Stage & Studio: Musician’s In-Ear Monitors Buyer’s Guide

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SOUND SIGNATURES

While any sound tuning (signature) can work for stage use and mixing, there are two popular sound signatures that make it easier for musicians and engineers to make music: Stage Sound and Reference Sound. The below categories are loosely defined, and there will be variations between different options with the same listed sound signature.

  • Stage: Presented in a way that emphasizes the midrange frequencies, stage sound gives users an “on stage” feel. Notes are typically on the smoother side and bass is usually ample, yet not overblown, while treble is relaxed. These earphones perform their best at moderate to high volume levels.
  • Mid-Forward: Similar to the stage sound, but with more focus on vocals and less bass presence.
  • Reference: Designed to be neutral and revealing for engineers and mastering. Notes are typically well articulated but are on the sharper and brighter side. Bass is typically neutral, and the presentation is more laid-back, giving a sense of being further from the performance than with “Stage” sound.
  • V-Shaped: Sound with boosted bass and treble that can work for drummers and bass guitarists. Boosted high frequencies can be problematic at louder volumes depending on the mix.

RECOMMENDED IN-EAR MONITORS: MUSICIANS

Recommendation notes:

  • All recommendations use an over-the-ear design, which looks better on stage, keeps the cable out of the way, and stays in place better while moving around
  • Sound scores are based on the rating system from the Custom In-Ear Monitors Review List, with Apple Earpods scoring a 1.5 for comparison
  • The light blue color in the Isolation graphs shows the range of possible isolation, which changes with ear tips
  • For products available only outside the US, price is displayed in the native currency along with an approximate USD conversion
  • Additional costs may be associated with getting custom in-ear monitors and can include the cost of ear impressions, shipping, artwork, and other optional extras

Under $100

MEElectronics M6$20 from Amazon.com, $20 from ebay.com: While any in-ear earphones can be used on stage when budget is tight, the MEElectronics M6 provides an over-the-ear fit with memory wire, stage monitor look, and decent audio performance with enhanced bass at a very low price. This makes it a great starter stage monitor for drummers and bassists, as well as for click track-only use, though the somewhat sharp top-end can be problematic at loud volumes and the slightly recessed midrange limits the usability for vocalists and full-range instruments. While plenty of silicone ear tips are provided in the package, the best isolation is achieved when using foam ear tips such as the compatible Comply T200 eartips. Recommended for drummers and bassists.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Permanent Dynamic V-Shaped 1 5 10 1.5 5 10

 

MEElectronics A151$43 from Amazon.com; $45 from ebay.com: One of the most reasonably-priced balanced armature (BA) monitors on the market, the A151 provides sound that is tight and accurate through the bass and midrange. The top-end is on the darker side, however, making it best suited for bass and baritone male vocals or those that want tight response for drums without enhanced bass. As with the M6, several sets of silicone eartips are included but isolation is best with compatible foam eartips, such as the T100 size from Comply. Recommended for male vocals, bassists, and guitarists.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Permanent BA Mid-forward 1 5 10 1 2 5 10

 

Rock-It Sounds R-30$70 from rockitsounds.com: Another entry-level balanced armature earphone, the R-30 improves on the MEElectronics A151’s listening experience with a clearer sound, more robust bass, and larger soundstage. Its rolled-off treble results in fatigue-free playback but provides a somewhat dull listening experience compared to higher-end sets. The R-30 uses hardware and sound tuning similar to the much more expensive Westone W10 (formerly the Westone 1), though the W10 adds a detachable cable, more muted appearance, and more extensive accessory pack. The T100 foam tips from Comply fit the R-30. Recommended for male vocals, bassists, and guitarists.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Permanent BA Mid-forward 1 5 10 1 2.5 5 10

 

Shure SE215$100 from Amazon.com: The sound of the SE215 is a step up from the entry-level Shure models of the past and the construction is well thought-out, making it a very competitive product at its point. The dynamic driver is articulate with plenty of bass and delivers clarity and detail resolution comparable to entry-level balanced armature monitors. While the SE215 provides a solid presentation, it isn’t as forward, detailed, clear, or precise as Shure’s higher-end offerings, such as the SE535. The SE215 comes with a more extensive accessory pack than the cheaper sets recommended above, including foam eartips.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Permanent Dynamic Stage 1 5 10 1 3 5 10

 

