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Sick of assaulting your eardrums or not being able to keep time with your bandmates while playing on stage? Luckily, an easy solution lies in a tiny, unassuming device: the in-ear monitor.
Not only can great in-ear monitors save your hearing, but they also allow you to hear every nuanced snare hit and cymbal crash with crystal clarity, no matter where you’re playing.
The Best In Ear Monitors for Drummers and Musicians
If you play in a band, at some point, you are going to want to switch away from wedge monitors to
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.
If you do still use wedges, I suggest picking up a pair of high-fidelity earplugs to protect your hearing on stage. Before we dive into our best picks, let’s talk briefly about custom and universal in-ear monitors.
Custom Vs Universal Fit In-Ear Monitors
Custom-fit IEMs provide a better seal between the ear canal and exterior sound. They isolate far better and are easier to use. Since they are molded from your ears, you can easily pop them in and out. You’ll be required to go to an audiologist to have a mold of your ears made. Custom IEMs are more expensive and typically will have better-sounding drivers.
Universal IEMs are much more affordable and include tips or different materials and sizes. The isolation isn’t as great, and the sound of some of the entry-level models isn’t the best. Choosing between custom and universal in-ears comes down to a few factors:
- Do you want the best performance? Custom.
- Are you a professional touring musician? Custom.
- Are you on a budget? Universal.
- Do you need IEMs for practice exclusively? Universal.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the world of in-ear monitors and find the best ones to take your live performances to the next level!
1) Ultimate Ears Premier (Custom)
If you’re a professional musician or have a big budget, hands down, the best option is the new pair of IEMs from Ultimate Ears, their Premier line. These are brand new, and I was lucky enough to test them at this year’s NAMM show in Anaheim, CA.
UE PREMIER are UE Pro’s most potent, nimble, and versatile in-ear monitors to date, and they sound incredible. They have an industry-leading 21 drivers per side and a frequency range of 5Hz-40kHz. UE PREMIER establishes a new benchmark for outstanding sound quality, whether it be used for live performances, studio recordings, or listening to music.
- True Tone Plus
- Quad High Super Tweeter
- Quad-Mid Driver
- 4 Dual Diaphragm Mid-Low Drivers
- 2 Dual Sub-Low Drivers
- 5-Way Passive Crossover
- Frequency: 5Hz-40kHz
- Isolation: -26dB
At the Ultimate Ears booth, they had a pair of the Premiers set up with universal tips. I was able to hear the sound of the drivers and was blown away. I can only imagine what it will be like with a custom fit (which I also got fitted at the booth). Not only are these great for the stage, but the Premiers would be great for checking a mix on the fly.
The Ultimate Ears Premiers are the most expensive and best custom in-ear solution on the list, but they’re here for a good reason.
“Building upon the success of the groundbreaking UE LIVE, we wanted to push ourselves to the limit of what was previously thought possible. Our team of experts embarked on a mission to take our technology further than ever before. UE PREMIER represents the pinnacle of UE Pro innovation, with immersive studio-quality sound that brings even the most intricate details into focus.”Philippe Depallens, VP & General Manager, Ultimate Ears Pro
2) Shure SE535
The Shure SE535 in-ear monitors are the holy grail of ear candy for drummers. The sound quality is some of the crispest and most transparent I’ve heard outside the custom in-ear realm.
The 535s are the best bang for your buck regarding three-driver in-ear monitors. And let’s be honest, nobody has time for a one-driver entry-level setup. The thing about drivers is that the quality becomes less exponential the further you take it.
For example, if you’re considering upgrading to something with more drivers, the difference between three and six is far less than between one and three.
If you know anything about Shure, you know that their years of reliability aren’t going to steer you wrong. They make their own drivers and always bring the heat, no matter the price.
Sure, you could argue that if you want to take it up a notch, you could consider going custom-made. But the Shure 535s will do just fine for the rest of us mortals.
