Live Sound 101: Wireless In-Ear Monitors

I’ve just completed an email response to one of our clients, who had asked me for recommendations and information about In-Ear Monitor (IEM) systems. Just as I was hitting send I thought I would share my response on the blog – as we must have been asked this question a dozen times.
I owe thanks to Kim at Let’s Make You Rock for her depth of knowledge on this subject!

Live Sound 101: Wireless In-Ear Monitors

Wireless IEMs can be a dark, murky world, so here are our top picks:
Gear4Music have a basic, own-brand IEM set. It’s good value for money, but they’re unlicensed frequencies so you can only run 4 mics/IEMs legally. (Remember that includes any RF the venue or other bands in the vicinity might be using!) With cheaper RF kit it’s a good idea to place the transmitters at the stage end, close to the relevant receivers.
You may also get frequency interference and there’s very little you can do about it. However, on the plus side – they’re really very cheap!

The next step up is the LD Systems MEI1000G2*. They’re still on the unlicensed frequencies – and you’ll still only fit 4 wireless items in the available bandwidth – but you have control of which frequency to use, which is better for solving interference issues.
It’s a step up in price, but for that increased spend you get higher sound quality, and the product doesn’t look like it’s just been manufactured on your Uncle’s 3D printer.

After this step you’re into professional territory, the big players being Shure and Sennheiser.

Most of the function bands we work with are using the Shure PSM200 units. These are channel 38 (so you need a license) which means you can plot them wherever you want to, and you can use as many transmitters/receivers as you can physically fit on the RF spectrum.
You get much better quality earphones, the transmitter/receivers are really built to last, and you can use these sets at any pro event or tour throughout the UK.

Finally, the “mutt’s nutts” are Sennheiser G3, as used by Beyonce, Jamiroquai, Rihanna, and many more.
Again they’re on the professional, licensed channel 38, they have really good quality earpieces, they’re incredibly robust (both in terms of wireless connectivity and build quality), and you’ll never need to upgrade.
They are, of course, the most expensive set – but they’re practically bullet-proof.

Shure 215 IEM

Other important considerations:

Firstly, you have to think whether everybody actually needs wireless IEM.
Vocalists and horn players need to hear themselves well to pitch correctly, so it’s no-brainer for them – and if their mics are wireless too, they can be almost anywhere in the venue.

However, drummers and keys players are likely to be rooted in one spot all night, and a cleaner solution for them is a small desk or headphone amp* and a decent set of wired-in headphones. This can be fed from a aux so they still have their own mix setup, but without all the RF issues.

Secondly – and many people think this makes the biggest difference of all – think hard about the earpieces. You’re better off with custom molded earpieces and the LD Systems RF, than with the top-of-the-range Sennheiser G3 and the cheap “one size fits none” earpieces that come with that set.

In terms of earpieces, I’ve had a perfectly good time using VT600 series for vocals, however their frequency range is limited, and when you step up the ladder I can recommend the Shure 215s* and, at the real high-end, ACS custom molds.

Live Sound 101 is a new series of posts from Clear and Loud, based on simple issues we’ve been asked to solve in the past. If there are any topics you’d like to cover, please let us know!

(*) From time to time our articles will contain Amazon affiliate links to products that we recommend.
These links are marked, and help us to continue sharing our knowledge on this blog.
Every product we recommend has been used, tested, and – most importantly – loved by our engineers.