$101 to $500

Westone UM Pro 30 (previously known as Westone UM3X)$400 from Amazon.com: Westone’s new UM Pro 30 adopts the sound tuning of the old UM3X model but utilizes a new, more comfortable housing and MMCX detachable cable. The sound is warm and mid-centric, with very robust bass and an intimate presentation. Treble is present, but not bright, presenting plenty of detail without fatigue. A comparable option for European customers is the EarSonics SM3 v2, which has a thicker sound, more focus on the midrange, making it better for vocals, and a more spacious presentation.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 4.5 5 10

 

ProGuard FlexiMontiors – £262.80 (~$362 USD without VAT): The FlexiMontiors are about flexibility more than performance as the drivers can be interchanged with filters that reduce sound pressure levels. This can be ideal when there are stage monitors in use instead of an in-ear monitoring system and can be used to simply reduce the overall SPL when playing live or backstage/in the audience. While the FlexiMonitors can work for any instrument, they are best for vocalists, guitarists, and keyboardists.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Silicone Permanent BA Stage 1 5 10 1 3.5 5 10

Country of origin: United Kingdom

EarSonics SM3 V2 – 346.15/$475: Mid-forward and mid-centric, the SM3 is a rare experience, providing a true stage feel with exceptional depth and ambiance. The overall sound is thick and somewhat dark, which may take some adjustment, but there is plenty of detail and ample bass. Version 2 adds a detachable cable and improves comfort and housing durability.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 10

$501 to $1000

ProGuard P2+1£320 on Amazon.co.uk (~$500 USD without VAT via ProGuard website): The P2+1 was designed by musicians, for musicians, and has a true stage sound. While it may not be the best in overall performance for the price, the sound signature makes this an excellent tool with plenty of bass that isn’t overbearing, vocals that are just where you want them, and treble that takes well to louder volumes many musicians use.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 6.5 10

Country of origin: United Kingdom

1964EARS V6-Stage – $699: Designed for “stage, studio and everyday music listening”, the sound of the 1964EARS V6-Stage falls just warm of neutral with accurate bass, mids that are clear but not thin, and crisp treble. The clarity and resolution of the V6-Stage are hard to fault, and the earphone succeeds in providing outstanding value for money. Excellent for vocals and full-range instruments.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Slight V-Shape 1 5 10 1 5 7.5 10

Country of origin: United States of America


M-Fidelity SA-43 – NOK 5832 (~ $945 USD): The SA-43 is an interesting option for many reasons, including the presentation and adjustable sound signature. First, the presentation is more like that of a headphone, placing the listener in the audience more so than any other recommendation in this guide. Second, the sound signature can be changed with switches on the face plate, providing more “presence,” accentuating vocals and/or adjusting the bass from relatively neutral to more powerful by turning one of the bass drivers on or off. As an added bonus, the silicone-filled shell isolates very well.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic + silicone Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 8.5 10

Country of origin: Norway

$1001 to $1500

EarSonics S-EM6$1,099: The S-EM6 is the universal fit version of the EM6 monitors. The sound signature is similar to that of EarSonics’ less expensive SM3 model, but smoother, more spacious, more full-bodied without the thickness, and more airy in the treble. Vocals are very sweet and at the center of the presentation, making it a great choice for vocalists, while the bass capability and overall dynamics will please any listener.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Acrylic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 8.5 10

 

ACS T1 Live! – $1199: ACS has been in the musician’s monitor business for a long time. The T1 Live! is their flagship product, and sounds like it. Relatively neutral, but with a sound signature designed for stage use, the T1 provides plenty of bass, excellent vocals, and relaxed but present treble. The silicone shells isolate well and are comfortable, plus they retain their seal even during movement and while singing. The detachable cable is proprietary and not easily user-replaceable. The Live! series also has built-in wide-band microphones for use with an ambient wireless pack for live feedback.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Silicone Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 8.5 10

Country of origin: United Kingdom; Available locally in multiple countries

Cost no object

Fit-Ear PS-5 – $1650: The highest performing in-ear with a true stage monitor sound I have heard, the PS-5 makes music magical with high levels of detail, plenty of well-articulated bass, and extended but relaxed treble that never annoys but delivers the details you want to hear. Expensive, but worth it for the performing musician that wants the best on-stage in-ear.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 9.5 10

Country of origin: United States of America

Spiral Ear SE 5-way Reference1069 (~ $1500): With exceptional performance that changes dramatically depending on the mix, the SE5 has a stage sound that could also be considered a warm reference. The silicone shell provides high isolation levels, a great fit, and extended comfort. Spiral Ear will only ship within the European Union and the SE-5 model won’t fit all ears due to the 5 sound tubes that must be routed through the canal portion, making it an elusive CIEM for many. The SE5 is great for both musicians and engineers.  The more expensive SE 5-way Ultimate ups the ante, with the same isolation but a sound quality rating that provides another instance of “these go to 11.”

