- Find the best in-ear monitors for your needs
- Understand the benefits of IEMs
- Weigh up IEMs versus stage monitors
- Also, check out our post on in-ear monitors vs earbuds!
In-ear monitors are a great invention. Designed to give you a clear mix and help with your hearing protection, they are mostly used in live situations but also find themselves being used in a studio.
We’re all familiar with stage monitors (often known as wedges) that give each performer a unique mix on stage. This can cause complications; you’re always going to get bleeding from other monitors and get a mix directly from the sound engineer.
In-ear monitors (or IEMs) allow a more customizable mix that you can control yourself in some cases, plus excellent isolation.
So if you want to improve your live or studio experience, look no further!
What Are The Best In-Ear Monitors?
There are several factors to consider when investing in IEMs. Cost is a big one, but also how often you might use them.
For example, if you’re only playing a couple of gigs a year, then you might want a cheap pair of IEMs to help enhance your mix on stage. If you’re a full-time touring musician, a molded customizable set may be the answer.
We chose the Shure SE846-CL in-ear monitors as the best premium option. They are a great all-around set of in-ears that will be quite costly but more than makeup for this in quality.
The Mackie MP220s are our choice for the best budget, as they pack a lot into a small package that won’t cost a fortune.
Sennheiser’s IE 100 Pros won ‘our pick’ for really hitting the spot when it comes to cost versus quality. If you’re looking for some top-end, molded in-ears, then we’ve recommended Ultimate Ears.
- Shure SE846-CL (Best Premium)
- Mackie MP-220 (Best Budget)
- Sennheiser IE 100 Pro (Our Pick)
- Ultimate Ears (Best Moulded IEMs)
- Dunu Studio SA6
- Audio Technica ATH-E70
1. Shure SE846-CL (Best Premium)
The Shure SE846 sound-isolating quad-driver earphones feature a state-of-the-art design with four balanced-armature high-definition MicroDrivers.
- Superb sound quality with quadruple high-res drivers
- Extremely precise sound reproduction
- Considered the best audiophile-grade earbuds
Shure is pretty much a household name for producers, musicians, and studio engineers, so it’s no surprise to see these first on our list here.
The SE846-CL IEMs are some of the best on the market, and this is obvious when you listen to them.
Shure has spent time, and likely a lot of money, on product development and creating a set of IEMs that sound incredible.
- 4 Custom-Engineered Drivers
- Low Pass Filter Design For Excellent Low End
- Blocks Up To 37dB Of Noise
One of the first things you’ll be impressed with is the accessories you get with the SE846-CLs.
The set includes earphones, a 3.5mm cable, ¼’’ adapter, a carry case, and a range of foam sleeves to fit any ear size. More importantly, the sound of these things is great.
You can select from extended, balanced, warm, or bright audio with the included nozzles meaning however you like your mix to sound, you’re going to find something that works for you.
It’s clear that Shure has paid attention to the little details, and their unique four-driver design gives you the top-end clarity you really need with all the power of low-end that can sometimes feel lost when listening on earphones.
Equally as important is comfort, and you’ll find these are a snug fit but without becoming annoying. In terms of durability, these should see you through even the longest stage set.
Of course, they do come with a fairly hefty price tag, particularly with the 2nd generation of SE846-CL IEMs.
That said, if you’re a frequent gigger or touring musician (or even do a lot of studio work), then these are a great investment.
- Excellent Frequency Response
- Comfortable and Durable
2. Mackie MP-220 (Best Budget)
The Mackie MP-220 In-ear Monitors deliver impressive clarity when you’re onstage and feature an over-the-ear design and molded housing to make extended listening sessions incredibly comfortable. The dual-driver configuration provides a clear signal with a boosted bass response.
- In-ear design for comfortable fit
- Precision-tuned dynamic drivers
- Includes Bluetooth adapter
Thankfully investing in a great set of IEMs isn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be, and Mackie’s MP-220s are designed to bring the cost of these down into the budget range.
This does mean the sacrifice of some features. Where some IEMs will use fancy technology, Mackie has opted for the ‘snug fit’ approach to sound isolation rather than hike the cost up by adding extras.
Overall these are designed to allow anyone on a tighter budget (or perhaps anyone gigging or recording infrequently) to get a great mix.
- Up To 40dB Of Sound Isolation
- Dual Precision Dynamic Drivers
- Small Medium and Large Ear Tips
- Available With Bluetooth Adapter
Considering we’re talking about ‘budget’ IEMs here, the MP-220s do have the look of a more premium product right out of the box. Included are a case and gold plated ¼’’ adapter.
