, or bloom in the mids, which some people can prefer. In contrast, the balanced armature is more clinical and precise in its sound but not as good at reproducing bass. Unless you are close A/Bing units of differing driver types with each other, the vast majority of people would not be able to recognise the difference between driver types.

Adding drivers primarily adds headroom and allows a mix of driver types such that a driver most suited for say, lows, can be paired with another driver that is better at reproducing highs. By combing driver types, a better response and superior sounding IEM can be built. However, it should be noted that this is not as straightforward as simply putting in extra drivers and hoping for the best. Great IEMs are the result of hours of R and D to developing crossovers and tuning the units for a pleasurable output. Additionally, all these drivers must be phase aligned and most importantly, the left and right need to match. Of course, all drivers have their own responses in terms of how they sound, despite dampening, there is the chance that there is a limit to how good a sound a multiple driver unit can sound. The larger manufacturers then turn to custom orders of drivers to engineer their way out of the constraints that physics have put in the way of standard off the shelf drivers. This is one of the multiple reasons why the market leaders of IEMs tend to sound the best – but also have a higher pricetag. All of this quality comes at a price. So, in short, adding drivers can improve the sound… but in some cases can cause all sorts of phasing issues if not done correctly.

It should also be mentioned that adding drivers has an additional advantage. By increasing the number of drivers, the last hard the drivers must work to get to working volume. The less hard the drivers are working, the less chance there is of distortion whether it be audible or not perceived. The latter is quite significant; even if you can’t hear it, if distortion is present, it will fatigue the ear a lot quicker. As the ear fatigues, people tend to push up the volume to compensate – and again, this increases the risk of hearing damage. If an IEM is distorting, chances are there is something wrong with the gain structure, or you are simply pushing the IEM beyond it’s limit and into distortion. This is not a good thing for your listening enjoyment or your physical ear health!

As we are on a bass forum, I tend to recommend at least a quad (treble, mid, bass, bass) as the driver count to aspire to. This reduces the chance of distortion as the work is being shared between the drivers – and the drivers that are reproducing the frequencies that we are most interested in (those that are also the most difficult frequencies to reproduce) are given a helping hand by being doubled up. There is an exception to this in my opinion, and it’s a unit that I tend to recommend for its performance vs price point  - and that is the UE6. The UE6 is a triple driver – but has dynamic drivers in the mids and bass. There is a balanced armature in the high. In short, the dynamics provide greater headroom and better bass response in the lows, whilst the air and detail that is most importantly found in the highs, is retained using a balanced armature. The UE6 custom gives a performance comparable to a equivalent quad balanced custom – but without the price tag.

You can begin to guess (to a certain extent) what an IEM is going to sound like by it’s driver count. If there is an equal number of balanced armatures in the treble, mid and bass range, it’s likely to be more flat response than say a different unit that has a higher driver count in say the bass. That latter unit is likely to have a slight kick in the bass and additional headroom. It’s probably worth mentioning though, that due to tuning and different driver types, if you are really fussy about the native response of your IEM, you should A/B them. It’s rare for IEMs to be tuned to a reference or flat response – because mostly flat sounds boring… and each manufacturer has their own take on what an IEM should sound like. Additionally, if you want to use IEMs for critical mixing, you are probably better getting a set of headphones. You’ll pay less for not going small and portable and will certainly get a flatter response for a lot less money. I will say one thing though, once you are on stage, the native response of the IEM becomes less important. I always say I will take the IEM with headroom and are in phase, as opposed to an IEM that is reference quality but lacking in headroom or has phase issues! In short, from the larger manufacturers at least, you can’t really go wrong… they are sound great, just a bit different from one another. This also counts for drivers. As soon as you get over 4 drivers, you are looking at diminishing returns… and higher driver counts don’t necessarily sound better (they could sound worse due to poor crossover design or phasing issues) – they just sound different.

 

1.4   UNIVERSAL/GENERICS VS CUSTOMS

Universal IEMs as stated above, are intended for use by anybody. In a lot of cases this is true… but for some people, universal IEMs just don’t stay in some people’s ears. This is largely down to potluck; some people just don’t have ears that are well suited to a one size fits most IEM. Some IEMs can be overly bulky or simply not shaped in an appropriate manner that fits well with your outer ear.

Universal IEMs will come with tips. Some fit issues can be addressed with changing the tip size or tip material… or both. Tips generally come in two flavours, silicon and foam. Neither are inherently better than the other, they are just different. You need to find the material and size that best suits you. There is a trend on musician’s forums and Facebook groups that Comply foam tips are where it’s at. This isn’t necessarily true – foam tips can disintegrate very quickly with sweaty ears… likewise, silicon tips can easily slide out of sweaty ears. Again, it’s about finding the right tips to fit your ears (if they exist).

The fit is the primarily reason why people tend to move to custom IEMs. Having a custom IEM made for you means that there are no fit issues.

The commonly mentioned universals include Shure SE215s and MEE6 inears. I have to say, these aren’t the best by a long stretch, especially when you consider what you can get for your money. They are single dynamic drivers earpieces, with not a lot of headroom and less than adequate bass response. Whilst they may sound OK listening to music that has been processed and mastered, remember live music is full of transients and not given the post processing and mastering process that recorded music has (unless you have a separate monitoring rig for your mixes – which is not likely if you are using budget IEMs for listening to your monitor mix). I’ll tend to recommend ZS10s – they are a 5 driver per side hybrid setup that can be had for typically less than £40 and will slay most of the competition. Whilst they may not be the best sounding IEMs in isolation, on stage, they have bags of headroom and great low-end response, so for bass players especially, they are a much better investment than many of the most mentioned alternatives. Just remember to buy the version without the mic control for on stage use (the mic version being for mobile phones). Other alternatives to look at are the AS10s (non hybrid, 5 balanced armatures per side) or the new AS12 (6 drivers per side) and AS16 (8 per side, flatter sound signature).

Custom IEMS are made by taking an impression of you ear canals and concha and then building the drivers inside a custom casing that fits perfectly in your ears. This impression needs to be taken by somebody suitably qualified or an audiologist. Before the impression is taken, the ear is checked for being healthy and free from wax. If there is too much wax build up, an impression cannot be taken, and your ears will need to be cleaned by a professional. This is usually called micro suction or an “ear toilet”. It doesn’t hurt – it’s literally a little vacuum cleaner that sucks wax out. I’m a bit weird and like it (and I also like impression being taken also!). If your ear is all looking good, an impression can be taken. This is quite a straightforward process; a gauze is pushed into your ear to stop the silicone going too far into your ear (don’t worry, there is a string attached to it so that it can be retrieved post the impression) and then your ear canal is filled with medical grade silicon which is left to set. Once set, it’s still flexible enough to be removed from your ear. The impression is then sliced and diced appropriately before being sent (either physically or digital via a laser scanner) to the manufacturer to be used to make your final custom IEM. There are two important things that must be observed when taking impressions. First of all, the impression needs to go past the second bend and secondly, a one inch bite block should be in place when the impression is taken. This bite block is to shape your ear canal such that the resulting impression will enable you to be able to sing and smile without the seal on the custom IEM being broken. This is really important as if the custom IEM does not seal, you will get stage sound leaking into your ear and you’ll also lose a lot of bass response… which isn’t great, especially when you have spent a lot of money ensuring that you have lots of bass drivers. Final thing, when taking impressions, make sure you keep still. Don't talk, don't move, don't do anything... be wary of people taking your impressions and not observing these rules - you will end up with a rubbish impression that in turn will lead to a poor fitting custom. Oh... and beware, you will drool when having your impressions taken, it's normal, don't be embarrassed!