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Silicone Detachable BA Stage/Reference 1 5 10 1 5 10

Country of origin: Poland

Logitech Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitors – $1999: The tuning of the PRM relies on you listening to a universal version with a tuning box prior to placing your order and adjusting the sound to your liking. The PRM shares many characteristics with Ultimate Ears’ In-Ear Reference Monitor, but can be tuned differently if you so desire. The issue with the PRM can be figuring out what sound you really want and will be happy with in the long term, as some people will have an easier time with only one or two choices vs. the wide range of tunings available for the PRM. I personally had to spend quite a bit of time figuring out my tuning.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Adjustable/Stage 1 5 10 1 5 9 10

Country of origin: United States of America

RECOMMENDED IN-EAR MONITORS: MASTERING & ENGINEERS

Up to $500

Etymotic Research HF5$129 from Amazon.com: The HF5 is similar to the more expensive ER4S model and shares that same flat, accurate Etymotic sound, but is not quite as refined and doesn’t undergo the precise driver matching the higher-end model subjected to. The HF5 provides an excellent price/performance ratio for those that can do with a bit less accuracy and refinement vs. the ER4S.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Permanent BA Reference 1 5 10 1 3 5 10

Etymotic ER4S$299 from Amazon.com: The ER4S is regarded as one of the most accurate in-ear monitors available, with a reference sound signature and high isolation courtesy of the deep in-ear fit. The single balanced armature does run out of steam in the lower end, reducing the effectiveness for drummers and bassists, and the brighter sound makes them better-suited for mastering than stage use.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Universal Plastic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 4 5 10

Alclair Reference – $399: The Reference, as the name implies, has a reference sound with a warmer than typical tone while still providing plenty of detail. The presentation is ideal for mastering. The weakness, when compared with more expensive reference sound signatures, is the lower level of coherence across the soundstage. Still, for the price, the Reference doesn’t have an equal.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 5 6.5 10

Country of origin: United States of America

$501 to $1000

Logitech Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors – $999: While not designed specifically after any particular studio monitors, it is said the IERM sounds like the Yamaha NS10, but with a flatter bottom end that reaches further past 100 Hz. The sound is detailed and balanced, lacking coloration with a good coherence across the frequency spectrum and excellent imaging. Due to its revealing treble, any issues in that region will be highlighted and can be avoided. While the bass doesn’t have as much oomph as the Lear LCM-5 or Hidition NT-6, it still performs at a high level and is a true professional’s tool.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 5 7 10

Country of origin: United States of America

Lear LCM-5 – with cable, HKD 7776 (~ $1000): Clear, concise, and neutral defines the LCM-5, which has two levels of tuning. The standard tuning is a warmer, smoother version of the JBL LSR6328P near-field active studio monitors and is pleasant to listen while getting the job done. Without the cable, the sound is a bit smoother than the Logitech In-Ear Reference and not quite as laid-back, but adding the optional adapter cable changes the sound to become more analytical and improves the detail level. Using the adapter does come with a caveat, as the power required to drive the LCM-5 becomes much higher, dynamics are decreased, and the presentation is pushed forward. Still, the LCM-5 gives you the option, and is a good choice for those that want an instrument for work that can also double as a pleasing personal listening headphone.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 5 7.5 10

Country of origin: Hong Kong

$1001 and up

Hidition NT-6 – $1200: The NT-6 is a very detailed, clear, and well-articulated reference monitor with the most revealing sound I’ve heard. The sound is neutral and less warm than the other reference monitors, but technical capability and resolution are tops, enabling more detail and fine nuances to come forth from within tracks.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 5 9.5 10

Country of origin: Korea

ADDITIONAL IN-EARS OF INTEREST

This category is for in-ears that haven’t made it thought full testing as either the review is in process or there was only time for an audition. While we feel strongly about these products, a bit more caution should be taken in comparison with the recommended products.

