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Drummer In Ear Monitor Setup

The Best In-Ear Monitor Setup for Drummers

If you play in a band, at some point, you are going to want to switch away from wedge monitors to in ear monitors.

Wedges create unnecessary stage volume (this can create issues with the front of house), damage your ears, are difficult to hear (especially as a drummer), never are loud enough, and cause horrid amounts of feedback from microphones.

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If you do still use wedges, I suggest picking up a pair of high-fidelity earplugs to protect your hearing on stage.


Being a drummer, switching was a no-brainer, as I often didn’t have a wedge monitor and had a tough time hearing the rest of the band.

When I did get a wedge, the monitor guy could never get it right anyway. If you decide to switch from wedges, there are some amazing benefits to building a drummer in-ear monitor setup that works for you and your band.


In-Ear Monitoring 101: For Drummers

If you invest in every piece of gear we use, not only will you have amazing mixes, you will have virtually the same mix every night you play a show (give or take a little change due to mic placement).

You will have the ability to have a stereo in ear monitor mix and be able to place different elements of your band in different parts of the stereo field. You will play better as well.

First up, we have to pick a pair of in-ear monitors. Check out the table below to compare the difference between in ear monitors for drummers.

Best In-Ear Monitors for Drummers and Musicians

Disclaimer: Links in the table below and throughout the article are affiliated — some with Sweetwater and some with Amazon. If you buy through one of these links, Drumming Review is compensated. With that said, I do my best never to mislead you into making a purchase.

The chart above shows the best in ear monitors for a low budget. My personal pick out of these is the Shure SE215.

I actually just upgraded recently to the SE315s and think they offer a little bit better sound quality than the step below.

I haven’t had a molding done for custom IEMs and the cost of Ultimate Ears is far beyond what I want to spend currently. The SE315s are cheap and have cheap replacement parts as well.

If your cable goes bad, you can order a new one for about $20 rather than buying the whole set again.


Wired or Wireless In-Ear Monitors?

Wireless in-ear monitors give you a great deal of freedom when you are on stage.

Not only can you run around on stage if you’d like, but you’ll also have more mobility at the drum set as you won’t have a cable running down your back and to the floor leading somewhere else.

When we first started out, I used the wired technique as the cost for this setup is relatively low.

In this example, we will be running our in ear monitors (that we just bought) into a small, powered mixer (like the Behringer Xenix) that is sitting next to us.

The monitor engineer at the club is going to give us one or two XLR lines from his or her monitor board that will provide us our monitor mix to our ear. Here’s how you can set it up.

Wired In Ear Monitors Diagram
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One thing to note — If you find yourself not having enough slack from your small mixing board to your in ear monitors, you will need to purchase a headphone extension cable.

This is the most budget-friendly form of in ear monitors for drummers. If the other guys in the band get jealous of your in-ears, they are somewhat up a creek.

There’s no way they will want to be on stage with a headphones extension cable.

In this situation, you will need to ask the house monitor engineer to give you a line from the monitor console to plug into your mixer.

If you want stereo, don’t be afraid to ask. If it isn’t possible, they will tell you. It’s just one more line they need to run to you. 

You will need to have your mixer sit next to you or mounted on a trap table.

It will be your responsibility to tell the monitor engineer what you would like in your mix and how loud you want each instrument during your band’s soundcheck.


What about backing tracks and a click?

If you are in a band that needs to you a backing track live, here’s how you can easily set that up. We can once again go with a budget route or spend a little bit of coin for a better setup.

For a more in-depth look, I’ve written extensively on how to setup a backing track system for your band.

The Old iPod

Do you have an old iPod laying around in your house somewhere? Dig it out and charge it. We’re gonna use it for your backing tracks.

First, in your digital audio workstation, you are going to take all your backing tracks and pan them all the way to the left.

In the same project, add a click track and pan this all the way to the right.

Mix down and viola, you have a backing track. Sync it to your iPod and you’re good to go.

Now, for getting this going live, we will need to purchase a couple things.

iPod Backing Tracks Setup
  1. Stereo DI Box; I recommend the Radial Pro DI
  2. 3.5mm TRS to Dual 1/4 TS Audio Cable; TNP makes a decent cable

Our live setup is getting a little more complicated.