Essentially all IEM casings, independent of model, are the same, it’s the inner electronics (e.g. driver count and crossover) that largely separate them. Not only do you get a perfect fit but because the fit is so much better than a universal IEM, the isolation tends to be better (-26dB) – this is the same as putting your fingers into your ears. This of course, has major advantages; this means that less ambient noise is passing through into your ears… but also means that you don’t have to driver you drivers as hard to get over the ambient size from the outside world.

Customs are generally made of silicone (flexible) or acrylic (hard). Having had both, there is no advantage over the other in terms of fit or real-world isolation between the two. Silicone is not more comfortable than acrylic – if it is, the acrylic mould is not a good fit in your ear. Silicone does have two disadvantages over acrylic. Over time, it tends to shrink a little and if you have clear, it tends to discolour and go cloudy (choose a smoke colour if you want a translucent colour that doesn’t show the yellowing over time). In my experience, silicone is more prone to cable failure due to the additional flex on the cable attachment.

Talking of fit, customs tend to fit well for around 5 years. After that period, they may need adjustment, a reshell or a replacement. It’s worth noting, however, that due to your ears constantly growing, this can vary from person to person… and things like losing or gaining a lot of weight can influence the fit. Generally, for acrylic at least, adjustments can be achieved by removing or adding acrylic to perfect the fit, so isn’t really that big of a problem (although it can be a little annoying if you want to use your new IEMs straight away!). For most people, fitment is perfect the day your custom IEM arrives, however the odd fitment issue can occur – and is not something to get overly worried about – it’s fixable without too much of an issue!

Modern technology has really been beneficial for the creation of acrylic custom IEMs. With the advent of 3d printing, the labourious hand pouring of moulds is a thing of a past. This means that custom IEMs are made with now accuracy and precision than ever and at a much-accelerated pace

One of the big appeals of customs is that they can be cosmetically altered to your design. Whether you want them made from bits of diamond, wood, bullet ends, right down to custom colours, most of the larger manufacturers are willing to entertain all sorts of design details – for a cost.

 

1.5   CUSTOM IEMS FROM OVERSEAS

Lots of people have a worry about buying IEMs not from the UK or their home territory. A lot of IEMs originate from the USA. The world is now a small place. A build from UE and JH Audio for example, is about 2 weeks, 64 Audio about 3 weeks. The build process is so automated, the turn around times are a lot, lot lower.

Any repairs, warranty work? Pro IEM builders appreciate that musicians can’t be without such an important piece of hardware. As an indication, I had a wax blockage that had to be sent back to JH Audio to be cleaned out. It was back in my hands in less that 10 days – including the days that it was in the postage service.

 

1.6   AMBIENT PORTS? LIVE SYSTEM?

A lot of people get anxious about being isolated from the outside world. There is a transition period as you get used to the different sound – but as a rule of thumb, I would always recommend that you want to block out as much ambient noise as possible and work on the premise of if you want to hear something, you’ll need to mic it up. So, if you want to hear the audience and the room, mic them up. Send that feed into your monitor mix but obviously, not out of the front of house mix.

So even though I’m not a fan of ambient ports, what are they? Well, as the name suggests, they add a port in the IEM that allows stage sound through the casing and into your ear canal… but at a semi reduced volume. Whilst it does put the feeling of being in the room back, the big disadvantage to having an ambient port installed is that it effectively breaks the seal in your IEM – resulting in a loss of bass, which is obviously not the best for bass players or bass junkies.

What’s this ACS Live! System about? What’s the Sensaphonic 3d sound about? They’re actually pretty cool concepts to be honest. Instead of ambient ports, these systems utilise microphones that are installed in the ear pieces. The cables to ear pieces are fed into a belt pack mixer that sums the monitor mix with the signal from the tiny microphones to enable you to blend in the ambient sound… without having a break in the seal. Whilst this is all good in theory, its best suited to those on big stages with low SPL. I have found that with my Live! system, that the mics distort very easily, even when padded down. I would imagine they would be great if you were a singer in the West End or similar – but for me, the results have been disappointing.

Personally, I have found a couple of condensers in XY configuration on stage to mix in a little ambient sound is preferential – although I prefer the isolated feeling to be honest. You have to experiment and see what works for you.

You may have seen Apex/Adel modules on IEMs. These are not ambient ports as such. They are primarily there to reduce any extra pressure that is present in your ear canal and also meant to widen the sound stage. There is some physics behind it but to some it’s snake oil. Make up your own mind. I find my IEMs equipped with the Apex modules do fatigue less – but that may be a placebo effect in action. They don’t really impact any of the bass levels – but you can block them off totally if you think they do.

 

1.8   WHAT ABOUT SLEEVES FOR MY SHURE 215s ETC?

Yes, you can possible get sleeves that fit on your universal/generic monitors. Theses essentially replace the tips and are custom moulded to your ears. People tend to go for these after dipping their foot into the IEM game. Do they work? Well, yes... kind of. They will fit better - but still won't get you in the ball park of a true custom. My advice, given that you most people that get sleeves very quickly move onto customs anyway, is to skip this step. Given you'll have to pay for impressions (which are getting pretty expensive now anyway - London prices are now topping £80) and the cost of the sleeves themselves (circa £150), I would always recommend in saving that money to put towards some customs where you are more likely be able to negotiate some free impressions as part of a custom IEM deal.

 

1.9   IEM CARE

Keeping your IEMs clean is very important. There are two main things that you can do to keep your IEMs clean and your ears healthy and free from infection. First up, alcohol wipes are great for cleaning your IEMs and keeping any nasties at bay.

ALWAYS keep the tubes of your IEMs clean. Get into a regular cycle of cleaning your IEMs after every performance. Wax build up is the number one problem associated with IEMs. If you don’t keep your IEMs cleaned, the audio tubes can get blocked. If they get too blocked, they can’t be cleaned with a wax pick. If you can’t clean them with a wax pick, they will need to be vacuumed. If the wax has gone too far, it can damage the driver, which will require the case opening (e.g. return back to the manufacturer) and the driver to be replaced. In short, for the 30 seconds it takes, just check the IEM tubes are clean after every gig and fish out any stray wax with a wax pick. Some IEMs (e.g. 64 audio, have a gauze over the tube ends to attempt to stop the ingress of wax - beware however, if the wax melts into the gauze, it's very difficult/impossible to remove in situ - so the same applies with IEMs with this in place... clean regularly!

For the obsessive, you can get UV baths which both dry and kill any nasties that may be residing on your IEMs. These are just little cases in which you put your IEMs, air circulates to dry your IEM (any moisture is taken out of the air via silica gel) and the UV light zaps any potential sources of infection.

Overall though, keeping your IEMs in a clean bill of health is easy. Wipe down and clean out any stray wax after EVERY use.

 

1.8   CABLES

I see people mention cable upgrades. In short, yes, you can get better cables… and very expensive cables… but what I will say, in a band environment, are your ears really bothered or able to distinguish between minute details? If you feel the answer is yes, then by all means, upgrade… however, to really be able to distinguish the difference I would say you should be an environment that is quiet and suitable for critical listening.

For onstage use, any upgrades I think, should be down to stock cables being too springy, or prone to getting tangled. Most of the big manufacturers now use cable where this isn’t an issue any longer.