Pros: Incredible sound isolation, three drivers, plenty of clarity
Cons: they are quite expensive
3) Audio-Technica ATH-E70s
These bad boys from Audio Technica are the real deal. Perfect for live in the studio and on-stage, these in-ear monitor headphones fit snugly in your ear and are supremely comfortable.
And if you’re going to be wearing these for hours on end, you want them to be as comfortable as possible.
The ATH-E70s feature comfortable silicone and high-end foam Comply tips that seal perfectly to enhance the listening experience. Plus, the detachable memory cable allows you to move around like a rockstar (or pace around nervously before a big gig).
But let’s get to the good stuff — the sound. These babies boast three balanced armature drivers, providing an extended frequency response and nuanced sound stage. Translation? Your band will sound so incredible you’ll swear you’re listening to it for the first time.
Of course, you’re probably thinking – “But these are expensive!” And yeah, when pitted against most in-ear monitors, they’re costly. But trust me, the crisp sound quality is worth every penny. Plus, they come with a carrying case and a 6.3mm stereo adapter plug.
With a 20Hz-19kHz frequency range, 109dBs of sensitivity, and a 39-ohm nominal impedance rating, these headphones provide impressive noise isolation so you can focus on playing without distractions.
Pros: comes with a carrying case, has excellent sound isolation, sleek and flexible memory cable
Cons: a bit on the pricey end
4) Clear-Concept Audio CCA C10
Clear Concept Audio’s C10 earphones offer the perfect blend of style and substance and even come in six different finishes that can match any stage outfit. These hi-fi earphones use a zinc and resin alloy shell with what might be the best build quality in the industry.
If that wasn’t enough, they also boast an impressive 10-hybrid driver design with five on the left and five on the right, making them effective for noise cancellation.
As with the IEMs above, these also come with detachable cables, allowing for wireless with a Bluetooth adapter. You also get a memory cable.
But be aware of the low price, as the C10s have all the features of pricier IEMs. Four quality armature drivers and a single dynamic driver deliver excellent sound quality and cancel noise at an impressive 108dB, thanks to the onboard MEMS noise-canceling features.
Plus, with a sold seal from the tips made from durable silicone, the C10s offer near-complete isolation.
Pros: plenty of unique style options, clear nuanced sound, decent isolation
Cons: they do not come with a carrying case
5) Westone UM-Pro 30s
Westone has been a key player in the custom in-ear business for over 40 years, and if you ask just about anyone about in-ears, you’ll hear the name Westone. While options are available with one, two, three, or five drivers, the triple armature driver version is arguably one of the most used among drummers, and for a good reason.
These in-ears offer exceptional value for the sub-$300 price point, which is uncommon for in-ear monitors with three drivers. This is one of the main things that has earned the Westone model a spot on the must-have list.
If you’re a fan of the Westone sound or a drummer looking to upgrade to a triple-driver in-ear without breaking the bank, this model is perfect.
It’s impressive how Westone has managed to offer as many drivers as possible for under $300, and if you’re looking to step up your game on a budget, this model is the way to go.
Pros: comes with plenty of accessories, clear sound, has a triple driver with a low cost
Cons: does not have the best bass response
6) KINBOOFI KZ ZS10
If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly IEM, the KZ ZS10 Pro from KINBOOFI Audio is a solid choice. It has three ear tip pairs, a detachable cable, and a helpful manual.
Plus, you get a sleek, lightweight design with shells made of stainless steel and resin and three style options. Plus, they’re incredibly comfortable and fit perfectly in your ear.
The 120cm braided cable is flexible, though, unfortunately, it tends to tangle easily. Luckily, that slight disadvantage is balanced out by the four armatures and double magnetic dynamic driver, delivering 30-ohm impedance, 111dBs of sensitivity, and an ultra-wide frequency range.
You get a tight mid-frequency dynamic driver that delivers a solid sound for loud live shows.
When put up against the previous model, the ZS10 Pro offers a much improved, richer, and more transparent bass and treble tone without distortion. Plus, the isolation is top-notch, with a minimal sound leak.
