Switching from traditional stage wedges to wireless IEMs can tone down stage noise and make the FOH engineer’s life easier. But making that jump isn’t easy, especially when you’re worrying about earpiece fit, run time, latency, interference, and cost. In this article, we’ll go over five of the best in-ear monitor systems to keep the transition as smooth as possible.
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The XS Wireless IEM is an entry-level set featuring Sennheiser’s IE 4 earphones, known for their strong bass response. To boost the performance, it’s possible to switch to the IE 100 Pro (max SPL of 115 dB). However, even without the upgrade, the set is still reliable and gig-ready.
The UHF system itself revolves around the XSW IEM SR transmitter and the EK receiver, synced via an infrared sensor. Since the XSW was made to be an entryway, the presets are fairly intuitive. Still, there are a few advanced features like EQ, limiters, and manual frequency control.
Audio-Technica’s ATW-3255 is packed with advanced features, from the diagnostic cue mode to the Wireless Manager software. In terms of hardware, the system includes a T3205 transmitter, one R3250 receiver with a built-in headphone amp, and ATH-E40 earphones. The ATH-E40 isn’t the best Audio Technica has to offer, but it still delivers well-defined audio, thanks to its push-pull drivers.
The receiver itself has a built-in antenna. However, the headphone cable acts as a secondary antenna, and this helps keep the sound crisp and clear. All in all, you can expect an operating range of around 300 feet.
The entry-level PSM300 uses Shure’s P3T transmitter with one-touch scan/sync to the P3R bodypack, which you can use to switch between MixMode and stereo. Under normal conditions, the analog RF connection can cover 300 feet. Finally, you have the SE112 earphones with a single, dynamic driver and discrete design.
Galaxy Audio offers the wireless AS-950 in two frequency versions (N and P2). It’s also possible to buy the bundle in various configurations. For this review, we went with the P2 band pack of a transmitter, four EB4 earphones, and four AS-950R receiver units.
The expected operating range between the RF transmitter and each beltback is around 200 feet. The beltback itself features a built-in limiter and multi-function LCD. Moving on to the EB4s, their frames are aluminum alloy, but they run on a single titanium driver and deliver a frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz.
Although Xvive offers a U4T9 version with T9 in-ears, the U4 system doesn’t come with an earphone—you only get the 2.4 GHz transmitter and a single receiver. However, you can use the units with any in-ear model with a ⅛” plug. It’s also worth noting that the receiver unit runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion unit rather than the typical pair of AA batteries. Some users love it, but others find replaceable batteries better in the long term.
The difference in audio quality is often not that huge, so it’s a matter of convenience. Wireless systems reduce tripping risk. However, stationary performers, like drummers, might use wired versions to overcome the issues of dropout and interference.
No, sets with universal replaceable tips/sleeves will do fine for many musicians. After all, bundles usually come with at least three sizes. That said, getting the tips customized to your ears can help with isolation and comfort.
Yes, for some performers, too much noise isolation can create a feeling of disconnection from the audience. Many choose to take one earpiece out. However, this can be dangerous since you’ll lose some perceived loudness, and you’ll have to crank the volume up to compensate.
It depends on the band size and whether you plan on using IEMs only. Remember that it’s possible to follow a hybrid monitor mixing approach using both wedges and IEMs. Plus, you can always buy more receivers later and sync them to the existing IEM system.
For the most part, IEM system bundles come with a rackmount kit for easy integration. Note that the P3T features a small, half-rack transmitter. Alternatively, you can get a space-saving transmitter like the one in the U4 set and plug it directly into the balanced main XLR or unbalanced AUX output from your mixer or sound interface.
With an intuitive operation and a moderate price point, the Sennheiser XSW is a reliable entryway wireless IEM system. At a slightly higher price, the ATW-3255 IEM offers advanced features and wide-range compatibility with other 3000 Series products. But there are more affordable systems for performers who only do small gigs and don’t mind monitoring in mono. The portable two-unit U4 set is a great example.
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