Other things to consider when ordering cables, is to ensure they are the right length. Don’t get too long a cable such that it is dandling around your kneecaps when you are performing. Doing that is more likely going to cause the IEMs to be damaged by avertedly being yanked out of your ear. A drummer, however, may want to use a longer cable to plug into a nearby mixer.

Always coil you cable properly after IEM use. If anything is going to fail on an IEM, it’s a cable. Make sure you look after the cable, don’t just shove your IEMs and cables in your pocket, take time to store them properly in their cases and you won’t have any issues.

One last thing for those people with OCD. Silver cables look great but do tend to go green over time as they age. If you can’t cope with that, play it safe and go with black sheathed cables.

 

USEFUL LINKS :

http://www.custom-inearmonitors.co.uk/

https://jhaudio.com/

https://www.64audio.com/

https://pro.ultimateears.com/

 

*other IEM manufacturers available, these are the ones that I have used/bought etc. Paul at CIEM tends to help a lot of Basschatters out with their custom needs and you'll tend to find me at the shows with Paul to help him out. I am not employed or have shares in or anything like that with CIEM company - it's just a great and rare place in the fact that you can try all the models of CIEMs out from the top 3 manufacturers. Testing out customs you say?? How can you do that? Well, the manufacturers provide test models with tips (like on universal/generic IEMs) so you can get a flavour of their sound signature.

Edited by EBS_freak
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2.       TRANSPORT - WIRED OR WIRELESS?

So now you have an idea about IEMS, now you'll need to connect them to your monitor feed source. First up, the best connection you can have is a balanced wired connection. Wireless brings certain issues with it - namely, a greater cost in terms of hardware, quality of signal and sometimes additional cost to buy licenses to transmit on certain frequency bands.

The important thing for either setup though, is to ensure your gain structure is right and no component is being overloaded. If anything is overloaded, you'll introduce distortion into your audio stream.

 

2.1   KEEPING IT SIMPLE - WIRED CONNECTIONS

A monitor feed can either be mono, or in stereo. It's worth remembering that in order to get a stereo source, you'll need to use 2 busses, one for the left signal and one for the right signal. This is typically sent from 1 or 2 aux busses (depending upon mono or stereo requirements). Once the signal has left the desk, then strictly speaking, it should go into a headphone amplifier into which you plug your IEMs. With this setup, the gain structure should be set not to overload the input on the headphone amp (so it's clean and free of distortion) and the volume of the IEMs are subsequently controlled via the volume control on that headphone amp.

Headphone amps can be very affordable - certainly under £50. I tend to recommend a Behringer P2 that can accept a balanced mono feed, or an unbalanced stereo feed and is easy to clip onto your belt. The P2 offers a great build standard (although be careful of the AAA battery becoming unloaded if you accidentally drop the unit) and offers a high quality sounding feed.

If balanced is important to you, something like the Behringer P1 (there's loads of takes on the same thing out there) - although these aren't as practical to hook onto your belt and consequently you may want to look into housing the amp somewhere near you but not on your person, and use extension leads to extend your IEM cable.

Not sure the difference between balanced or unbalanced? Balanced offers better signal to noise ratio and less chance of interference, especially over long cable runs or in environments with a lot of sources of EM sources. In reality though, IEM cable runs are typically short, so likelihood of problems for most venues is slim.

 

2.2   KEEPING IT NOT SO SIMPLE - WIRELESS CONNECTIONS

Wireless connections do remove cables dropping around your feet and enables you to roam more freely. I would always question whether you need wireless before investing - if you are a drummer, keys player or somebody that doesn't move off the spot, going wireless will give you a less reliable connection (wireless can and does drop out), a "nearly" as good as a cable sound if you invest in top quality wireless (other wireless systems can suffer from poor radio performance and inferior sound due to poor quality companders) - and ultimately will cost you a lot more than a wired setup. Also worth remembering is that there are far more points of failure on a wireless setup! (And more cables!)

 

2.3   COMPANDERS AND AUDIO QUALITY?

Wireless systems are generally analogue (more on this later) and consequently require a compander in order to transmit the signal between the transmitter and receiver. The compressor first compresses the signal (to get as much as the signal as possible through the magical radio waves) before being  expanded by the expander on the receiving end. Of course, this has a massive impact on the quality of the audio that is heard. The top flight systems do this very well to the point where the average ear can't hear a difference. Other systems however, don't quite perform as well - typically they would drop the lows and the highs (lows is particularly important for us bass players) and the removal of highs can leave things sounding relatively dull sounding. In most cases, the audio tends to become quite harsh in the highs - meaning that ear fatigue can set in very quickly. In short, you get what you pay for. For me, the go to systems (expensive but not too expensive compared to say the dual diversity PSM1000) are the PSM300, PSM900 from Shure (avoid the PSM200 due to it's awful compander and woeful headroom) and the Sennheiser EW300. Out of the lot, the PSM900 is my favourite but by far the most expensive out of the units mentioned, next would be the EW300 - but that's primarily down to the extra tuning capability in the radio department (The Shure PSM300 has fixed banks that makes co-ordination with other radio gear a bit more prohibitive).

 

2.4   DIGITAL VS ANALOGUE? (Psst... Latency)

Above I mentioned that IEM systems tend to be analogue. With everything nowadays becoming digital,  why is the trend not followed so much with IEMs? The key reason is latency. Latency is one of the biggest enemies to IEM users. Before we delve much deeper, first of all, lets define what latency is in terms of IEMs and the impacts of it. Latency is effectively a delay in the completion of the transmission of audio. For example, if you sing into a microphone, the latency is the delay (typically in milliseconds, ms) before the sound leaves your IEM monitor. Whereas people's tolerance of latency can vary between players, in the professional world, the general figure to which sound engineers work to for maximum acceptable latency from source to ear drum is 7ms.

So where does digital come into this? Digital systems effectively have to got though an analogue to digital conversion before some processing takes place on that digital audio stream, before typically  being converted back to analogue to that the audio stream can continue along it's path. These conversation processes all take time and as a result, add latency to the audio path. Depending upon the device, this can be sub 1ms or even as high as 10ms+. (In the case of bluetooth systems, this can be circa 30-40ms... which is why bluetooth systems are currently not a viable solution for inear monitoring solutions - the latency is simply too much).

When you think about your signal chain and your use of IEMs, you have to take into account how many digital devices that your signal has to path through - and how much latency is being added. If you allow most consumer mixing desks 3ms and say, a digital wireless system of 3ms, you already have 6ms cumulative latency. Add in a digital fx pedal or two in your chain - and you can see that you are soon at risk at breaching the 7ms ceiling. This is why if you are an IEM user, you MUST look at the latency figures of wireless units, especially some of the most commonly mentioning systems on Basschat because their use will leave your with a pretty miserable experience.

So given the previous paragraph, you can see that there will be reluctance for a lot of manufacturers to enter the digital IEM game due to the latency figures that would be typical of consumer grade devices. Of course, there are units out there at a price - for example, the touring grade Lectrosonics Duet IEM system has latency figures of just 1.4ms (with a price tag of 4k+ for a transmitter unit and two receivers). Compare this to the less than 5ms latency (normally translates to something like 4.9ms - because you've just learned of the importance of every ms lost due to latency) of the Xvive digital IEM system (mono) (circa 200 GBP). Of course, the big difference is that the duet through a prosumer desk and prosumer wireless system would still put you comfortably under 7ms. The Xvive would put you over - and of course, the problem would be magnified greatly if using a digital guitar wireless system with something like 8ms latency. So in short, latency matters - so do your sums.