Logitech Ultimate Ears UE4 – $399: Sometimes termed the “baby In-Ear Reference Monitors” in reference to the Ultimate Ears IERM model discussed above, the UE4 is neutral with very good midrange clarity and a much more affordable price, representing a great tradeoff between accuracy and capability vs. price. Sound score is based off listening to the universal demo version of the UE4. Excellent for mastering and engineers.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Reference 1 5 10 1 5 10

Country of origin: United States

Perfect Seal PS6 – $635: New brand, but not a newcomer to CIEMs, the PS6 has a stage sound that is mid-forward, dynamic, and punchy, with excellent imaging, good soundstage size, and clarity that is better than typical for the price point. The upper midrange has a boost, which is what provides the up-close feel while preserving the overall space. Bass is quite enhanced, so be prepared for plenty of low-end impact, which is perfect for bass instruments. Vocals are unaffected by the bass performance. With Westone-like soft canals, the PS6 is comfortable for extended periods. While not fully reviewed yet, the combination of the PS6 performance so far combined with high price/performance levels of other models makes this a CIEM you should consider. Great for drummers, bassists, and vocalists.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 7.5 10

Country of origin: United States

Minerva Mi-Performer Pro – £375 (~$640 USD): Silicone shelled custom in-ear monitors typically incorporate a price premium, and this one is no exception. The excellent isolation and good sound quality make the Mi-Performer Pro a good choice for those who don’t want to spend any more, but want the isolation and comfort of silicone. The sound signature is tuned for stage use with a bit more emphasis on the midrange, which makes the Performer Pro excellent for vocalists, guitarists, and keyboardists. More information can be found here.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Silicone Permanent BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 6.5 10

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Lime Ears LE3B/LE3SW555 (~ $750): This triple-driver has visceral bass, a spacious midrange, and relaxed treble that make it great for stage use with the ability to convey power that is rare at this price point, and otherwise only achieved by hybrid BA+dynamic designs which don’t have the isolation of the LE3B. The LE3SW model adds a switch and another set of internal components, delivering a near-reference sound tuning in addition to the LE3B sound signature at the flip of a switch. This allows the same CIEM to be used for both stage and mastering/studio work. Full review coming soon.

Fit Shell Cable Drivers Sound Sig Isolation Sound Quality
Custom Acrylic Detachable BA Stage 1 5 10 1 5 7.5 10

Country of origin: Poland

Additional products can be found in the Custom In-Ear Monitors Review List and In-Ear Monitor Review List

We want to hear your questions and comments! Let us know if you have specific requests for products you don’t see in the guide, or want a recommendation for an in-ear with a price point, feature set, or from a region that isn’t listed.

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

48 Comments

  1. MARK A PEARL on

    What is the best IEM for a bassist that wants clarity with great bottom, mids and highs that is cost effective???

  2. DJ DEU on

    Hi,
    I am a lead vocalist/guitarist for a contemporary carribean band. I was wondering what would be the best IEM in terms of quality and isolation, without the worry of a budget. I tend to sweat a lot when performing, so that would also need to be a side note as well. Thank you for your input.

    • ljokerl on

      Depends a lot on your budget, but the Shure SE215 is nice and versatile, with great isolation and a good track record in durability. Dynamic drivers like the ones used by the SE215 are also a little less prone to being damaged by moisture than the BAs in higher-end sets.

  3. Jonathan on

    Hi, what is better in sound and quality BA and construction, etc. ue4pro, ctm ct200 or alclair reference? for mixer, guitar and vocal? is best quality ue( 2 drivers) or ctm (2 drivers) than alclair (3 drivers)? thanks

    Sorry for my english

  4. James Seaward on

    Hi, I’m a lead vocalist/guitarist in a modern rock band, what would you recommend as the best choice In Ear Monitor when I have a £400 budget? I would like true isolation and good detail for vocals. Is silicone best for isolation? Sound quality being of optimum importance. Thanks!
    James Seaward

    • average_joe on

      Hi James,

      There are several options that would fit the £400 budget ($530 USD currently) including the Alclair Reference, Proguard P2+1, Perfect Seal PS3/PS4, Custom Art Music Two, or InEarz P350 to mention a few. It depends on how you want them to be voiced (what sound signature do you want) and if you be using them with a mixer. Silicon provides better isolation, but in the price range, there are very limited options such as the Music Two, but that is on the warmer side, which may be OK based on the sound signature.

      What are you currently using, and what do you like/dislike? If you are looking for sound quality/vocal detail, I would recommend the PS4, although it is at the upper end of your price range. If not, the PS3 or P350 will provide good vocal detail.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  5. DJ Peeti-V on

    Sometimes when I am djing on a stage with the subs below/beneath or by me, the low frequencies kind of drown out my IEM monitor feed. The mids and highs are perfectly fine but the deep “rumbling” of the subs makes it harder to hear. I have noticed this with customs as well with great isolation so I do not think that is the issue. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do to counter the effect? Thank you for your input.

