- In the market for a pair of custom in-ear monitors?
- We round up 5 of the best brands who produce custom in-ear monitors.
- Learn the benefits of using custom IEMs onstage or in the studio.
- You may also want to check out our separate post on the best general in-ear monitors for live performance.
If you’re in a band or working as a sound engineer, you know how important it is to hear yourself onstage or at the venue during a live performance. With so many variables in sound systems, venue sizes, and musical styles, it can be hard to get the same results at every gig.
This is where ear monitors can come in handy. Thanks to their noise isolation, you’ll always be able to hear yourself and create your own mixes with better transparency.
What Are The Best Custom In-Ear Monitors?
The UltimateEars UE 11 Pro series has a three-way crossover and dual low-frequency drivers. It offers superb isolation and is a go-to choice for many performing artists.
The Inearz Audio FS250 series is affordable yet professional with various connection options.
The UltimateEars UE Live is great for performing musicians, with eight speakers and a frequency response from 5Hz to 40kHz.
If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve put together a list of the five best custom in-ear monitors for musicians and sound engineers.
- UltimateEars UE 11 Pro (Our Pick)
- Inearz Audio FS250 (Best Value)
- UltimateEars UE Live (Best Premium)
- Campfire Audio Equinox
- JH Audio JH11
1. UltimateEars UE 11 Pro (Our Pick)
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.
- 5-way crossover
- IPX connection
- Subsonic filter
UltimateEars has been at the top of the audio game for over 20 years when they first developed a custom IEM for Alex Van Halen. In 2008 they partnered with Logitech and have continued to make some of the best custom in-ear monitors for musicians. Their Pro series covers every type of musician, from drummers and bassists to guitarists and vocalists. Their Live series is primarily made for audio engineers and FOH mixers.
The UE 11 Pro is primarily intended for drummers but can be used by any musician or engineer who wants to be able to control what they hear and really feel the bass.
With a mid and low sonic filter, you’ll get a lot of clarity in the low and low-mid range. There’s also a high sonic filter, making for a balanced and accurate sound. All UltimateEARS IEMs block out 26 decibels of noise for a truly isolated listening experience.
As with any UltimateEars IEM, you can send in your own ear impression to shape it to your ear, and you can also customize your faceplates for some extra bling (or to differentiate your own IEMs from those of your bandmates).
Plus, the cable is waterproof and sweatproof, making it very durable for gigs and rehearsals. All UltimateEars IEMs connect with a 1/8″ headphone jack.
2. Inearz Audio FS250 (Best Value!)
Fusion SoftTM by InEarz Audio combines a soft silicone earmold with a hard acrylic strain relief face plate for the most comfortable in ear monitor in the world.
- Single tweeter and a dedicated woofer
- -26dB of isolation
- Customizable faceplate
Inearz Audio has a few different in-ear monitor systems, with the FS250 being the best cheap custom in-ear monitors out of their Fusion Soft series.
Not only can you customize the faceplates, but you can also choose from a variety of cables. The soft silicone makes them extremely comfortable and durable.
They have a single tweeter for high frequencies and two woofers for lows and mids.
With their affordable price, these in-ear monitors are great for beginner musicians and engineers, or for bands new to using in-ear monitor systems.
As with all InEarz Audio IEMs, the FS250 package includes a case, cable, carrying pouch, cord keeper, and cleaning tool.
3. UltimateEars UE Live (Best Premium!)
Eight precision-tuned drivers reproduce your music with maximum purity and power, while the tour-proof design guards against the rigors of the road.
- 5-way crossover
- 6mm neodymium sub
- 8 balanced drivers: two lows, two low mids, two high mids, a subsonic filter, and one mid-high
If you have more to spend, the UE Live series from UltimateEars is excellent for stage or studio use, with eight different drivers to give you the clearest sound, including a subsonic filter for super-low bass.