Hang on, you say, 7ms is only like sitting 7 ft from a speaker... True... but when you have the the delay happening in your ear, the problem is very apparent. You'll suffer from comb filtering, which is less than optimal(!) and as the latency increases, you'll feel a bigger disconnect between your playing and what you are hearing. This problem is even more apparent to vocalists (ever tried to talk on a telephone when you can hear a delayed echo of your own voice? - it's like this).

Another thing to take into account with latency, is that if you are using something like "more me" functions (e.g. blending in a locally sourced signal with that coming from another source that has digital latency incurred), then you can get phasing issues as obviously, one signal will be being mixed with another that is out of phase.

So back to digital, why digital? The primary reason would be to get rid of the compander. You will have higher dynamic range, better sounding bass and treble (especially when comparing to analogue systems with cheaper companders)... but at the cost of latency (or an even bigger cost to your wallet).

 

2.5   RADIO 

If you are still wanting/needing to go wireless, this brings me nicely onto radio co-ordination. In order to make wireless play nicely, each unit has to be carefully tuned so that they don't interfere with all the other wireless units that may be in play (this include things like wireless mics). This isn't as simple as just selecting a unique frequency; you have to work out inter-modulation free frequencies that will avoid units interfering with each other. With cheaper units, there are fixed banks that you just select and things will "just work" - which is usually the case as long as your band aren't mixing brands and types. As soon as you mix and match, you are into chaos... which is why radio can be a nightmare for bands... You've probably seen on the forum countless examples of bands where everybody is using different brands and there's lots of problematic drop outs. Of course, as soon as you start adding wireless IEMs into the setup, this problem just keeps getting more complex to solve. In some cases, you can't as undoubtedly you will need the ability to tune discrete frequencies on each unit - which you can't do if the units only support preset fixed frequencies. (This is my point out PSM300 vs EW300 above).

Fortunately, there is software out there, such as Shure's excellent Wireless Workbench or Sennheiser's Wireless Systems Manager, that can help you work out frequencies to use - but cheaper "consumer" grade wireless isn't really well represented. If you've got supported hardware and got them on a network, you can tune them from the software also - but again, how much mileage you get from this is how much radio that you are running (probably overkill for a few channels!)

In terms of analogue radio, as soon as you have an audio being transmitted on a radio frequency, one or in fact, multiple receivers can be used to receive that audio stream - not a bad solution for getting the same mix to a group of people without using extra busses or valuable radio spectrum.

So even if you still want to go down the wireless route, in the UK, there are two common ways to run wireless legally - on the Shared Mic License (otherwise known as Channel 38) or on the free to use portion of the radio spectrum (otherwise known as Channel 70). It's worth knowing that Channel 70 is generally used by DJs and wedding venues for their wireless mics and so be aware that they can be a source of interference. Typically, you can run 3 to 4 analogue wireless units in total within channel 70. Compare this to Channel 38 where you can typically run 12, or even more if you venture into the extended 823Hz portion of the spectrum. So in short, understand your requirements for running wireless, get the appropriate gear and the appropriate license if you are not running in Channel 70.

It's worth noting that venues can apply for their own licensed radio frequencies for install kit - and events can apply for short leases for other portions of the radio spectrum - but for most bands this is out of scope and for those type of events, I would envisage that the sound company would take care of all of that for you. For events like that, no sound company would want you turning up with your own radio systems to mess up their finely tuned co-ordinated wireless gear! 

STAY LEGAL! The latest comments on radio licensing can be found in this useful thread - https://www.basschat.co.uk/topic/10362-wireless-system-licensing-guide/

Of course, you can stay with 2.4GHz/5.8GHz license free systems, such as the Xvive, and recently announced ProCo WIEMS - but be wary of latency of digital systems as mentioned above. Note, 5.8Ghz has a higher chance of being more reliable due to the presence of more intermodulation free frequencies, however, the downside of 5.8Ghz is that the wave propagation is not as good as passing through solid objects and for a like for like transmission power, does not have as much range as an equivalent 2.4Ghz system. In reality though, you are going to be on a stage fairly close to the transmitter, so this isn't likely to be a problem (unless you are one of those people that likes to go out into the crowd, car park, main road, motorway... pier.)

 

2.6   FOCUS MODE (DUAL MONO??)

Focus mode is a feature that some stereo wireless units can commonly have. What this mode does is effectively take two mono feeds and allows the receiver to mix between the two feeds into a summed mono mix... so for example you could choose to have 60% of mix 1 and 40% of mix 2 (by mixing a bias to the left (e.g. 60%)) and that resulting mix would present as a mono mix (same in the left and the right ears) through your IEMs. This is also referred to a "more me" mode. To achieve that, you have a standard mix and say, your bass on the other mix. This way, you can increase or decrease the level of your bass without bothering a sound man (although this way of working has become more obsolete with the increasing use of tablets to control personal mixes).

Of course, one of the big pluses of this is that you can use one transmitter to present two completely independent mono mixes to two receivers. To do this, simply have one mix go to the L channel on the transmitter and other on the R channel. On the receivers, make sure they are first set to focus mode and have one set to hard pan to the L channel and other hard panned to the R. Voila, two mono feeds for two players. 

 

USEFUL LINKS :

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Signal-Processors/In-Ear-Monitoring/P1/p/P0AZM#googtrans(en|en)

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Signal-Processors/In-Ear-Monitoring/P2/p/P0CH4#googtrans(en|en)

https://www.shure.com/en-GB/products/in-ear-monitoring/psm300

http://www.shure.eu/products/in_ear_monitoring/psm900

https://www.shure.com/en-GB/products/software/wwb6

https://en-uk.sennheiser.com/service-support-services-wireless-systems-manager

https://en-uk.sennheiser.com/wireless-in-ear-monitor-system-live-sound-ew-iem-g4

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/manage-your-licence/radiocommunication-licences/pmse/pmse-licence-info

https://www.lectrosonics.com/M2-Duet-System/category.html

http://www.xviveaudio.com/u4-p0082.html

https://www.procosound.com/topic/wiems

 

Edited by EBS_freak

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3.       THE SOURCE!

Arguably, it all starts here – but having said that, if any of the components in the chain, the source, the transport and ultimately the IEM is weak, the overall result will be compromised.

As stated previously, when using IEMs, you should assume that you can hear nothing unless it is miced up/DIed etc into a desk. The desk – let’s talk about the desk.

 

3.1   USING AUXES TO GENERATE YOUR MONITOR MIX

As covered off above, you’ll need an aux bus for each mono feed, so consequently, you’ll need 2 aux busses for each player (or independent mix) for a stereo feed. This is a really important consideration when it comes to your choice of desk. The type of aux is also of great importance. You’ll see that there are two types of aux sends; these are pre-fader and post-fader. For IEM use – and wedge use for that matter - we want pre-fader. What this means is that whatever is done to the front of house mix in terms of moving faders, that adjustment does not have any implication on the aux mix which is driving your IEMs.

Cost wise, analogue desks tend to have fewer auxes than digital desks. For example, large 32 channel analogue desks tend to have 6 aux busses for use, whereas it is typical for 32 channel digital systems to have 14 aux busses. As you can see, this is a considerable difference –especially if you are considering running your monitor mixes in stereo. (3 stereo mixes versus 7!). Looking at your existing desk, you may find you may have to run in mono, or may have to share auxes (which is far from ideal) so ensure if you are purchasing a desk for use with inears, make sure that it has enough auxes for your needs and future needs (if you envisage that your band may grow!). Note - if you MUST have an analogue desk and looking for something portable with relatively high aux counts, you could do worse than a WZ4 16:2 (you'll need to set the internal jumper for auxes 5-6 to be pre send), as that has 6 auxes available to you (will also cost you about a grand! (seriously though - start looking at a A&H QU or QSC Touchmix 16 if it's just about wanting some sort of sliders without having to rely on an iPad...)

