Future Sonics, Monster and Sennheiser In-Ear Monitors Review

Aug 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Kevin Becka

CHECKING YOUR MIX ON IN-EAR MONITORS

Polls


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Getting intimate with your mix is the best way to ensure that you’re covering all the sonic details and not leaving loose ends. It’s often the low-level mix elements that can come back to bite you later. For instance, a shaker, tambourine, reverb tail or delay can sound balanced in a mix heard out of speakers in a room, especially at the end of a long day when your ears are tired. But those mix items can sound out of place when you listen back with fresh ears.

Modern engineers are listening to audio in multiple playback environments, so having a mobile transducer uncolored by the room and in close proximity to your head can be an essential gut-check in the mixing process. Referencing at low to medium level on a great set of headphones or In-Ear Monitors can make all the difference, giving you fresh perspective, even after a long day of listening.

For this review, we’re putting the spotlight on three universal-fit, pro-level IEMs ranging in price from $199 to $399, each offering a range of fitting, storage and transport options. Certainly, high-end transducers with custom ear molds are at the top of the line, but these can cost $1,000 or more–which is out of reach for many. The products reviewed here sit squarely in the middle between custom options and inexpensive, generic models that lack the quality necessary for a working audio pro.

Apart from the necessary break-in time needed to achieve optimal listening results (all the units here sounded better over time and took 10 to 20 hours to break in), it’s very important to keep the following five things in mind when evaluating in-ear listening devices:

1. Fit is critical: The more fitting options (aka, isolating ear tips) you have, the better your chances of getting the right fit. Grabbing the top of the ear and lightly pulling up and back when fitting your IEMs is a great way to get them seated correctly in the ear canal.

2. Know your source: IEMs can be brutally honest, revealing MP3 hash, including shrunken stereo image and nasty artifacts, so know that your listening experience will only be as good as the source. It’s also important to have a great headphone amp and DAC when evaluating IEMs. For this review I listened exclusively through a Benchmark DAC1 with its stellar, high-voltage headphone amp.

3. Listen at safe levels: By design, IEMs place the transducer dangerously close to your non-renewable, factory-installed listening resource—your eardrums. Having gain down to zero when fitting your IEMs is good practice.

4. Custom fit beats universal: Some affordable, universal-fit IEMs can be retrofitted with custom earpieces, kicking them up a notch in the fit department for not a lot of money.

5. Cable handling noise: All IEM cables transfer noise when handled, and it gets louder the closer you are to the transducer. This varies from product to product and is something you should test when buying.

As always, try them on for size before purchase. All ears are different. Here, then, are the contenders, in alphabetical order.






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