Starting out with IEM, a beginners guide to in-ear monitors
Starting out with IEM was published on TalkBass.com in 2007. I have changed some of Starting out with IEM article it to make it more relevant with 2017.
A quick overview: I discovered a great set of earbuds made by Sennheiser (Sennheiser CX 300 II Precision Enhanced Bass Earbuds). These are a soft headphone that sit in your ear and give almost 100% isolation to the sounds around you. I have used these for two gigs now and there is no ear fatigue. Not physically from having them in the ear or from the volume. The best part about these is their price. $80 US (the current version is now around $30 US). Oh they handle my 5 string bass easily.
I have been running my bass and a dedicated monitor mix from Front Of House. We are a 5 piece band with a drummer who uses the Yamaha electronics. These phones are so good I don’t need an amp but I still use it for the rest of the band.
One interesting side effect when starting out with IEM I have discovered is when I sing. I don’t sing many leads but I do a lot of harmonies. When I would sing my voice would sound muffled while all the other singers voices sounded natural and crystal clear. So I figured the sound tech had not tweaked my voice. I went to the board during break and saw it was identical to the male lead singers voice. During one song when he was off stage I sang harmonies through his mike and the same muffled quality. After reflecting on this and talking to our sound tech I came to the conclusion that I was hearing my voice resonating off my skull. I guess the fact that the earplugs have sealed my ear cavity caused my voice to sound different to me. Once I realized this I tried to ignore how I sounded when I sang and dealt with the audio quality.
The phenomena I was experiencing back then is known as The “Occlusion Effect“
When starting out with IEM I use an inexpensive Behringer 4 channel mixer. I run my bass into 1 channel and monitor mix from the front mixing board into another. I think next gig I will split my mike on stage and put this into the third channel in my mixer and see if I can overcome the muffled sound via a better equalization.
Now on the other hand the rest of the band and my bass was just great and with my own dedicated monitor mix I was in heaven. My sound tech is allowing me to tweak the monitor send as I like it during the breaks.
I played a big wedding one weekend and the band was on a corner stage that was very tight. When the wedding was over I drove home with the guitar player and he was telling how loud and bad the stage sound was due to the corner. I was shocked, none of this had come through my monitors. So I obviously had the best seat in the house and I had no ear ringing.
I eventually made a little junction box that I tape to my guitar strap like a wireless. I can plug my headphones 1/8″ mini plug in the top and the bottom takes a standard 1/4 jack. I wired the mini plug in the box in mono so I could use a standard speaker cable which is mono. On one end of the that speaker cable I used a stereo 1/4: plug that I wired in mono as well. So I can plug this end into the headphone out of my mixer and then use standard plugs and jacks. No mini to 1/4″ adapters and for the first time I had no crackles or temporary shorts with a loss of signal.
Post Follow Up
I eventually replaced the Behringer mixer with the Alesis Line 8 and the sound was much better. I also turned the little box I made into a stereo version and used a balanced cable to connect me to the Alesis Mixer. This allowed me to pan the bass to one side a bit and the monitor to the other side. Experimentation determined that 11 and 1 were good positions. I also was able to get rid of most of the “occlusion effect” by using some ear cleaner believe it or not. I guess mom was right when she said clean out your ears 🙂
I use Debrox Earwax Remover, it works great. I use once a month.
Good hearing, Chris P.