I’d always recommend digital desks for IEM use – purely because they tend to come with more auxes and you can make use of the inbuilt DSP to process your audio. Typically, analogue systems require a truck load of outboard processors to achieve what even the entry level digital desks can now achieve. Digital desks needn’t be too expensive; units like the Behringer XR18, Midas MR18, QSC Touchmix, Mackie DL1608, Allen and Heath QU and RCF M18/M20x mixers all offer at least 6 auxes with many of the bigger models, including things like the Behringer X32, Mackie DL32R offering even more.

A great advantage of digital desks is that many are able to be controlled remotely via smartphones or tablets. Being able to make personal adjustments to the mix remotely via your portable device is very convenient.

 

3.2   PROCESSING ON A DIGITAL DESK FOR AN AUX BUS OUTPUT

Most digital desks will enable at least an EQ over the summed mix and potentially some compression. This enables you to shape the frequency output in your ears to your desire. For example, if you are running a large front of house setup with big subs, you may find that the bass is quite light in your ears. You can adjust the EQ to address what you want to hear in your ears.

Compression is a useful addition to your ears mix but go careful if you are a singer. Over compression of a vocal can lead to singers backing off the mic and not singing naturally. Additionally, by configuring the compressor on an aux bus with a 20:1 (or as high as your mixer will go) with a fast attack rate, you are implementing a brick wall limiter. Simply set the threshold for where the normal program music peaks. This means that potentially hearing damaging peaks that exceed this level will be stopped down to the threshold peak and hence will protect your ears from being on the receiving end of anything louder.

It's worth mentioning, that EQ per channel, is reserved for front of house and the EQ on your aux busses will be flat (as they appear at the preamp), although on some mixers you'll have the ability to pass post DSP processing through to the aux busses. This means that you can share the same processing for each channel with the auxes. This may or may not be what you want - for example, the last thing you want, is gated drums in your ears - whilst that sounds great out front, it sounds very unnatural in your ears and the drummer will hate you for it. There are some tricks however, that can be done with digital desks (such as splitting the a preamp between two channels and applying separate processing to each channel for front of house use and monitoring use) - but more about that later.

 

3.3   ULTRANET AND THINGS LIKE THAT…

On Behringer and Midas units, you may have seen something like Ultranet being mentioned. What this is, is a way of putting audio onto a network so it can be subscribed to by other devices. There are numerous implementations of this, for example Dante, MADI and AES50 for example. For the world of IEMs, many of the larger desk manufacturers have dedicated hardware solutions for sub mixing IEM feeds - or give you the ability to push the audio streams to a third party IEM mixing solution (such as Aviom).

Instead of using Auxes, you can subscribe to audio streams on a network as detailed above. So in the case of Behringer, you can use something like a P16M. This is essentially a little hardware mixer that gives you up to 16 channels of audio with which to dial in an IEM mix. Of course, the big advantage of a system like this, is that you are far less likely to run out of auxes as you can keep hooking devices up to the network to subscribe to the audio streams that are being provided by the mixer. Another example is Allen & Heath's ME1 - which offers simiilar functionality but for up to 40 channels. Of course, using a system for providing IEM mixes to a large group of players (e.g. an orchestra) is preferable than trying to get that many aux busses!

Of course, it's all about running the right system for the job in hand. Physical hardware is great for in the studio, in the pit etc - but obviously, can bring additional problems (primarily from a visual perspective) for deployment on say, rock and roll orientated stages, where a more discrete mixing solution is probably preferable.

 

3.4   ALTERNATIVES TO A MIXER? PLAY WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT BANDS?

Not everybody plays in just one band - and of course, not every band subscribes to the idea of everybody wearing inears. Of course, some bands just may not have the hardware to support putting people on to inear monitors.

Quite a common solution is to get a field recorder, something like a Zoom for example, and use the onboard condenser mics to pick up what is going on in the performance area. When a set of IEMs are plugged into it, the sound from the mics can be relayed to the IEMs. Naturally, the volume can be set to taste.

Some of the more comprehensive field records, such as the Zoom H6 for example, have the ability to mix in other signals - which enables you to get a direct feed from your bass amp, which you can then blend into the overall mix. Naturally, such a unit can be utilised in conjunction with a standard monitor feed to provide some ambience to your monitor mix.

I've included a link below which demonstrates such things -

https://youtu.be/NbYrlowt0AA

Of course, a similar sort of thing can be achieved via using a mini mixing desk and some external microphones - however, the field recorder alternatives tend to be a little easier to deploy.

 

USEFUL LINKS :

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Mixers/Digital/XR18/p/P0BI8#googtrans(en|en)

https://www.midasconsoles.com/Categories/Midas/Mixers/Digital/MR18/p/P0C8H

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Mixers/Digital/X32/p/P0ASF#googtrans(en|en)

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Mixers/Digital/X32-RACK/p/P0AWN#googtrans(en|en)

https://mackie.com/products/dl1608-wireless-digital-mixer

https://mackie.com/products/dl32s-dl16s-wireless-digital-mixers

https://mackie.com/products/dl32r-wireless-digital-mixer

https://www.qsc.com/live-sound/products/touchmix-mixers/touchmix-16/

https://www.qsc.com/live-sound/products/touchmix-mixers/touchmix-30-pro/

https://www.allen-heath.com/key-series/qu-series/

https://www.allen-heath.com/key-series/sq/

https://www.rcf.it/products/mixing-consoles/m-series

 

Edited by EBS_freak
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4.       BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF I LIKE THE FEELING OF "BIG AIR"?

With IEMs, one of the big advantages is that you can run stage volumes a lot lower... or perhaps, even dispose of backline altogether. Some people struggle with this as they like the feeling of the floor shaking beneath their feet or/and the feeling of volume on stage. Of course, with IEMs, it's all about reducing the SPL and getting a better mix out front and protecting your hearing... so how do we address this?

 

4.1   BODY WORN HAPTIC DEVICES

Body worn haptic devices are beginning to come a bit more common place. What these devices do, is effectively vibrate in accordance to the frequencies that are fed into it... so you know that feeling you get when you stand in front of a big subwoofer at volume? - yeah, that.

There are a number of devices out there that do this and all are subtly different. For example, you have devices like the Backbeat - which fit onto the back of your instrument strap, or the Woojer Strap - that sits on your hips or across your back (and has a couple of transducers that are facing each other. There's also the Woojer vest and things like the SubPac.

How you attach these into your monitor feed is again, slightly different or can be tailored to your needs. For example, you can use the "through" method to take the feed from your bass before it travels onto the next point in your chain... or post aux. But again, you may not want everything that is coming from the aux to go into your haptic device - so depending upon your requirements, you may have to factor in an extra aux on your desk to control what you want to send to your haptic device. Again, depending upon your setup, this can become quite clunky - so it's worthwhile spending the time to see which solution best fits you.

A big advantage of these devices is that they remain relatively portable and lightweight.

 

4.2   PLATFORM HAPTIC DEVICES

Like body worn devices, floorboard or platforms provide haptic feedback to those standing on the platform and give the feeling of large subs and movement of air. They can be very responsive in the feel of lows but the better systems will equally transfer detail in harmonics.