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately there’s probably not a lot you can do – bass frequencies, especially deep bass, can be carried to the inner ear/ear drum via bone conduction, meaning that physically blocking the ear won’t help in canceling them out.

  6. Abraham on

    Which is the best IEM for drummers under $200? I was thinking in TDK BA200 and Etymotic HF5 but I read in the comments that it’s form is not adequate for live use. Also thinking about the MEElectronics M6 PRO $50 or the Shure SE215. I’m into isolation first and then comes the audio quality. Which one you recommend me?

    • average_joe on

      Hi Abraham,

      Pushing your budget, the AAW A1D would provide very good isolation + great sound, but with shipping and impressions, the cost would exceed $200.

      The BA200 is a good choice, but with a BA IEM you have to make sure you are extra careful if you sweat a lot while drumming. I wouldn’t recommend the HF5 for a drummer because of the lack of bass sustainment.

      Between the M6 Pro and SE215, you will get a bit better sound quality from the 215, but you are paying more. It depends on your ear anatomy which of the two will provide better isolation, and foam ear tips are generally a must (unless you DIY foam under silicone). It may be worth getting the lower cost option and having more $ for comply foam ear tips as they wear out quite quickly. The regular M6 isn’t too bad, and you can get several more of those for the same price and have backups!

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Cheers,

      Joe

      • Abraham on

        Thank you very much for the reply, I’ll save money for the A1D but meanwhile I’ll buy the regular M6 with the comply foam ear tips, possibly an extra one for a backup. It is very helpful to have someone who has tried many in ears, once again thanks for the help.

        • average_joe on

          Sounds like a good plan. Please feel free to share how the M6 works for you and once you get the A1D, how that compares.

          Cheers,

          Joe

  7. brykupono on

    Thank you so much for all of your great reviews Joe! As a full-band stage vocalist, I’ve settled on Spiral for a high-end set of CIEMs. From the reviews I’ve read, it seems that the reference model would be the slightly better choice for a vocalist in my position versus the ultimate model. Would you agree? If you have other input for my specific situation, I’d love that as well.

    • average_joe on

      Hi brykupono,

      Thank you for reading. Spiral Ear monitors are an exceptional choice for stage use. The UEPRM is a great monitor, but the SE has a better ability to recreate exactly what you want to hear, and exactly what you should be hearing. Also, the silicone will isolate better, which is better for your long-term hearing health.

      Vocals will have a natural tone, but the advantage of the PRM is it’s ability to adjust to an individual’s hearing specifics. If that doesn’t apply, the SE is the ideal choice.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  8. Clive Dennis on

    Hi, I am currently supplied with a Shure (universal) IEM on stage, but would like to invest in my own personal set of headphones instead. Thinking about getting the Shure SE215 headphones. Please advise.

    I am a guitarist/singer and generally have my own voice and guitar in my IEMs on stage, and seem to be able to hear the rest of the band without having them in my mix as we are very close to each other.
    Please recommend a range of suitable IEM headphones for my use. Price range upto $500.
    Many thanks, Clive

    • ljokerl on

      Nothing wrong with the SE215, it’s a versatile entry-level monitor, and doesn’t have any serious limitations. Certainly not the most well-balanced or resolving option under $500 (you can easily go custom in that price range if you wanted to) and it does tends to emphasize bass and de-emphasize upper treble a bit, but again for the price you’re paying it’s quite great.

  9. Elfeux on

    I am not a musician just a music lover. Any recommendations for a fittened Bluetooth IEM. I realize that Bluetooth and quality occasionally can stand in contradiction, but trying to find the middle ground between comfort and quality.

    • ljokerl on

      Not sure what you mean by “fittened”, but pretty much the only Bluetooth IEM I ever recommend is the Sony SBH80. As long as your device supports aptX, it actually sounds very, very good (comparable to similarly-priced wired earphones) and the “wearable” form factor is certainly usable.

  10. Lisa on

    Hello! I’m seeking help choosing an IEM for our worship pastor. He currently has the MEE M6 Pros, having previously used a set of Future Sonics Atrios, which I broke. He’s decently content with the M6, but it is not proving to be very durable. I have a set of SHURE 535 earbuds, but he has tried them and finds them to be fatiguing. Being used for a monitor mix of: click track, lead vocal (him), backing vocals (up to 4), acoustic, drums, bass, keys. What would you recommend having him try?