Laptop and Interface

This is a much more expensive route, but one that will save you in the long run.

Having a laptop running tracks with, say, Ableton Live, gives you the potential to have multiple outputs and many stereo signals going to your front of house engineer.

Backing Tracks Setup with Laptop

For example, you could route keyboard tracks in stereo separate of any bass tracks! In this method, we will need a laptop, an audio interface, and a Radial Pro D8. Here’s a picture example:

Your laptop will connect to the top unit, the MOTU 828 mk3 via USB. Playback will be done inside Ableton Live and you will get your click from the headphone out on the MOTU.

From here, you will need to add 8 patch cables from each of the analog outputs on the MOTU 828 mk3.

The front of house will take 8 XLR cables from the back of your Radial Pro D8 and you will have sent 8 channels of tracks to FOH!

Is it overkill? Maybe. But your sound engineer will love having everything split up this way.


Here’s what we recommend to purchase

With the newer MacBook Pro models, you may need some sort of adapter to use a USB cable required of the interface.


Moving to Wireless In-Ear Monitors

If you want to be free from a headphone extension cable on stage, your next move is to get a wireless in-ear receiver system and a body pack.

Sennheiser makes a great unit that we use called the EW. You can run this system with two body packs in mono, or one body pack in stereo.

Sennheiser EW300 Wireless System

Now, moving to a wireless in-ear monitor system isn’t exactly cheap. One Sennheiser EW unit is nearly $1,000, so bear that in mind.

If you have to have wireless, I can’t recommend the unit more. But in good faith, it’s hard for me to convince you to justify that cost.

Sennheiser In-Ear Monitor Packs
Sennheiser In-Ear Monitor Packs

You take each pack and pan them opposite of each other. This is where it starts getting pricey. There’s also a bit of technical understanding involved, like which frequency band you’re operating on, which band model to purchase.

I haven’t had much of an issue with the Sennheiser unit, but the signal can be a little dodgy on huge stages, like amphitheaters. If you’re playing a lot of big stages, you may want to pick up an antenna, as well.

If you have the means to, I highly recommend getting one of these units for each member of the band. The price will add up quick, but it will be well worth the investment.

Which Frequency Band to Buy?

You may notice that there are lots of different frequency bands to choose from when looking at IEMs. I’m not to savvy on why you should pick one or the other, I just know which one to avoid.

Avoid any system that operates in the 600 MHz range.

On April 13, 2017, the FCC announced that wireless microphone systems in the 600 MHz band are no longer permitted and must no longer be used after the summer of 2020.

If you happen to have a unit that uses this band, you’re going to have to switch. Fortunately, a lot of the manufacturers are offering a rebate when you trade your unit in. Sweetwater is even offering up to $600 cash back.

FCC changes beginning in 2017 included an auction buy of 600 MHz frequencies. The frequency range of 614-698 MHz is affected. If your unit operates in this range, you will be forced to cease use no later than July 13, 2020.

Getting a Rack for Your Gear

The unit is rack mountable, which I highly recommend doing. You don’t want to be hauling this thing in a backpack or something.

I started out with a little four-space rack that sat on the ground next to my kit. It worked, but was a pain to lug around.

The rack we picked (Amazon)

Eventually, we were able to move to a 16-space OSP rack that housed everything from our X32 Rack, our splitter snake, DI boxes, and even our router.

In this situation, you will still need to ask the house monitor engineer for a line from the monitor console as well as ask for a mix from the board.

Not perfect yet, but you are wireless now. Be sure to keep your rack somewhere near you on stage to get the best signal possible with the least amount of interference.

If you are hearing a lot of static, it’s time to switch frequencies.


Bringing your own board for your in ear monitor system

If you are ready to ditch the house monitor engineer, it’s time to bring your own monitor board. This is the final piece of our drummer in ear monitor setup.

X32 Rack for In Ears

Technology has improved so much in the past few years that we are now able to carry a 16 channel mixer in just a few rack spaces that is controlled via iPhone or Android.

The one that we use is called the Behringer X32 Rack. As I have said before, this is where things get pricey, but is still at the lower end of the buying market.

Instead of asking the monitor engineer for more keyboards in your mix, you’ll have control of it from your iOS or Android device.