They use UltimateEars’ True Tone technology to clearly bring out harmonics and overtones in any environment, including stadiums and festivals. With frequency response up to 18KHz, you’ll hear things you can’t pick up on headphones.
These sound great, durable and easy to maintain, with an IPX cable rated waterproof and sweatproof for all the hardships of touring. The UltimateEars cable system allows you to easily swap out cables using a universal connector.
4. Campfire Audio Equinox
The Campfire Audio Equinox features a patent-pending solid body design custom engineered and optimized for you. Centered around their 10mm Full Range A.D.L.C. Diaphragm Dynamic Driver, Equinox is a reference tool for artists and audiophiles alike.
- 10mm full-range dynamic driver
- Less than 1% total harmonic distortion
- Stainless steel driver enclosure for ultimate durability
The Equinox is one of the best custom-molded in-ear monitors for under $2000. It comes in two different fits, the Artist fit and the Audiophile fit.
The Artist fit is slightly deeper and tighter to provide more isolation onstage, whereas the Audiophile fit is shallower and geared more towards comfort during long listening sessions.
In either case, you can choose from various cable styles depending on your needs.
These custom IEMs focus on midrange and vocals, which are sometimes neglected as many companies prioritize boosting bass.
5. JH Audio JH11
A touring staple since 2006. This quad-driver IEM provides a level of clarity and refinement far beyond most high-end earphones and is known for outstanding detail, tonal range, and stereo imaging.
- Freqphase Waveguide technology detects and corrects phase issues
- 4-driver configuration: Dual Low, Single Mid, Single High
- -26dB noise isolation
The JH11 from JH Audio is built for touring musicians who need something durable with clarity, especially in the low end, where things tend to get muddy.
Their FreqPhase Waveguide technology helps to prevent phase issues onstage by detecting and correcting them on the fly, so no matter where you’re playing, you’ll get the same audio experience.
They’re also sweatproof with their Acoustic Sound Chamber tubing system, so they don’t need to be cleaned as often, which is a huge plus if you’re on the road a lot. The JH11 package includes a bass adjustment tool and a wax removal tool.
What are the benefits of IEMs as a performer?
One of the biggest benefits of using IEMs onstage is that you don’t have to blast the monitor volume to hear yourself sing or play.
Another is that you can better dial in the relative volume of your bandmates.
Depending on what size venues you play and what genre(s) of music, this can be a huge plus despite the learning curve for working with IEMs and getting used to wearing them.
Can you use in ear monitors to mix?
When you use in ear monitors in the studio to mix, you can easily correct any phase issues or masking issues when EQing tracks.
Since you can dial in a precise custom mix based on any listening environment, you can be sure that your reverb and other time-based effects are placed exactly how you want them.
If you’re using custom IEMs in a live mix setting, you have greater control over your mixes. You’ll have less volume on stage so it’s easier to hear what you’re doing and to know that the musicians are hearing what they’re supposed to.
And since the audience won’t hear what you’re hearing, you can add a click track for a drummer without it coming through in the monitor mix.
Are in ear monitors stereo?
Most custom IEMs have a stereo mode, mono mode, and mix mode, or a similar configuration.
- In stereo mode, your mix is the same as the monitor mix.
- In mono mode, what you hear in the left and right channels is the same.
- In mix mode, you can control the levels of individual outputs to some degree; for example, bringing the vocals up in your mix.
Are IEMs better than earbuds?
This depends on your listening environment and preferences.
Earbuds can provide a certain “color” to sound which you might prefer, such as boosting the bass or enhancing the mids to make the music sound louder.
Earbuds also tend to be cheaper. However, even cheap custom in ear monitors can give you a much more accurate and nuanced picture of your sound.
Since it’s easier to hear everything you want to hear, it’s likely you won’t have to crank the volume as much on your music.
So if you’re an audiophile and prefer hi-fi listening or you just listen to music a lot, IEMs could be better for you.