Again, depending upon what you want from them, you'll have to think about routing - for example, do you want just the bass going through the board - or do you want the lows from the drummer's kick and toms... and the sub notes from any synths?

One word of warning though - these devices are best used subtly. Whilst the fairground ride is all very entertaining to begin with, it's the subtle movement  in conjunction with your IEM mix where the real magic happens.

There's various home-brew boards available but the most common commercially available boards are from the likes of Porter and Davies and Eich. Each have their positive and negatives (as always).  

Unlike the portable haptic devices, these platforms are typically bulky, heavy and require separate amplifiers - as well as coming at a considerable cost. If one of your primary advantages of going portable and lightweight, then the attributes of haptic platforms should be taken into consideration before investing.

 

4.2   THRONE HAPTIC DEVICES

For those that like to sit down, there are also (drum) throne options. P&D arguably are the most well known for these systems - but there are also offerings like the Throne Thumper from Pearl, or Buttkicker.

 

USEFUL LINKS :

http://woojer.com

https://subpac.com

https://www.getbackbeat.com

https://www.porteranddavies.co.uk/products/kt-platform/

https://www.eich-amps.com/bassboards

https://www.eich-amps.com/bassboardm

https://www.eich-amps.com/bassboardl

https://www.pearleurope.com/product/electronic-drums/throne-thumper-1/

https://thebuttkicker.com/

Edited by EBS_freak

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5.       INTEGRATING A MONITOR SOLUTION WITH OTHER HOUSE SYSTEMS

Of course, whilst it's easy to run your own PA when you are a self contained band - it's not always possible to run your own FoH systems when you are an originals or theatre band that do not have constant front of house systems night after night. So what's a possible solution? I've touched on running using something like a mini mixer with it's own set of mics or maybe a field recorder but there is an alternative option available to you. As long as you have the time to set up, you may want to consider running signal splits on the stage, so you you can run your own monitor mixer whilst the house takes care of your FoH needs. There's two ways of doing this; a set of analogue splits, or alternatively, split the signals digitally. The latter is a lot simpler, however, it does require a lot more knowledge from the house engineer and yourself, so may actually be a lot more complex if you haven't got the working knowledge!

Alternatively, you could just mic everything twice into your own mixer that can feed monitor mixes for the whole band - but thats a lot of extra mics and cables across the stage if you want to cover all sources across the whole stage!

 

5.1   ANALOGUE SPLITS

As it's name suggests, each analogue feed into the mixer is split with one of the feeds going to FoH and the other going to your monitor mixer that is part of your band's touring rig. The best way of doing this, is getting an isolated mic split unit (usually rack mountable). The isolated bit is important; it decreases the chance of cross talk and interference - but most importantly, means that only one desk can send phantom power to any phantom powered mics. Sending phantom power from one desk to the other is far from ideal! So, if you can talk to your friendly sound engineer BEFORE the gig, get them to cable into your splitter. You should also carry around two high quality XLR looms so that using one of the looms you can send the outputs to the FoH stage box (or direct to desk) and the other loom to your monitor mixer. Do not skimp on XLR looms - you won't be very popular if connections fail down to the use of your cheap looms. 

 

5.2   DIGITAL SPLITS (AND STUFF I DO, IF ANYBODY IS INTERESTED)

Digital splits can be somewhat overwhelming if you are the type of person that likes to see a single physical cable become two (or more) - however, if you have the hardware available to you, it is a very powerful tool that can open up many possibilities.

As audio is introduced into a digital mixing device, it is generally routed internally within the desk through DSP before ultimately surfacing on an output bus. On some desks however, there is the means of surfacing that digital audio stream onto a network. Devices (e.g. another mixer, or maybe multiple mixers) on that network then subscribe to those audio channels, hence effectively achieving the same (but with absolutely no losses) as an analogue split.

Behringer and Midas are championing AES50 and Allen and Heath have dSNAKE but arguably, the emerging standard in the pro Audio world is Audinate's Dante. For those hoping to interface their monitor rigs with in house rigs, this is where the problems starts. There's isn't a fixed standard as yet. You may stand a chance if you are running say, an X32 and have a Dante card installed. But again, this depends on you and the house engineer being able to digitally patch reliably (e.g. know what you are doing). This is where the analogue split undoubtedly wins out for simplicity.

I'm a big fan of the Dante protocol and as quite a few people ask what my go to function rig looks like... my common rig looks like this (32 channel) - 

image.thumb.png.b6e74c8168e040712cc457dbcc884ec0.png

So just to quickly explain the above, for those that are interested...

The bottom mixer has 32 presumably into which I plug everything as normal (this isn't quite true, I do have feeds originating from the laptop and Dante AVIO adapters (they put analogue line feeds onto the Dante network)... but lets keep things simple eh?). Using Dante, the channels are also patched into the monitor mixer (at the top). This gives me independent DSP for front of house and inears (e.g. different EQs, different compression, different reverbs) - as mentioned previously, EQ for inears and FoH, whilst bearable, can be made much more optimal via separate DSP (I appreciate this is completely overkill for a lot of people - especially if you have been happy with a wedge and just looking to make the next step).

The keen eyed amongst you probably realise that you can keep slinging in monitor desks to gain auxes (hey, it's one way of expanding the auxes available for monitor mixes). I've run a setup with 4 monitor desks to achieve high aux counts in this manner, all over Dante.

So for those interested in the Macs - they enable me to record audio streams but also introduce software plug ins via Waves Multirack or LiveProfessor. A word of warning here - plug in use like this can introduce latency, so it's wise to tread carefully (reverbs and delays are where you can really score). If you get into it, it's worth investing in a Dante PCIe card to considerably reduce the latency.

I've been toying with the idea of the Dante bridge WSG Bridge and running up a dedicated Waves Server... but the additional hardware and that voice in my head telling me this is overkill for IEMs is keeping my wallet safe for now. Anyway, I'd probably move to 96kHz consoles next anyway... ;) (SQ Rack with all I/O onboard please? - yes, that's why I haven't moved on yet - and it's not on their roadmap...)

Again, I appreciate this is probably above what most people want or need - but is here for completeness. And yes, I do use this at pub gigs too - and it should be known that the switches have been replaced for something a lot smaller which is now housed in the racks. So in short, my whole FoH and Monitoring rigs are housed in 3 3u racks. Not bad for 2x32 input desks and wireless monitoring eh? Of course, if I wanted to, I could use just one rig and split the desk to have say 2x16 channel mixers in one mixer and still get some DSP for just IEM use.

Anyway, hope this may inspire somebody... and explains why I can get the sort of IEM mixes that a lot of people are looking to realise. 

 

USEFUL LINKS :

http://orchid-electronics.co.uk/micsplit.htm

https://www.behringer.com/Categories/Behringer/Mixers/Splitters/MS8000/p/P0BKC#googtrans(en|en)

https://artproaudio.com/product/s8-3way-eight-channel-three-way-mic-splitter/

https://www.studiospares.com/Microphones/Splitter-Combiners/8-Channel-Mic-Splitter---Studiospares-RED800_458950.htm

https://www.studiospares.com/Microphones/Splitter-Combiners/Studiospares-RED506-Mic-Splitter_458250.htm (Useful if you just want a simple single split from your amp or mic for example)

http://audinate.com

https://audiostrom.com

https://www.waves.com/mixers-racks/multirack#introduction-to-multirack

Edited by EBS_freak

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6.       CONCERNED ABOUT "SPIKES"? - WHAT ABOUT LIMITERS?