If you are considering going self-contained, you may want to consider bringing your own microphones to shows, as well.

Having the same consistent setup every night really makes a difference, especially if you own your mics.

Be sure to read up on our favorites, as we’ve got you covered on drum mic kits, overhead microphones, and vocal microphones for drummers.

Behringer’s tarnished name

A lot of people have given Behringer a bad name, and rightfully so. But in the past few years, they have been working hard to re-brand their identity as company that makes quality products; the X32 is one of them.

It comes in a few different formats: rack, core, compact, and the full board. They all have the same core unit. For our purpose, we bought the Behringer X32 Rack. 

This unit replaces the house monitor board with one you travel with. It’s compact size allows it to fit in your rolling rack and live on stage with you and your wireless receivers. Put this unit at the bottom of your rack. 

Everything will stay patched. No more asking house engineers for lines, no more wasting time with monitors at soundcheck.

With the X32, you are able to have a mix that is nearly identical every night of a tour. You also have access to your mix on your phone.

It truly is a game changer.

We have done a few tours with ours and we have never had an issue with it. This is by far the best inear monitor setup for any drummer.

If you don’t have a rolling rack to house all your gear, it really does make it easier every night.

Loading in is fast and stuff stays patched. That being said, racks, like the one we bought from OSP, are expensive.

If you’re bringing your own monitor board, such as the X32 Rack, you will need a splitter snake. Effectively, this will split the channels on stage into two.

One set of channels will go to your X32 Rack and the other set of channels will go to the front of house board.

We currently are using a rack-mounted split snake from CBI. Our first two snakes were stage boxes that sat on the floor.

If your split sits on the floor of the stage, be careful with it. Seriously.

Make sure no one steps on it. We’ve had channels fail on us at shows and soundchecks; it’s not a fun time.

Be sure to label it well to save time on stage. We’ve bought a total of three different splitter snakes over our touring history; don’t make the same mistakes with the ones we got.

In order to get it up and running every night, you will just need to patch your XLR split snake into the back of the X32 Rack. Now your band is self-contained in monitor world.

If your split snake is mounted in the same rack as your X32 Rack, you won’t have to do any patching the night of (in the back of the rack, anyway)!

Adding more channels to the X32 Rack

If your band has more than 16 channels, you may need to grab a Behringer S16 or S32.

This will allow you to expand to 32 inputs on the X32 Rack. There is a workaround for not needing this immediately.

You eliminate channels from your ears that are not necessary for monitoring.

For example, I could eliminate snare bottom, kick out, hi-hat, run a keyboard in mono, etc… to bring down our channel count to 16.

You can also expand your inputs on the X32 Rack via ADAT

With this method, you will lose the ability to use the USB interface on the X32 Rack until you replace the ADAT card with the USB card you removed.

If you want to lose the USB card on your X32 Rack, Behringer sells a external card that supports ADAT inputs.

What is ADAT?

ADAT is short for Alesis Digital Audio Tape, and is a fantastic way to send eight channels of audio with one optical cable.

You can use something like the MOTU 8PRE (or any other eight channel preamp that supports ADAT) to get eight more additional channels to your in ears without having to purchase an expensive S16.


You need a router to get all your devices talking to each other

In order to use it with your phone or tablet, you will need a decent router that you can mount in your rack.

Asus Router for In-Ears

I think we picked up a mid-level router at Best Buy and have been using it for the past year and a half. Your iPad (or whichever device) will then connect to this network and you can control your mix from the stage.

There’s also some companies that make rack-mounted routers, but I haven’t had any experience with them.


Skip the XLR split if your sound guy uses an X32 product

Since the X32 and the rack variant play so well together, you can connect both your monitor board and front of house board with one CAT5 cable, via AES50.

Not only will this save time out front, it will make both yours and your FOH’s lives much easier before a show.

You’ll have faster soundchecks, the ability to have virtual soundcheck, and pretty much the same mix every night on tour. In fact, I barely touch my iPad before shows!

X32 Compact with Rack

We recently picked up a X32 Compact and my world has changed. I was able to ditch the splitter snare completely, as well as some of our DI boxes we used for backing tracks. It’s a game changer!


What is virtual soundcheck?

One of the greatest features of modern digital soundboards is the ability to run what is known as a virtual soundcheck.

