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Home > Main > In-Ear Monitoring for A Cappella Singers

In-Ear Monitoring for A Cappella Singers

Tjidde LuhrsHearing yourself and others in the best way possible is a must for an a cappella band. But what can you do to garantuee that? One of the solutions is: In-ear monitoring (IEM).

Tjidde Luhrs is one of 4 singers with the Dutch a cappella band iNtrmzzo and one of the owners of InEar Systems, a company specialized in in- ear monitoring. Those guys serve a wide range of artists with custom- made in-ear systems as well as transmitters and receivers.

Tjidde is also very active in social networks and in one of our Twitter dialogues I learned about his IEM expertise. Three years ago, writing a corporate event concept for a bank’s anniversary, I realized that using IEM can really make a difference: After 44 years of traditional stage monitoring the Swingle Singers did their first gig using IEM – and were able to appear at several different and surprising places in the concert hall. Thanks to the complete flexibility of the artists – we were able to present an exceptional show.

So much for the anecdotes – enter Tjidde Luhrs:

Nowadays we have extremely complicated in-ear systems; custom-molded earpieces with two, three or even five speakers in each (to handle the mids, highs, and lows separately) are becoming the standard. Many in-ear monitors are incorporating ambient systems into their earpieces to reduce the learning curve on in-ears.

IEM has several advantages, the greatest being hearing conservation. Cutting yourself off from loud stage wedges is a great idea, as you can control your volume and mix very easily, just as you please.

The disadvantages are, surprisingly, similar to wedge monitoring: sometimes listeners push the in-ears louder than they should, forgetting that by doing so they can hit the same sound pressure levels as wedge monitors. In addition, a lot of artists can’t get used to the isolation, which can be combated by using ambient microphones on stage.

One of the reasons for iNtrmzzo to choose for an IEM system was that they simply don’t use any stage space. The racks with receivers/transmitter is at the technician’s booth and the stage is free of any equipment.

Another big advantage is that we use the entire stage during our show. With IEM we can go wherever we want without losing the monitor.

The direct sound on the IEM makes you pitch better and gives you the possibility to pay more attention to musical dynamics. For bands, like iNtrmzzo, who use a beatboxer it’s really a big plus! Each member creates his or her own mix on the mixing desk and that way everybody has one’s own “personal monitor”. Hard to accomplish when using wedges. Anyway: It helped iNtrmzzo a lot in several ways.

For more information: or via

What’s your opinion on in-ear monitoring? Do you have experience – good or bad – with IEM? What’s the difference between different kinds of IEM? Let the community know about what you think about the topic.

  1. 28. September 2010, 02:10 | #1

    It’s an interesting question. We use very low stage foldback levels, that seems to get us the best ability to tune. We’ve used in ear monitors only once – and the effect was vastly different for each of us. Our countertenor Een reckons he sang the best show of his life, but I couldn’t deal with it and ended up pulling them out during the first couple of songs. I think for me I like to feel the resonance of what I’m singing against the other guys as much as hear it – and plugging up my ears takes a lot of that sense of how the air is vibrating away from me.

    The one gig we used them on was a high pressure foreign TV appearance, and not a comfortable environment for experimenting in my books. So I’d like a chance to explore in ear monitoring in a more relaxed situation. My only other issue with it is that it’s very expensive and opens up more possibilities for radio frequency interference issues.

  2. 28. September 2010, 20:25 | #2

    There are a few points I’d like to address. First, performing with in-ear monitors without rehearsing with them first is a bad idea. One needs to learn how to use them just as much as one needs to learn how to use microphones, or stage monitors, or teleprompters, for that matter. There is a discovery process and one must try things out and adjust in some ways that may not be obvious or intuitive. If you’re in a group, you may want to discuss and share your personal discoveries, getting the benefit of everyone’s ideas and making the adjustment process quicker and easier.

    Second, there are two components to IEMs. First is that you’re plugging your ears with something you’re probably not used to. Second is the wireless component. Those are separate concerns and bring up different challenges. The wireless interference has nothing to do with the quality of the IEMs themselves. It’s the transmiters and receivers that must be working well. If your battery pack is not fully powered or if there is electromagnetic interference, the wireless reception may be undependable. Don’t blame the monitors in your ears. Blame the wireless pack on your belt (or the one on the rack somewhere in the auditorium, or perhaps the police radios that are driving by the venue).

    Now, what about the quality of the IEMs themselves? We’ve all had the experience of listening to music on different sets of headphones. Some sound better than others. Some sound truer than others. Some are more comfortable than others. All of these will be true about IEMs, as well. I did research a few years ago and could find no single source for good cross-vendor comparisons of IEMs. I happened to get some Shure middle-of-the-road single-driver monitors (because the group was getting them as a package deal), and they were pretty good. Not great, but good. Bass response was especially lacking, which was bad news for me as the bass vocalist. Keeping the physical sub-woofer in the stage setup helped a lot, though. However, the decision to get those was based more on the brand and the price range than on any technical details or independent evaluations. I’d like to see someone get some really good specs on all of the top lines and put them together in a good spreadsheet or table.

    Now I’ll get to the main point for you all to consider. If you’re placing foam or rubber “general use” sleeves into your ears, you’re losing a LOT of the value of IEMs, in my experience. Whatever you do, whatever you purchase, make certain that it includes a customized in-ear silicone sleeve. That means you have to have someone (an audiologist or ear professional) to squirt some special gel into your ears and custom-fabricate a sleeve for the IEMs. Yes, that is an extra cost, but trust me, it’s a huge added value, no matter what IEMs you’re getting. If they don’t have that capability, move on and keep shopping! And make sure it’s silicone. Hard plastic is not as good. Silicone is more comfortable and more durable. And it doesn’t change its composition or feel, even after years of sweaty use.