Pros: well-balanced overall sound, very durable and inexpensive, they work wired or wireless
Cons: they do not come with foam tips or adapters
7) Bonus: Drumeo EarDrums
Drumeo EarDrums are professional-grade in-ear monitors that give drummers a complete range of sound while protecting their ears from harmful noise. The EarDrums’ triple driver headphones capture every nuance of a drum kit’s sound, from the kick drum’s deep thud to the cymbal’s dazzling ping.
Drumeo sent me a pair to check out, and they are pretty awesome for drumming. The tips are a little big for my ears, but the rubber inserts work great (foam, not so much). Check out my full review of the Drumeo EarDrums here.
Drumeo EarDrums’ capacity to seal in sound is one of their primary characteristics. Drummers can play as loudly as they want without worrying about harming their hearing because the headphones have a -29dB external volume reduction capacity. Also, a variety of tips are included with the EarDrums to guarantee a precise fit each and every time, enabling drummers to easily carry them wherever they go.
For drummers of all skill levels, in-ear monitors are a tool that is gaining popularity. In-ear monitors have become a crucial practice tool as more drummers rely on electronic drum sets and online training. In-ear monitors like the Drumeo EarDrums help safeguard the hearing of drummers everywhere by lowering background noise and enabling them to listen to their music at a lower volume.
My Experience as a Drummer with In Ears
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
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
Wired or Wireless In-Ear Monitors?
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.
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?
You’ll definitely want to have in-ear monitors. While not necessary, using wedge monitors will be close to impossible, to say the least.
If you are in a band that needs to use backing tracks live, I’ve written extensively on how to setup a backing track system for your band.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in
If you don’t have a rolling rack to house all your gear, it really does make it easier every night.
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.
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.
Use a Router
In order to use it with your phone or tablet, you will need a decent router that you can mount in your rack.
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 Engineer Uses an X32
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!
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!
Virtual Soundchecks with In Ear Monitors are a Game Changer
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.
What to Consider When Looking for 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.
Although we highly recommend the in-ear monitors above, it’s worth noting that there are countless options available. With this in mind, we’ve put together a few key factors to consider when selecting the ideal set of IEMs for your needs.
To ensure you can hear your desired mix over the noise of whatever is closest to you on stage, your in-ear monitors must have sound isolation capabilities. Look for a model that offers somewhere around 37dB of sound isolation.
The number and quality of drivers heavily influence price and sound quality. While there are professional in-ears with eight drivers, the minimum you should aim for is two. You’ll get one for your bass and one for your treble.
It’s also a good idea to check the impedance (shoot for 22 ohms) and sensitivity (around 109dB) of the drivers.
You should heavily consider any material going into your ear canal. Typically, IEM ear tips use silicone or foam materials, though the best choice depends on your preference.
Silicone tips use suction to stay secure while moving, although they are not as effective at canceling noise as foam tips. This is because foam tips have greater density. Unfortunately, they aren’t as stable in the ear canal and could be impacted by a sweaty performance.
I’d recommend looking for IEMS that offer various tip options for experimentation so you can find the right ones for your needs.
Custom vs. Universal In-Ear Monitors
Big shot drummers often get custom in-ear monitors specially molded to their ears. With such high prices, however, many people have to settle for the universal ones designed to fit most ears.
Luckily, most of these universal in-ears can do the job well. So you’ll only need to upgrade to custom ones once you’ve found your soulmate IEMs.
Pay attention to the primary material if you’re sticking with the universal gang. There are plenty of options, such as carbon fiber, metal, and resin. Finding the right ones means finding the perfect spot between the metal’s durability and the resin’s comfort.
Carbon fiber is the bee’s knees, but it costs a pretty penny.
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.
Care For Your IEMs 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.
Always Have a Backup Pair
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
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.
Are There 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 in
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.
I hope you found our little guide helpful in your quest for the perfect set of IEMs.
When it comes to drumming live, having the proper monitoring equipment can make or break a set. With quality drivers, durable construction, and comfortable tips, you’ll have all you need to elevate your live playing.
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!