Do I need custom-fitted in-ear monitors?
You don’t necessarily have to use custom IEMs based on your ear impression, but you might find them more comfortable and easier to use, since you’ll know for sure that you’re getting the most accurate sound quality and reproduction.
If you have small or large ears or lots of ear piercings, you might also prefer custom IEMs.
Additionally, if you’re using them for live performance and tend to sweat a lot onstage, they’ll likely work out better for you.
However, you don’t have to spend a lot and there are plenty of cheap custom in ear monitors out there if you’re on a budget.
How do I make an impression of my ear to be properly fitted for my custom in-ear monitors?
If you can’t afford to go to an audiologist every time you need to have your ear impressions made, some companies will send you a kit so you can do it yourself. It may still be worth getting your first set of impressions taken by a professional so you know what to expect, and then doing the next ones yourself.
If you’re unable to go to a professional though, you can still DIY. However, if you go this route, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- For one, you should make sure you don’t have any ear wax buildup or other issues with your ears before you proceed.
- Next, make sure you have enough material to make a second set of impressions if you make a mistake on the first ones. The kits generally give you enough for three sets, but it’s best to be sure.
- You might want someone else to help you place the oto blocks in your ears. These blocks will ensure that you get an accurate impression of your ear canal. Most kits include a two-part mixture in order to make the mold, although they might include enough pre-mixed material for one set.
- Once you’ve put the mixture in the syringe, put the syringe in your ear and push it down.
- Leave the mixture in for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the specific instructions in the kit. You’ll know you’ve gotten useable impressions when you put them in your ears and most sound is blocked out.
How do I set up IEMs for myself and my band?
You might want to set up your IEM rig with a digital mixer so you can control your own levels and know that you’re getting the same mix every time by saving your settings.
If you run each set of IEMs to a separate channel, you can apply whatever settings or effects you want, which is handy if the vocalist wants reverb and the bassist wants more low end.
You generally want to keep the IEM system within 10 to 30 feet of the stage.
You might want to set up additional overhead mics to capture some of the sound from the audience, since it can be a little strange to be so isolated from them while you’re onstage.
The first step is to split your output signal so that it goes to the front of house and to your monitor system and mixer. You’ll need a splitter unit for this. The venue might have one but it’s best to assume they don’t and get your own, so you can get the same results every time.
Once you’ve set up the splitter, connect the input of your wireless transmitter to the output of the monitor mixer. If you’re using wired IEMs, you’ll need a headphone amp to convert the signal coming from the monitor so you can hear it.
Make sure you have plenty of cable; don’t rely on just the length of the headphone cable and get a headphone extension cable so you have more flexibility with placement onstage.
If more than one person in the band is using IEMs, you’ll need to make sure everyone is set to a different wireless channel to avoid interference.
You might need additional trnasmitters for this depending on your setup. However, if everyone wants the same mix, you might be able to save yourself some money by getting a single transmitter.
While proper use of custom IEMs can help mitigate the risk of hearing loss by reducing onstage volume, improper use could potentially cause issues if any sort of abnormally loud signal comes through your mix suddenly, like if a cable shorts out or someone drops a mic.
It’s best practice to use a limiter or a compressor with a high ratio and hard knee setting.
In general, the key to successful IEM usage for any band or performer is consistency; the same cables and setup every time, including- if possible- the same mics, since otherwise you’ll have to tweak your levels slightly and you might not have the time to do that (never count on being able to get a full sound check!).
You don’t have to spend a lot to get good sound from your IEMs. This list is just a starting point, and there are many options out there for the best custom molded in ear monitors at a price which won’t break the bank.
Think of it as an investment not only in the sound of your band or quality of your work, but also in the preservation of your hearing and the advancement in your craft as an engineer or musician.
The better you’re able to hear what you’re mixing, playing, or singing without turning the monitors up to 11, the easier it will be to get the job done and not leave the venue with your ears ringing.