    My Shure IEMs were only so-so when using the rubber or foam inserts. About on par with Apple ear-buds (which suck, so don’t even consider using those on stage). But with the customized silicone sleeves the Shure monitors were my tool of choice for listening to music unless I was in a recording studio. They even work great on an airplane, since the sleeves cut out all outside noise (I didn’t have the ambiant feedback feature, as mentioned in the article above). I compared them with some Bose noise-cancel headphones on a noisy plane flight and the effect was almost exactly the same, except that my IEMs didn’t require any internal batteries and they were much more comfortable. Once you get used to having something IN your ears, the silicone allows you to avoid the overheating of over-the-ear headphones, and they’re a lot more compact to carry.

    Unfortunately, mine were stolen (along with some prescription glasses – neither of which would be of any use to ANYONE else!). So now I’m actually shopping for replacements, myself. Anyone have that independent specs / comparison chart I was suggesting?


  3. 29. September 2010, 08:54 | #3

    The biggest problem with inears for singers is Ambience. You’re totally shut off to the outher world and you cant hear the audience responding to what you do. The solution could be Ambient Microphones. Those mics will pick up the audience responding and you’ll be able to hear a much more open sound on your inears. Many solutions for that problem, bu t I do understand that the pricing of that is not always possible for some bands. Using one ear might be an option. In that case you might wanna think about a universal driver system wich fits in any ear wit a foam/rubber tip. My experience is that the foam tips will be longer in place and are more comfortable. The universal systems I prefer are those from Westone UM2 or even UM3x.
    Lets not forget that the Westone company invented the inear systems ! ;-) Well, to both repliers Stephen and Loz I can say: if you have any questions or need some advice: Mail me at


  4. Joakim
    30. September 2010, 16:27 | #4

    Going for a Sennheiser or Shure system would of course be great, but what about budget alternatives? Would your avarage amatuer group just starting out benefit from using something like this (a system for about 400 bucks) or are they better of using stage monitors?

  5. 30. September 2010, 19:49 | #5

    We at Inear Systems have a set from Karsekt wich is really great ! We test all the sets ourselves.
    If you want some more about it info sent me an email at

  6. 30. September 2010, 23:01 | #7

    By the way: Isn’t it amazing that this little discussion was (is being) joined by participants from Australia, the USA, The Netherlands and Sweden? #global #acappella

    Let’s spread the word and get more comments from singers all around the world.


  7. 18. Oktober 2010, 20:04 | #8

    I don’t buy this at all. My belief is that these systems create lazy ears, and lazy listening skills.
    Some of the best possible examples of Live listening and blending while singing can be seen and heard in the early smart groups from the ’50s & 60′s: The Hi-Lo’s, Jud Conlon’s Rhythmaires, The Randy van Horne Singers, The Skylarks, The Notables, etc. A “perfect blend” is boring. What translates and ultimately touches the listener is a united spirit. Take those things out of your ears and SING!

  8. Joakim Skog
    21. Oktober 2010, 15:30 | #9

    @Lincoln Briney
    I can see what you mean, but still; I’ve encountered stages in halls which made in practically impossible to hear either monitors or the singers directly on stage. It was a horrible gig, but if had had inears, we would have heard each other, and things would have been so much easier. Having closed inears is not my top choice. I rather go with one plug in one ear, and have the other ear “free”. I don’t loose contact with the surrounding world, but I also keep an ear on what the other guys are doing, no matter where I am on stage.

  9. 21. Oktober 2010, 17:31 | #10

    @Joakim and Lincoln

    Agree !! There are several options for not losing your environment. One plug, ambient monitoring in the hall. Everybody has its own taste of monitoring.
    Some might stick to wedges, some won’t. Personally I like inears the most and not just because its part of my dayjob. ;-) Besides the monitoring it also gives me some protection to loud noise wich might come from floorwedge monitoring. And yes, the big reason why we bought them is indeed to lose the problem in halls wich we were unable to hear with floor wedges.

    And hey: at the end we are all singing !! With or without inears.

    What kind do you use Joakim ?

  10. 23. Oktober 2010, 09:22 | #11

    I hope I’m not too late in on this discussion! Can you give me advice as to what kind of price range should be expected for a good-quality in-ear monitor system for a group that has never used such? Is there any way to “try it out” without just leaping off the deep end of huge purchase-land? This is is something I would be very interested in getting, eventually, and I’d like to know also how much is this likely to cost per singer? It may be a few years, but I’d like to know how much to save…also, does anyone ever sell these used, maybe? Any advice appreciated, thank you!

  11. 23. Oktober 2010, 10:28 | #12

    I’ll get back to you a.s.a.p. on that one, ok?
    There are some real good sounding sets for not that much money.

    You’ll hear from me !


  12. Joakim
    25. Oktober 2010, 15:26 | #13

    When we rent, we most often get Shure or Sennheiser system. I have never experience radio problems, but the really important part is the ear plugs which has to fit perfectly to work, and when you rent stuff as we do, you seldom get any choice – you get what’s in the box.

    Some time ago we used to rehearse with in-ears (using the Real Groups old stage system) and I tend to get the best results with pretty cheap consumer earplugs, with “muffs” (what ever the soft fabric you put on them is called) that made them stay in. I like that kind better than closed earplugs.

    (@Tjidde. I’ve also emailed you regarding the Karsect systems)

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