I’m old enough to remember when the M in MTV actually stood for Music. I also remember (back in the day) watching a David Bowie concert on MTV and he was wearing what looked a lot like hearing aids. Yes, I know that Mr. Ziggy Stardust wasn’t actually wearing hearing aids and that what he was sporting were in-ear monitors which, at the time, were pretty cutting edge.
Today the vast majority of musicians wear custom-made in-ear monitors which allow them to clearly hear his or her own sounds while also protecting the musician’s hearing from the often dangerous loud amplifier system used to project the performance to a large audience.
Audiophiles and music lovers can now experience the same unsurpassed audio quality and sound clarity for their iPods and MP3 players that have been trusted by professional musicians and rock gods worldwide. Companies like Westone, Ultimate Ears and JH Audio are now offering the same in-ear monitors that are worn by the likes of Aerosmith, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Guns ‘N Roses and Linkin Park to the general public. Prices range from $300 for pair of introductory monitors with one driver per side all the way up to $1,500 for a pair with eight drivers per side! But what would make someone spend that much money on headphones? I’ll give you three reasons: 1) Noise Isolation; 2) Amazing Sound; and 3) The Perfect Fit.
Noise Isolation With No Tradeoffs – One of the first times I ever used custom in-ear monitors I was at a busy Chicago subway platform and I could hear the music from my iPod with shocking clarity, and at a very low volume. You usually have to go to an empty room and turn off the air conditioning to hear so precisely. These in-ear monitors have the ability to reduce outside noise by a whopping 25 dB. Sure you could just go out and buy a pair of headphones with an active noise reduction (ANR) circuit, but they have issues too – namely the bulkiness and the need for recharging (or batteries). These monitors fit in your pocket and are ready to go at anytime! Today whenever I take a trip, I take along my in-ear monitors. As soon as the airplane takes off I pop in my monitors and can no longer hear the loud roar of engine or the crying kid behind me.
Truly Amazing Sound Quality – When you try a pair of in-ear monitors you will be blown away by the sound. The main difference between many of these monitors is the number of drivers. Why more drivers? To reduce distortion and deliver a clear sound. With a passive crossover in the in-ear monitors, different frequencies get directed to different drivers so that low frequencies don’t mask high frequencies, mids cut through, and so on.
Obviously, the more drivers your in-ear monitors incorporate, the more expensive they get. But even $300 custom monitors are going to sound better than your favorite ear buds and most important, provide the sound isolation benefit that protects your hearing.
To test the sound out, I listened to Pink Floyd’s newly remastered version of Dark Side of the Moon on a pair of Beats Studios by Dr. Dre as well as my Westone ES5’s. With the Beats (over regular headphones), there was, slightly more low-bass energy, but the crispness of the guitars was even more stunning. Then I popped in Westone in-ear monitors and the sound came to life! The lows of Roger Waters’ bass were incredible and David Gilour’s guitars literally erupted with amazing clarity and brightness. The most amazing part was Nick Mason’s drums in the beginning the song Time. I could feel the drums moving across my head from one ear to the other. I closed my eyes and it sounded as if I was sitting right in front of the band.
Earphones That Fit Perfectly – Custom-made in-ear monitors are just that – custom-made to fit your ears (think if it as going to Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row in London for a well-tailored suit). No more earphones that fall out of your ears or bulky headphones that sit on top of your head. We’re talking in-ear monitors that fit like a glove!
In order to get these monitors, you must send the manufacturer impressions of your ears. The process of getting impressions is pretty easy. You can go to any audiologist who will, after making sure there is no wax in your ears, squirt quick-drying impression material into your ears which will conform to the shape of your ear and ear canal. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. If you’re not sure where to find an audiologist, most of the in-ear monitor manufacturers have searchable databases on their websites. Or, a simple scan of your local Yellow Pages for audiologists or under ‘hearing aids’ will work just as well.
Your name no longer has to be Clapton, Beck,Bowieor Page to get a pair of custom-made in-ear monitors. And although costs can range from $300 to $1,500, the sound-quality is worth every penny.