On today’s audio equipment market, top-notch sound quality is no longer reserved only for committed audiophiles and music-industry professionals. While individually customized, high-end models are still an important part of the industry, there are now a huge number of affordable in ear monitors for listeners to choose from. This guide will explain the basics of in ear monitors and give you an idea of what to look for when choosing a set for yourself.
Unlike ordinary ear-buds or bass headphones, in ear monitors (IEMs) offer clear and pristine sound quality and superior noise isolation. Affordable IEMs now mean that smartphone and tablet users can replace their low-quality earbuds with improved monitors that will let them get the most out of the audio capacities of their devices. Musicians and music lovers who aren’t ready to invest in high-end custom equipment can find a number of quality mid-range options among the many new IEM models. All users can benefit from the cutting-edge safety features of the latest monitors.
When buying audio technology, even something as basic as headphones, it pays to be informed. Online vendors offer in ear monitors in a bewildering array of designs and colors, but before your purchase you should know a little something about the tech inside your favorite monitors.
Buyer’s Guide to IEM ( In Ear Monitors ) Basics
An important point for someone new to the world of in ear monitors is to recognize that IEMs are not the same as headphones or standard earbuds. While the shape of most IEMs resembles that of familiar smartphone earbuds, the similarities end there. Even entry-level IEM models are packed with miniature audio components that provide noise-reduction and sound quality that ordinary earbuds can’t touch.
When shopping for monitors, buyers will often encounter the term “driver.” Drivers are the basic technology of speakers and headphones, the electronic device that transforms electrical signals into soundwaves. IEMs differ from ordinary earbuds by offering more, and more sophisticated, driver technology.
The two principal types of driver you will encounter while shopping for in ear monitors are dynamic drivers and balanced armature drivers. Dynamic drivers allow for superior bass, thanks to airflow between the driver currents. However, a side effect of this bass-improving feature is reduced noise isolation. Balanced-armature drivers, on the other hand, produce less bass frequency but better noise isolation. They are generally smaller and on the whole more expensive than dynamic drivers.
Noise isolation capabilities are rated in terms of decibels; the more decibels, the greater the degree of noise isolation. When your monitors are more effective at isolating noise, you are able to enjoy music at safer volumes. A rating of around 25 decibels is a good starting point for high sound quality at safe listening volumes.
Two additional factors to consider are frequency response and sensitivity and impedance. Frequency response essentially tells you what range of sounds the IEM can reproduce; a wider range is generally better. Sensitivity and impedance, on the other hand, both relate sound volume to the device’s power. The more sensitivity and the less impedance, the more power the device will need to reproduce sound at a particular volume.
Before comparing monitor specs, be sure to decide exactly how you plan to use your monitors. While monitors are mostly designed for working musicians, many models are useful for ordinary listening. Musicians and others using high-end audio equipment with high power levels should consider more sophisticated models with better specs. On the other hand, if you only need quality earbuds for your portable device, you can go with a lower-end model that doesn’t exceed the sound capacity of your smartphone or tablet.
Here’s Our Ten Top Best In Ear Monitors
ActionPie VJJB-V1S -High Resolution & Heavy Bass in Ear Headphone. Comes With Built in Mic for use with SmartPhones
These in ear monitors come designed for smartphones. They prioritize heavy bass reproduction over noise isolation come equipped with a built-in microphone for hands-free phone conversation. The universal ear buds are made from soft silicone for frequent use, making these perfect for everyday listening.
Despite their design for frequent use and their focus on bass sound, these ActionPie monitors also come with exclusive triband tuning technology, which works to cancel out distortion and provide for better sound quality at the high end. Overall, these are an affordable upgrade from standard smartphone earbuds and a good introduction to IEMs.