    Thanks!!
    Lisa

    • ljokerl on

      Not sure about the M6 Pros but the Atrios and SE535s do sound very different from each other, though the Shures wouldn’t be my pick for most fatiguing. Maybe it was the big bass of the Atrios that was helping him keep the volume level (and fatigue) down? M6s are more bass-heavy than SE535s as well. Or maybe it was the Shures’ forward mids…

      Anyway, my recommendation for an Atrio replacement in a similar price range would be a Yamaha EPH-100. Similar bass-heavy sound, not too much midrange or upper midrange for it to be overbearing. They aren’t designed for a cable-up fit like the other earphones mentioned but they can still be worn that way if needed.

      If a “musician” fit/form factor is a must and he’s willing to spend the money, a Westone the UM PRO 30 or EarSonics SM3 or SM2 might be the ticket. Those tend to sound warmer and bassier than the SE535, and very smooth/non-fatiguing as well.

  11. Jared on

    Thanks for your in depth discussion of the options. I can’t decide if I’m closer to a decision or more confused than I was before! We’re looking at getting IEM’s for our church’s music team to eliminate the stage sound from all the floor monitors we have considering we have a smaller sized room.

    Budget and cost are constraints, but more so because we aren’t using our own money and take seriously the notion of being good stewards of that which we are effectively managing from what people give. We started the process by looking at the Galaxy Audio AS-1100 system and some Skull Candy earbuds, which a friend of ours had suggested as they were quite satisfied using that setup, and ended up going all the way to the Shure PSM 300 with either the Shure SE215 or Westone UM Pro 10.

    Obviously the more you go up, typically, the better and more refined you’re going to get quality wise, but with that comes price. Essentially we get way too much bleed of sound from the stage both into the audience and on the stage, so my thoughts were the Galaxy’s would more than suffice and prove to be an improvement, so the cost would be low and good value. But, the flip side of being a good steward is not wanting to buy something that we’ll soon want to upgrade or migrate from and incur all new costs. So, perhaps you could weigh in a bit on that?

    Lastly, it sounds like the SE215 or the Pro 10 would work fine for a vocalist, correct me if I’m wrong and there is a better option in that price range for them, but would you suggest the cheaper MEElectronics M6 specifically for drummer and bass, or stick with one of the others? Not sure if it’s a pricing reason or if the M6 is better suited than the other 2 for that application.

    I appreciate your input

    • ljokerl on

      While it’s called a stage monitor, the SE215 has more bass than you might think. It’s probably closer to the M6 in that regard than to the higher-end Shures or the lower-end Westone sets.

      I’ve seen some great feedback from drummers and bass guitarists using the M6 as well. The bass-heavy sound does seem to work well and the difference in midrange and treble performance between the M6 and a higher-end set may go unnoticed or unvalued. However, I’m sure price is a big part of it, too – given equal pricing I have no doubt they’d be just as happy with the SE215. One other thing those Shures will do is isolate outside noise better than the M6.

      Anyway, to me it sounds like there’s a lot of pros here for the using the M6 – you are relatively cost-sensitive, the environment isn’t conducive to taking advantage of the better fidelity of the Shure/Westone sets, and you’re not upgrading from other in-ear monitors.

      You can also mix it up and simply get more balanced-sounding monitors for the vocalist(s). Entry-level balanced armature sets without the stage monitor look are about $40-50 (e.g. meelectronics A151, Astrotec AM-90, or Rock-It R-20) and will give you balanced audio performance more comparable to the Westone 10 than to the M6.

  12. Bharath S on

    Hi

    I am a singer. I need a good IEM. I also suffer from hearing loss on both ears which are manageable.

    Can you please suggest me the best solution

    regards
    Bharath

    • Mike on

      Take up knitting

    • average_joe on

      Hi Bharath, what is your budget?

      Cheers,

      Joe

      • bharath on

        Hi Joe,

        my preference would be more on quality. The price is secondary.
        looking forward to your valuable suggestions

        Many thanks

        Bharath

        • average_joe on

          Due to your hearing loss comment, it would lead me to believe a brighter sound would be better for you. If you agree, the Hidition NT-6 and Custom Art Harmony 8 Pro will be bright and clear with good articulation, which should allow you to really hear your voice. If you know you don’t want brighter, the options include Hidition Viento-R, Rooth LS-6, and EarSonics EM32. If you want something lower cost, the 1964 V6 Stage or AAW W300.