The sound engineer connects a computer to his or her X32 at a show and records the entire show in multitrack.

During soundcheck the next day, the sound engineer can run the multitracks through the X32 through the PA at the next venue and mix the room without the band even being on stage

This greatly reduces the time required to soundcheck and makes it easier on opening acts who usually get shafted on soundcheck time.


Things to consider when buying in ear monitors

Buying in ear monitors is a major investment. If you’re planning on getting an entire in ear monitor system, you’ll have to spend thousands to get quality gear.

It’s better to invest once rather than buying lower end gear that you’ll need to replace as you grow.

What makes up an in ear monitor system

In it’s most basic form, here’s what makes up a professional IEM system.

  • In ear monitors
  • Wireless bodypack and reciever
  • Digital mixing board
  • Additional antennas for longer range

Without going into too much detail, this lists the bare bones requirements for creating an IEM setup.

Keep in mind that you can eliminate the wireless receiver and bodypack if you opt to use a headphone extension cable.

Be sure to take care of your in ear monitor cable

While you’re on stage, you’re going to be moving around. Depending on how much energy your band outputs, this could be either a ton or very little.

Those movements do have adverse effects on the longevity of your in ear monitors and the cable provided.

Depending on which one you buy, be sure to have backup cables that you can swap out in the even that one goes bad.

Keep your in ear monitors clean

I can’t stress this one enough. It’s super important to keep your IEMs clean. The last thing you want is to be on tour with an ear infection.

Most in ears come with a cleaning tool that you can use to get the excess wax and debris out of the headphone.

You’ll also want to purchase backup foam inserts if you don’t have custom molds. I find that after I change out a foam insert after a while, the sound of my in ear monitors opens up once again and I can hear the high end that was previously blocked from ear wax.

Buy a backup pair of lower end in ear monitors

In the event that you happen to misplace your more expensive IEMs, it’s a good idea to have a spare set of in-ears ready to go at all times.

You’ll never know when it will happen and being prepared for the worst can save what would have been a canceled show.

Dangers of using in ear monitors for live performance

When it comes to anything audio, hearing is of utmost importance. Protecting your hearing should be your number one priority whether music is your career or just a hobby.

One common misconception about in ear monitors is that they always will protect your hearing since they isolate the drums and other instruments.

However, if you have your IEM pack volume too loud, you can easily damage your hearing. The same can be said for any kind of headphones.

Using a limiter is a great idea. Random static can be deafening and RF interference is very common when using wireless systems.

A limiter will effectively limit the level of volume that can be sent through your pack. This is standard on most wireless units, so be sure to make sure you have this feature activated.


Is there such a thing as Bluetooth in ear monitors?

The simple answer is no.

Many people have been asking if it’s possible to use Bluetooth headphones as a wireless transmitter for in ears.

While the technology is impressive and seems to be improving every day, it’s still not at a point where it is feasible to use Bluetooth for monitoring purposes.

You might think that it would be possible to get a pair of isolating Bluetooth earbuds, pair it to your iPad/Android, and monitor through your monitor board’s application on the tablet.

In theory, this sounds like a fantastic idea, but it just doesn’t work.

The biggest issue with the idea of Bluetooth inear monitors is latency. Bluetooth has very noticeable latency, in the 30-40 millisecond range.

In ear monitor latency can make or break a performance, especially when playing drums. Have you ever spoke into a microphone and heard your voice delayed as it echoes through the PA and the room?

It is very difficult to speak. The same will be true with drumming.

Bluetooth range is also a big factor in this scenario. You won’t be able to travel very far and we all know that Bluetooth connectivity is both infuriating and easily drops out.


Conclusion

There are three steps to this drummer in ear monitor setup. You can always start small and build your way up to the full setup.

I honestly will never go back to wedges.

The biggest downside is remembering to pack extra AA batteries for your wireless pack as well as keeping the stage iPad nice and charged.

From this point on, monitor systems get really expensive.

This is the standard for most bands who are touring clubs and theaters. Let me know if your setup is similar or if you use any of the stuff we do!

*This article may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something we have recommended. Please check our full disclosure policy for more details. Thanks for stopping by!

10 Comments

  1. Jed Friesen November 4, 2018
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