Yinyoo KZ ZST Hybrid Banlance Armature
Combining dynamic and balanced armature drivers with separate audio channels for each individual driver, these IEMs from Yinyoo aim for balanced sound quality at the highs and lows. Noise cancelling technology is enhanced by the patented silicone eartips. With a removable cable, these monitors are designed for use with all the latest tablets and smartphones, while still offering professional-quality, balanced listening.
Noise-Isolating Musician’s In-Ear Monitors From MEE audio ( Model No. M6 PRO ) A Universal-Fit In_ear Headphone with Detachable Cables for ease of use
Targeted at working musicians, the M6 Pro IEMs offer a balance of quality sound reproduction and everyday comfort during extended listening sessions. Although packaged with universal earbuds, these monitors include seven different sizes of buds to help you find the perfect fit. The detachable cables are made of a flexible memory wire in order to conform to the user’s body and provide maximum comfort. The memory foam eartips also aid in noise reduction. The drivers use a new ultra-thin diaphragm that the company claims delivers superior sound with especially good reproduction of detail. Along with the included carrying case, these monitors are a great model for a serious musician.
Fender FXA2 – A Great Professional In-Ear Monitor Ideal For Professional Audio Engineers
A step up into the territory of serious audio professionals, these monitors from famed company Fender put top-quality audio reproduction first. While these are also designed for working musicians, especially bassists and drummers, any audiophile serious about the highest level of sound reproduction can consider this model. With a very high decibel rating and an impressive range of 6Hz-23kHz, the FXA2 will deliver rich, distortion-free bass and pristine highs, thanks to custom drivers made from rare-earth metals.
These monitors also showcase new 3D modeling and printing techniques, a step forward from standard injection-molded earbuds. With 3D techniques, Fender has created a universal earbud that will fit 95 percent of ears at a fraction of the cost of traditional custom earbuds.
Sound Isolating Earphones From Shure – The Shure SE215-CL comes with Single Dynamic MicroDriver
Professional-quality monitors are now available to demanding listeners with Shure’s musician-tested IEMs. Designed for demanding sonic conditions on stage, these monitors offer a perfect balance of highs and lows, with a low-profile, comfortable design and detachable, WireForm cables. The dynamic microdriver delivers top-quality bass, while the noise-isolating sleeves are designed for maximum cancellation of interfering sounds.
Westone UM Pro20 High Performance In-Ear Monitors
The best thing about this model is its ergonomic design, with “up and over” wire routing that helps keep the cables out of the way on stage or in the studio. Serious 25db noise reduction and superior dual drivers (both bass and balanced armature) make these a another perfect choice for drummers and bass players.
1MORE In-Ear Headphones – Apple iOS and Android Compatible
Designed by a professional sound engineer, these IEMs combine the best of audio engineering with smartphone-friendly design and features. Each phone has three drivers (two balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver) in order to get the best of both worlds. The inline remote control and built in microphone are specifically calibrated to avoid any interference with the sound reproduction quality. Interchangeable eartips and two carrying cases round out the product.
Etymotic Research ER7-MC3 Noise Isolating In-Ear Headset – Compatible with iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
Another smartphone friendly model, Etymotic’s ER7-MC3 model takes advantage of state-of-the-art driver design to mimic the sound quality of top-shelf, professional monitors in an entry-level package. Starting with simpler but more interference-susceptible dynamic driver, these monitors add a special acoustic side branch that compensates for the dynamic driver’s deficiencies and deliver crisp highs along with the deep bass. The four foot cable comes with an in-line, three button controller. These monitors also include a filter tool and replacement filters for routine maintenance.
Audio-Technica ATH-IM70 Dual symphonic-driver In-ear Monitor headphones
These monitors utilize a special “symphonic” driver that recreates the quality of two separate drivers in one compact model. These are a good model for stage musicians, without any of the unnecessary features that smartphone users are looking for. Audio-Technica’s design team also paid special attention to the outer housing of the monitor, created a physical noise reduction effect that reduces resonance and helps these already well-balanced phones produce high-quality sound.