          Let me know if you have any other questions.

          Cheers,

          Joe

          • Bharath S on

            Hi Joe,
            Many thanks for your quick response. I have some queries

            1. Can my hearing deficiencies be boosted up by the CIEMs, which you have suggested . I can send my readings for both my ears.
            2. I usually like warm sound ( similar to the output from a valve amplifier). Will this sound be better than the brighter tone for a hearing impaired person.
            3. I think Isolation would be critical for a person having hearing defects, what is your say ?
            4. which transmitters/receivers would you recommend along with the CIEM’s which you have mentioned.
            5. which is better NT-6 or NT-6 pro ?? what about JH16 pro …

            regards
            Bharath

            • average_joe on

              Hi Bharath,
              1) Yes, some CIEM manufacturers can adjust specifically for your hearing issues. I am not sure which ones can/will, but do know the Dream Earz and InEarz will. I suppose sending an email and asking would get the answers 🙂
              2) If that is what you prefer, a warm sound may be fine. What a brighter sound will do for you is help compensate for the hearing loss (assuming it is high-frequency) and balance the sound. I don’t know anything about your specific hearing loss, the severity, and the response, but I know that compensation consists of boosting the frequencies with HL. While this helps, the ability to differentiate sounds is often reduced, and even present before severe loss in certain frequencies. A clearer, more articulate note should help compensate for these issues.
              3) Isolation is important for all people! If you have HL, isolation will help protect against more, and if you don’t, isolation will protect against HL in the first place. The better the isolation, the lower the volume can be set to for audible music. Hearing loss will result in the volume needing to be higher all things considered.
              4) I can’t offer much help here since I have just demoed 2 different units. One was the Sennehiser EW-300 and and the other was a Galaxy Audio, but I can’t recall the model. I thought the Sennheiser sounded marginally better, but there wasn’t enough of a difference for me to make a buying decision based off what I heard.
              5) The NT-6 is more neutral while the NT-6 Pro, while brighter and more articulate, has a laid-back midrange in comparison, which isn’t the best for vocals. The JH16 Pro is very bass-heavy and doesn’t have the articulation and localization of the music isn’t as good, taking away from my ability to clearly understand the sound compared with the NT-6.

              If you do want warmer, the EarSonics EM32 is an excellent choice, as is the Spiral Ear SE 5-way Ultimate. The EM32 can have a filled shell, which will increase isolation, and the SE5U is silicone, providing better isolation.

              Cheers,

              Joe

  13. Jamison on

    Incredible reviews. I’m a drummer so I want maximum isolation to protect my ears. Not as concerned with fidelity. I haven’t been able to find noise reduction ratings for some of these IEMs. Do you have any idea what the NRR is for the 9/10 and 10/10 isolation, or the difference between 9 and 10? I currently use earplugs that give me 33 dB NRR (the best available). I’ll get either the Spiral Ears 3-way, SA-43, or Sensaphonics 2X-S. Noise reduction is the deciding factor for me. Thanks!

    • average_joe on

      Hi Jamison, we don’t measure the isolation, just test it in a comparative way. Silicone provides the best isolation, but the acrylic shell with a silicone fill of the M-Fidelity products is just about as good overall with a bit more high-frequency isolation. Fit and canal length also play into isolation, so ask if the manufacturer has a “musicians fit” which makes the canal longer.

      Since you are a drummer, the SE-3 or SA-43 would be better suited to your instrument due to the superior bass capability. Let me know if you have any other questions. Please be sure to let us know what you decide to get and how they perform for you.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  14. Michael on

    Hey Joker

    Any reason you don’t include the rha m750 on this list? Kinda contemplating between the m750 and the se215s, and everywhere I read seems to make the m750s out to generally be the better product.

    I’m a bass player, for an idea of what I might need.

    • ljokerl on

      The MA750 just didn’t have the ideal form factor – it’s a little too flashy and too heavy in the ear, the cables aren’t replaceable, isolation is not quite as good, and so on. It’s a nice consumer-class earphone, but it’s also pretty bassy and I doubt RHA themselves thought it would find use as a monitor.

  15. iwan on

    hello joker,

    i was considering to buy TDK BA200 after reading your reviews on this website, until i read this page. i’m a musician (performing & arranging), so i want IEM that falls in the reference sound signature category. but on “mastering & engineers” section, the recommended IEM that suits my budget is the Etymotic HF5. so, is the BA200 still recommended for mastering & engineering? how do you compare BA200 & HF5 in terms of that? thanks a lot in advance.