The three available ear tips should fit any ear size, although they may be a snug fit for smaller ears.
However, the over-ear design makes them feel sturdy and locked in place, which is great if you’re a particularly dynamic performer who doesn’t want them to fall out!
Naturally, the sound response isn’t quite as good as some of the more expensive IEMs, but this is to be expected.
When really pushing the earphones, the bass end of things can become a little unruly, but really, for the price you pay, you are getting a great-sounding set of IEMs.
- Ergonomic Design
- Low End Can Be Overpowering When Pushed
3. Sennheiser IE 100 Pro (Our Pick)
Loaded with state-of-the-art dynamic broadband transducers, these IEMs yield ultra-precise, dissonance-free audio reproduction — even with the levels cranked.
- Around-the-ear design
- Dynamic 10mm broadband transducer
- Warm sound, yet powerful and rich in detail
Sennheiser is another giant in the pro audio world, so it’s no surprise to see a great set of IEMs on the market from them.
The IE 100 Pro in-ear monitors are a solid choice for anyone looking to get into IEMs, particularly those in live music, as they are specifically designed for loud environments.
Equally, comfort is a factor considered there, with ‘small but mighty’ being the IE 100 Pro’s mantra.
- Dynamic 10mm broadband transducer
- Heightened Shielding
- Patent Pending Internal Cable Duct Design
- Distortion Free Sound Reproduction
Providing an affordable solution to the need for IEMS, the IE 100 Pros pack a lot for what could be called the budget end of the market.
These earphones have been designed with loudness in mind, both in terms of reproduction and those performing or jamming in really loud environments.
These in-ears are also designed for listening to music on the go and not just a mix of your own music or click track.
That said, the response is fairly flat, so if it’s purely listening you want to purchase these for, you might find a better solution elsewhere, but for a stage or studio mix, then you really can’t fault much with these.
There are occasions where the top and low end don’t perform amazingly well, but we’re looking at a set of IEMs that are relatively cheap, and so this is to be expected.
All in all, a great set of in-ear monitors that sound great and won’t require a bank loan to buy!
- Perform Well In Loud Environments
- Not the best option if you’re just listening to music
- A little degradation in tops and lows in loud situations
4. Ultimate Ears
With a three-way crossover for unparalleled clarity and dual low-frequency drivers for extra bass reinforcement, UE 11 Pro gives you the best of both worlds.
We will jump right to the pro end of the market now with Ultimate Ears.
You’re actually getting several options in one here as Ultimate Ears design a range of IEMs for various applications, whether you’re a musician, producer, or singer.
Their in-ear monitors are also custom molded to the shape of your ear for added comfort and isolation, with several price points depending on your intended use.
- Custom Moulded Designs
- Several Options For Frequency Response, Dynamics, and Transparency
- -26dB Isolation Across All Models
- Customizable Design
Ultimate Ears are definitely a brand designed for touring musicians and anyone regularly finding themselves in the studios.
Of course, this means a fairly big outlay initially, but what you get for your cash is a top-tier set of IEMs that give you almost endless customization possibilities.
The big selling point of Ultimate Ears versus many others on our list is the customizable ear mold option which helps both comfort and the overall sound.
You can choose from 2 to 5-way crossover options and 2-8 drivers, and you’ll also get many features like phase-aligned driver housing.
Ultimate Ears are definitely at the premium end of the market. Hence, these are most suited to touring artists or anyone using IEMs for long sessions that require the ability to remain comfortable but also have a great-sounding mix.
If you’re just starting out with in-ear monitors or just wanting to experiment, then these may not be the right fit; however, if you’re going to be getting regular use out of them onstage or in the studio, then these will be a worthwhile investment.
- Fully Customisable
- Various Designs To Choose From
- Incredible Sound Response
- Can Be Confusing To Purchase If You Aren’t Sure What You Need
5. Dunu Studio SA6
Dunu has equipped the SA6 with a premium six-balanced armature driver setup on each side. The pair has an impeccable sonic performance, it is fun, it is detailed, it is enjoyable, it pairs well with your sources, and it makes your music come to life.
I will get straight in there and say that the Dunu Studio SA6 IEMs look incredible (we’ll get onto the sound in a moment!). Of course, we all want to look good onstage, and these in-ears certainly have a unique design with a hand-poured resin, stabilized wood faceplate.
But apart from just being a pretty face, the SA6s are a great choice of IEMs, offering quality sound with some customizable features.