As mentioned briefly above, one of the beauties of digital desks is that you have a whole wealth of processing available that historically would have taken racks and rack of outboard units to achieve with an analogue desk.

One of the greatest concerns people have with IEMs is the risk of sudden peaks or transients that could be piped directly into your ears. In reality, the risk is relatively low but that does rely on a certain amount of expertise being utilised in the deployment of the PA setup and in-ear configuration. As stated above, putting a brick wall limiter, or say, a compessor with a ratio of say, 16:1-20:1 across the output busses that are feeding your IEM mix will protect against peaks that exceed the threshold that has been set on the compressor.

Similarly, you can achieve the same with an analogue setup by putting a separate hardware device after your aux output to compress the signal before sending the audio onto your IEM headphone amplifier or transmitter.

@Mottlefeeder posted an excellent post surrounding limiters for people that are up for a "home-brew" solution if you are handy with a soldering iron -

"Still on the theme of limiting, I've been looking at the analogue side. Some headphone amps include limiting, and some don't, but none appear to have a limit that can be set to suit the sensitivity of the earphone, so a more sensitive earphone could still provide hearing damaging levels if used for too long at too high a volume. Also, if you use the headphone output of a mini-mixer to provide your monitor signal, you have no protection. Quite a lot of internet information is about limiting long-term noise exposure, and since we have already made the lifestyle choice to reduce the noise, that is unlikely to be relevant to us. That leaves us with protecting against feedback, mics being dropped, active instruments being plugged in to live channels etc.

Headwise, a headphone enthusiasts' discussion forum, suggested the circuit below for headphone limiting, when placed between the volume control and the headphone amplifier, but it is not much use if you have an off-the-shelf unit. However with suitable component changes, the idea can be used between the headphone amplifier circuit and the headphone. Unfortunately, the headwise site is no longer with us, and I cannot find its successor.

image.gif.d75f8d137817f918567ffdca5dee1cfa.gif

Wikipedia has an article on headphones  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones  [ref 13]

 that contains a link to this limiter calculator which uses the same circuit idea, but calculates resistor values based on the impedance and sensitivity of the heaphone.  http://www.jensign.com/S4/calc.html

schem1.jpg

So, if you have a target maximum dB, and you know that the diodes are going to limit your available voltage (Vs) to 0.7V, you can calculate the resistance you need to achieve the limit target.

Canford audio suggest a maximum permissibe limit of 93dB peaks to keep within the law

https://www.canford.co.uk/TechZone/Article/HeadphoneLimiters

but I also found a recommendation of 100dB for transients

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones [ref 14]

Taking the Shure SE215 as a worked example, it has an impedance of 17 ohms, and an efficiency of 107dB/SPL/mW. Assuming cable resistance can be ignored, set Rs to 0.1, and set R2  to 10000, since it will have no effect compared with the headphone impedance. Entering these figures into the calculator (note the value is efficiency, not sensitivity), and setting Vs to 0.7 gives the value of 200 ohms for R1 to limit the headphone sound level to 99.5dB.

In summary, two diodes and a resistor, per channel, and you have a limiter dedicated to your earphones."

Of course, depending upon what setup you are using, there are different points at which you can control compression or limiting - for example, a lot of the field recorders have compression available on them that can insert compression over it's output, which again, will achieve the same effect.

One word of advice with compression however, be wary of where you are inserting compression. Compression over an aux bus is good but be mindful of the effects of compression if you have the luxury of having processing available to you on each channel for a monitor specific mix. For example, just like hearing gating drums in your inears is horrible and won't win you any friends as a sound engineer, compressing a vocalists audio channel, can influence how that vocalist performs and can cause them to not sing as they normally would, hence impacting both the FoH performance and the monitor mix (as the vocalists tend to come  off the mic as the make up gain makes them sound louder than they really are - and makes them over sing if the compressor is kicking in and the perceived volume in their ear is not as loud as they think it should be). So as always, when using compressors, use with care!

Edited by EBS_freak
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Placeholder for more stuff 6

------------ HERE ENDETH THE MAIN CONTENT - FEEL FREE FOR DISCUSSIONS UNDERNEATH! ------------

Edited by EBS_freak

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I will delete this later to avoid bible bloat, this is not the gospel according to caitlin, but what do we do about limiting? I don't want feedback blowing my already ragged ears out. I've never been able to find any info about anything in the pack driving the iems having any actual protection in them.

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No need for that @caitlin, I'll give you some pointers on limiting from my point of view and combine them into a post above, no need to delete. Will get stuff the important stuff posted at the beginning of the thread but there's nothing stopping having conversations in this or the other thread.

 Limiting - basically, on some radio systems, there is a limit function. This leads people to thinking that there's some sort of compression circuit in there. Generally, theres not. What the limit function does is set a maximum volume so the user doesn't accidentally turn up the unit too loud by accident. It doesn't do any sort of audio compression or limiting.

In order to enable such functionality, you'll need to introduce something that will do that compression or limiting for you. In the digital world, this is pretty straightforward. On a digital mixer, on the aux bus, you'll typically have control over the overall EQ of that bus and a compressor. If you want to implement a brick wall limiter, put a compressor on the output with a ratio of 20:1 (or as high as it will go if will not go to 20). Set the threshold - this will be the maximum volume that the bus will allow to pass, meaning anything that exceeds this will get squished down to that maximum volume. Make sure it has a fast attack so the compressor sets in quickly... and a relatively slow release. It will be a balance to get the gain structure right so that the program level doesn't exceed the threshold - and only when there are sudden spikes that the compressor kicks in.

Analogue is more difficult as you'll require a separate piece of hardware to do the same. With digital becoming more and more affordable, I'd defo recommend go digital, for processing like the above alone.

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Still on the theme of limiting, I've been looking at the analogue side. Some headphone amps include limiting, and some don't, but none appear to have a limit that can be set to suit the sensitivity of the earphone, so a more sensitive earphone could still provide hearing damaging levels if used for too long at too high a volume. Also, if you use the headphone output of a mini-mixer to provide your monitor signal, you have no protection. Quite a lot of internet information is about limiting long-term noise exposure, and since we have already made the lifestyle choice to reduce the noise, that is unlikely to be relevant to us. That leaves us with protecting against feedback, mics being dropped, active instruments being plugged in to live channels etc.

Headwise, a headphone enthusiasts' discussion forum, suggested the circuit below for headphone limiting, when placed between the volume control and the headphone amplifier, but it is not much use if you have an off-the-shelf unit. However with suitable component changes, the idea can be used between the headphone amplifier circuit and the headphone. Unfortunately, the headwise site is no longer with us, and I cannot find its successor.

image.gif.d75f8d137817f918567ffdca5dee1cfa.gif

Wickipedia has an article on headphones  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones  [ref 13]

 that contains a link to this limiter calculator which uses the same circuit idea, but calculates resistor values based on the impedance and sensitivity of the heaphone.  http://www.jensign.com/S4/calc.html

schem1.jpg

So, if you have a target maximum dB, and you know that the diodes are going to limit your available voltage (Vs) to 0.7V, you can calculate the resistance you need to achieve the limit target.