    • ljokerl on

      The BA200 is pretty close to reference flat, but a little on the warm side (meaning slight emphasis on the bottom half of the spectrum vs the top). In the case of the BA200 this is very mild, but it’s still a colored sound vs the more neutral HF5. This is by no means uncommon with stage monitors – the Westone UM PRO 30, for instance, is even warmer, and the entry-level Shure SE215 is far more bass-heavy – but for me it’s just off the edge of what I’d call “reference”.

      With that said, the form factor of the HF5 is not great for stage use, so if your purpose is split between performing and mastering, the BA200 is still the better option as it will be usable for both.

      • iwan on

        thanks for the reply!

        could you recommend other IEM for those purposes? BA200 seems to be the one, but it’s beyond my budget (though it’s really tempting to stretch it). i consulted to the “headphone list” page with each reviews back and forth, and i was also considering VSonic VC1000. but i couldn’t find it anywhere on amazon nor ebay. even the BA200 is discontinued (though it still exists on amazon). don’t they make successor product for it?

      • iwan on

        oh and by the way, i’m a drummer, so noise isolation factor is highly considered too =)

        • ljokerl on

          HF5 is probably your best bet then, if within budget. Isolation doesn’t get any better than that and the performance is about as good as it gets for the price, too.

          If you really need a more stage-friendly form factor then I guess you can give up some isolation and go for a VSonic GR07 Classic, which is not as flat as the HF5, or the Creative Aurvana In-Ear 3 or Shure SE215, both of which are warmer / even less neutral.

          • iwan on

            wow nice! now i’m leaning towards GR07. in amazon and ebay it’s priced around $99 now. i hope it’s the same product that you’ve reviewed. thanks a lot! your work and dedication reviewing/introducing IEMs are amazing! greetings from Indonesia =)

          • iwan on

            hi joker,

            sorry i need to ask one more question. apparently i still can find VSonic VC1000 on lendmeurears website. i’ve concluded that both HF5 & VC1000 are in the balance sound signature category. but from this website reviews, VC1000 has better sound quality than HF5. and actually VC1000 is quite cheaper. so how do you compare between HF5 & VC1000? thanks.

          • iwan on

            and how about VSonic GR01?

          • ljokerl on

            Yes, GR07 Classic should be $99, though some sellers try to sell it for more.

            The VC1000 is a very good earphone. Few reasons I recommend the HF5 over it in this guide:
            1) HF5 is more neutral. VC1000 is slightly brighter than true neutral, much the same way BA200 is slightly warmer than true neutral. Both are still neutral compared to most other earphones on the market, but with the HF5 is a benchmark the minute differences become noticeable.
            2) I tend to trust the construction quality of the HF5 more, especially since you won’t just be using them on the go and in the library.
            3) Noise isolation is better on the HF5.

            GR01 is more neutral than the VC1000 but I also wouldn’t recommend it for durability in a pro setting. Plus, it’s more expensive.

          • iwan on

            thanks very much! you’re the best.

  16. D4rkFire on

    I was thinking of picking up the MEElectronics A151 with the intention of using it for male vocals. In your recommendation for them, it seems you were using the 1st generation A151. Now that MEElectronics has released a 2nd generation model of the A151, do you know if it would also fare well for monitoring male vocals?

    • ljokerl on

      I haven’t tried it myself but from looking at the measurements comparing the 1st and 2nd gen the 2nd gen actually looks better on the whole. It should be brighter than the 1st gen (which was a little dark for my taste) and may be a little less forgiving, but overall it should work about as well.

  17. Daniel on

    Hello! I’m a musician who does a little of both studio work and live work. I’ve been looking to invest in a set of ciem, and it seems that either 1964 V6, UERM, or Noble 4C would fit the sound and qualities I’m looking for.

    Could you possibly include the Noble 4C in this rundown? Or comment on it? I’d love to know how it stacks up against the other two that I’ve mentioned.

    • ljokerl on

      I can only comment on the silicone 4S model. The reason it wasn’t included in this guide alongside the V6-Stage and UERM is that’s it’s more of a consumer take on the balanced sound signature. It’s smooth and mellow, which is typically not the case with reference earphones. The UERM and V6-Stage tend to be a bit more bright and “analytical”.

      I compared to the 4S to both the V6-Stage and UERM in depth here: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/noble-4s/

  18. Pingback: SA-43 oppført i kjøpeguide for Musikere | M-Fidelity custom in-ear monitors

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