- 3 Way Crossover
- 6 Balanced Armature Drivers
- 11 Pairs Of Silicone Tips
- Carry Case
I’ve mentioned how great these IEMs look, and thankfully they don’t disappoint in performance either. These in-ears come with several tips to fit any ear size, meaning they sit comfortably and snugly into your ear.
One of the unique aspects of these monitors is the two separate tuning modes. With these, you get the option of ‘Default Signature’ and ‘Atmospheric Immersion.’ The latter means the IEMs bump up the warmth of the Default Signature.
This sounds great, but you may be expecting a dramatic difference. The change is small but noticeable.
However, keep in mind your ears might need to be tuned particularly well to really feel the benefit of switching over. Still, it’s a nice little feature to customize your experience further.
The frequency response is generally excellent, although some users have reported lacking the low end. I found no issue with this, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you enjoy a particularly bass-heavy mix.
- Aesthetically Pleasing
- Customisable Tuning
- Great All Round Frequency Response
- May Lack In Bass Depending On Personal Taste
6. Audio Technica ATH-E70
Audio-Technica ATH-E70 in-ear monitor headphones deliver incredibly accurate, high-resolution response across the entire frequency spectrum, thanks to a trio of balanced armature drivers.
- Three balanced armature drivers
- Flexible memory cables
- Designed for maximum isolation
These IEMs from Audio Technica are slightly veering towards the pricier end of the scale but have been designed to be lightweight, durable, and comfortable.
They use a unique A2DC connector on their IEMs (which they have done since 2015) which creates a better connection and reduces connector rotation. The in-ears come with a flexi cable and silicon and foam tips.
- 3 Balanced Armature Drivers
- Carry Case
- ¼’’ Adapter
- Lightweight (9g)
Out of the box, the IEMs don’t look particularly special, although the clear panel housing is a nice little touch that sets them apart from similar earphones.
One of the plus points is their lightweight memory cable, which allows you to get them in position (and keep them there!) without too much of a fuss.
Listening-wise, they do a great job of isolation, although it might take a few seconds to get them into your ears snugly and hit the sweet spot. Frequency-wise, the response is nice and flat, with plenty of clarity.
- Lightweight and Comfortable
- Flexible Memory Cable
- Clarity and Punch
- On The Pricey Side
How Are In-Ear Monitors Different From Earbuds?
In-ear monitors are a completely different product from earbuds such as AirPods. The reason is ‘consumer’ earbuds usually have some coloration added to enhance the music-listening experience.
Whereas in-ear monitors usually have a much flatter frequency response, which is great for monitoring instruments and vocals.
They are usually designed for pro audio applications, whereas earbuds are purely for listening to music. That said there are some great ‘buds if you do want to use them for music production which you can check out here.
IEMs will offer more in terms of isolation. This is because they are designed to give you a personal mix without as little bleed from other instruments as possible.
While isolation will be considered with consumer earbuds, there won’t be as much design put into blocking out external sounds.
Check out the 7 Loudest Wireless Earbuds (That Money Can Buy)!
Are IEMs Better Than Stage Monitors?
There isn’t really a set answer to this, as it’s mostly down to preference!
That said, most pro musicians can be seen wearing IEMs as it offers a more personal mix than that you can get from a stage monitor.
For many artists playing on bigger arena-size stages, it can be difficult only listening via a stage monitor due to the sheer size of the stage and venue (particularly if they like to move around a lot).
Some performers would argue that IEMs isolate you from the other musicians too much. Some simply prefer to hear and feel the power of a loud stage monitor in front of them.
In some cases, IEMs are a necessity. For example, if a drummer is playing to a click track, then sending this through the stage monitors could result in the audience hearing the click, which would really ruin the magic!
Check out the 7 Best In-Ear Monitors For Live Performers & Gigs!
Do I Need Moulded In-Ear Monitors?
You need to consider how much you are willing to invest in your IEMs. A molded option will really bump the price up.
If you’re a casual musician playing a few times a year, then this probably isn’t a sound investment to make.
However, if you are a regular on the live or studio circuit, then a molded set off a much more comfortable fit and better isolation generally than a non-molded pair.
This is because they are designed to fit the exact shape of your ear and therefore close out any small gaps that could be left with a generic set of IEMs.
A molded pair is by no means a necessity, and you can get a great set of IEMs without spending a fortune, but it’s worth considering the benefits of a molded pair if you are a frequent user.
Interested in buying a molded pair? Check out our guide to the 5 Best Custom In-Ear Monitors!