Canford audio suggest a maximum permissibe limit of 93dB peaks to keep within the law  https://www.canford.co.uk/TechZone/Article/HeadphoneLimiters,

but I also found a recommendation of 100dB for transients  .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones [ref 14]

Taking the Shure SE215 as a worked example, it has an impedance of 17 ohms, and an efficiency of 107dB/SPL/mW. Assuming cable resistance can be ignored, set Rs to 0.1, and set R2  to 10000, since it will have no effect compared with the headphone impedance. Entering these figures into the calculator (note the value is efficiency, not sensitivity), and setting Vs to 0.7 gives the value of 200 ohms for R1 to limit the headphone sound level to 99.5dB.

In summary, two diodes and a resistor, per channel, and you have a limiter dedicated to your earphones.

David

Edited by Mottlefeeder
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Wow, good work. 

Ive just brought my singer/GF some IEM's, mainly because she asked for them. The above is really good Info.

My only concern though,  is if she decides to stop bringing a monitor then the rest of the band will need IEM's as well, otherwise we wont hear her. That's not a route I personally want to go down. 

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Just now, EBS_freak said:

@dave_bass5 - thanks!

I've got a question for you though - what's the concern with you going down the IEM route?

Well I struggle get this type of earphone to stay in my ears. Ive gone through about 6 different earphones this year for the gym, and really, really struggled to find a pair that would stay in. In the end only the Apple Airpods/pro would work for me. 

I tried the ones that came with her system (only a cheap G4M system), and also the KTZ's i got her to replace the stock one;s, and they literally  just fall out when i let go. I know i can get custom moulded ones, but really, should i need to go to that expense when i really don't want to use IEM's in the first place. I know the songs, probably more than she does, its just that i need to hear her cues every now and then. 

I also dont want the hassle of having to mic/DI everything up at gigs. It's bad enough most of the band turn up late and we don’t even get to sound check, this is one more thing I'd have to figure out. 

Neither i, nor the guitarist have any plans on giving up using loud backline. Our backline provides the room sound. We only have a vocal PA so that cant carry a full band like a proper backline can. 

Now I realise all the above can be sorted, but at cost, and thats not a practical answer. The singer just wants to her herself a bit clearer when she moves away from her monitor. 

In no way am I against IEM's, I think they are a great idea, its just not a great idea for my band. I can hear everyone clearly, i know how the songs go so good monitoring is not needed, we only play on small stages so everyone can hear everyone else fine as we are. 

Sorry, i know that's a long negative post and I didnt want to make it in this thread, but at the present time its just the singer, and maybe the drummer (who does the only backing vocals) that are going to use them to hear themselves a bit better. 

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Just now, EBS_freak said:

Of course, the correct move in your position would be to insist that the wedge stays!

I bloody will lol. 

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On 28/12/2019 at 23:47, dave_bass5 said:

Well I struggle get this type of earphone to stay in my ears. Ive gone through about 6 different earphones this year for the gym, and really, really struggled to find a pair that would stay in. In the end only the Apple Airpods/pro would work for me. 

I tried the ones that came with her system (only a cheap G4M system), and also the KTZ's i got her to replace the stock one;s, and they literally  just fall out when i let go. 

I had the same problem, try these. The small ones fit right inside my ears and seal well, they don't fall out even in the gym or when I do star jumps on stage https://www.amazon.co.uk/TheTransporterUK-Isolating-Replacement-Silicone-Earbuds-Black/dp/B06WP97FL3/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_img_13?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ZJJ02JF93TGWS55SX170

Edited by Phil Starr

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Do you have any suggestions for in-ears shaded towards monitoring vocals. Having solved the problem of getting a decent seal with the KTZ's I've done a couple of gigs with them and there is a real midrange suckout with them. Lot's of bass, way more than I need but not enough detail in the midrange. I do a bit of backing vocals and it is way more important to me to hear my vocals than my bass which I have no trouble picking out. Even with the bass the lowest frequencies are swamping the mids which give me the detail of what I'm playing. I don't at the moment have the facility to eq the feed to my in-ears. I've tried my domestic Sennheiser buds and they are much better sounding but do overload with bass at times. 

I'm loving the KZT's in the gym where the smiley face eq works really well but I need something more balanced on stage. Where should I be looking.

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2 hours ago, Phil Starr said:

Do you have any suggestions for in-ears shaded towards monitoring vocals. Having solved the problem of getting a decent seal with the KTZ's I've done a couple of gigs with them and there is a real midrange suckout with them. Lot's of bass, way more than I need but not enough detail in the midrange. I do a bit of backing vocals and it is way more important to me to hear my vocals than my bass which I have no trouble picking out. Even with the bass the lowest frequencies are swamping the mids which give me the detail of what I'm playing. I don't at the moment have the facility to eq the feed to my in-ears. I've tried my domestic Sennheiser buds and they are much better sounding but do overload with bass at times. 

I'm loving the KZT's in the gym where the smiley face eq works really well but I need something more balanced on stage. Where should I be looking.

Hi Phil - something like a cheapish Behringer FBQ800 as opposed to the a different set of IEMs could sort you. Comparable price to a set of budget IEMs but will give you that extra tone shaping you require but without losing the bass response you already have. Of course, you could also use the EQ to roll back the bass for the Sennheisers if the bass isn't as important to you and the mids are more where you want them to be natively.

Edited by EBS_freak

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Thanks for the quick response. I was hoping for something simple as a solution rather than an extra bolt-on. Once I've gone digital on the desk then I've got a solution particularly if I can put a limiter on the monitor feed but I'd still prefer something a bit more 'honest' in my ears. Pretty much as I would with the PA. Looking on the website the ZS10's have a huge suckout of about 7-10 db from 100-1500kHz (or put another way 7-10db of boost above and below), pretty crucial for vocals.

I desperately want to find something that works and I'm probably an awkward customer, I've a bit of hearing loss as well as narrow ear canals so finding something that physically fits as well as something that gives the mids that I need might be difficult to find. At the moment using the Etymotic ear plugs is working better than having in ears in terms of picking things out of the mix. They'll protect what is left of my hearing but it would be so much better to get the in ears sorted of course.

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Great content and really useful.

I use IEMS and when using our own digital desk have my mix perfectly set up and stored for every gig, the problem is I have now also joined a band on a tour of the theatre circuit and every gig is a different house desk. Is there any way to 'store' my mix settings from one gig and pass these to the next venue, rather than rely on different engineers (as the mix's are varying a lot).

I wonder, is there another link I can put into the chain to help with this, or would it be as simple perhaps as taking a picture of my monitor feed level settings on the desk when I have a great mix and then asking the next venue to replicate it (assuming the pre fade is being used & hopefully the signal strengths from each instrument/microphone remain consistent).

Really would be nice not to have to re-create my monitor mix at every venue if possible.

Cheers

Steve 

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@Steve1967 - depending upon your situation, I know of a few theatre teams that travel with their own monitor setup with the view of getting quicker and more consistent IEM mixes. The ones in question use a Mackie DL32R or a Midas Core with DL32 and an analogue split as described in section 5 above. With the latter, you can then look at ultranet and Behringers P16s or at least look after your own mix off the phone. Usefully you know that the settings are going to be pretty much ballpark every gig if you carry your own monitor world. Any digital desk will do I guess - but if you can utilise a split, you can sort your own IEMs pretty quickly using that method.

I'm guessing you already have read that... otherwise, it's pretty much a setup from scratch every time. Photos of settings rarely work as gains/mics/outboard are typically different.

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@EBS_freakThanks for the advice.

As only 2 of us are using IEM it probably wont be viable to travel with our own monitor set up at this stage, but I really appreciate the guidance and again great content and a really useful thread....well done.

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