If you’ve ever played with bad monitors or worse – no monitors; you would know what a huge impact monitors have on your ability to play accurately and effectively.
Back in the good old days
For years I played with a floor monitor right next to me and it seemed to work just fine until more musicians joined the stage and now suddenly there were 5 floor monitors each with a unique mix. The lead guitarist would want to hear himself so asks for more guitar on his monitor which then meant that the bassist would up his volume to hear himself which meant that the pianist would up his volume and before you know it; the total stage mix is chaotic, loud and running into the first few rows of the church. And bad sound kills a meeting… DEAD!
All of these problems were solved when we went in-ear. Every musician gets to customize his/her own mix without affecting anyone else. Further, there doesn’t have to be any bulky floor monitors on stage and the guy behind the desk can mix the sound without having to worry so much about the stage sound. He does however have to worry about your mix because isolation monitors block out everything else.
Get the right gear
Talking about isolation, that is exactly what you need especially as the drummer. Drummer’s
need more isolation than other musicians because of the high volume of the raw drum sound and more so if you are ‘in a box’. The best isolation and quality monitors at a reasonable price would be the Shure SE-425. The soft sponge on the ear-piece can be squeezed small and then expands when placed in your ear which works really well for isolation AND comfort.
The comfort part is really important. What you don’t want is an in-ear monitor that keeps slipping out your ear. I had this problem with the JTS IE-1. I enjoyed the sound quality and the very natural fit for a while but the monitors started slipping a bit too much which makes playing uncomfortable because you’ve got to keep pushing them back in. However, it might just be me and the way the sleeves fit in my ear so, if you are looking for an affordable set of in-ears with decent sound quality – I would recommend you try these out. The JTS IE-1 has a very natural fit largely because of the size, weight and overall design vs. something like the Shure SE-425 which as you can imagine, is a bit more bulky and has a thicker, less flexible cable to wrap around your ear – though this could be seen as an advantage from a durability perspective.
The Shure SE-425 is the dual driver in the range with a dedicated tweeter and woofer. However, it’s very hard to understand how powerful these are if you test them with your iPod. The beauty of the Shure in-ear monitors are on the Live set. The sound range is superior to most in-ears and you will only understand this point if you try different monitors with the same mix. The result would be some instruments and tones coming through clearly whilst others need to be picked up on the JTS IE-1 vs. the Shure SE-425 for example. Ofcourse, these are not the same specification and the Shure is about 4times the price but if you are going to be spending more money, I’d recommend the Shure SE-425 on the basis of sound & build quality.
The big leagues
The SE-535 is the next in the range with three drivers followed by the SE-846 which has four drivers. I havn’t tried these yet but I can imagine that they are unbelievably good – built for drummers & bassist. The fit and isolation should be the same as the SE-425.
The alternative to these would be custom moulded in-ears however the admin and costs are quite high. You would need to get your ear moulds done locally at an audiologist and shipped to the States where they would custom manufacture your monitors based on the specification you require. Personally, I worry about the after-sale service of these if something goes wrong especially when the expected costs range from approx $500 (UE4 Pro) to $3000 (Reference series). By now, I’m sure you know that I’m talking about Ultimate Ears as these are the best and very popular.