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Accessories In Ear Monitors And One Player's Experience With Them

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Messages
3,563
Locality
Citizen of Nowhere
After being asked about using IEM in the other thread about what you wish you'd known years ago, I thought some may find my experiences with them up to now interesting.

If you're in a jazz quarter, playing clubs and bars, then this is probably of no interest at all. If, however, you're in a situation where you're playing with amplified instruments and/or you're going through a PA then you may want to read on.

Those of you who've been here a while will probably remember that I used to post lots of threads about dealing with volume on stage, in the rehearsal room, and ringing ears. Lots of people graciously offered advice - can you ask the band to turn down (has that ever worked for more than two songs? ;) ), learn to play louder, get a high-baffled mouthpiece, use ear plugs.

In the short-term these all work to varying degrees but the truth is that they're all compromises. Changing your set-up means changing the way you play and how you sound. It's not a problem if you love big baffles and putting lots of air through you horn anyway, but for everyone else... Yes, knowing how to get more volume out of your instrument is definitely a good thing; that doesn't mean you should have to do it. The first proper band I joined after starting to play the sax was a two-guitar rock group, and there was a certain amount of masochistic pleasure from playing a 1927 alto with a Meyer 5 mouthpiece at a volume that could be heard over the two guitars. Just because you can, however, doesn't mean you have to.

Even if your fellow bandmates aren't stone deaf, meaning you don't need any amplification in the rehearsal room, that doesn't mean you won't need it on stage. If there's a PA then the minimum volume it will be run at is loud enough for the acoustic drums to sit with the other instruments. Not a big issue generally speaking at a jazz gig as jazz drummers spend most of their time tickling the skins (sorry, but you know it's true ;)). Any type of pop/rock/R&B gig, on the other hand. Even if the drummer doesn't want to be John Bonham they will still be pretty loud - a volume the PA has to balance. If you're playing a small place then you're going to get a lot of reflection, meaning the volume behind the PA won't be far off the volume in front of it. If it's a larger venue then the PA will be bigger,possibly much bigger, therefore louder. You'll still get reflections, too. You need to be amplified and you need to be able to hear yourself.

In the old days (from around the late 60s) everyone used wedges. They were a great solution that worked (plus they're great for 'rock star' poses :cool:) at a time when PAs were quite feeble so back-lines became increasingly loud. The problem is that every person on that stage will have a monitor - that's quite a lot of extraneous noise/volume, particularly when you have a sound engineer who thinks that when the singer asks for his monitor to be louder, the engineer turns his wedge up rather than everyone else's wedges down. Then the guitarist wants their monitor louder and you end up in a never ending spiral of rapidly increasing decibels.

In 1965 (unbelievably) Stephen Ambrose invented the first wireless IEM system. It wasn't until the late '90s that they became pretty ubiquitous with pro live bands and theatre shows. These days everyone from the biggest groups to the smallest pub bands are using them. When it comes to 'popular music' instruments, the only players that don't seem to have jumped onto the audio bandwagon are sax players. No idea why...

That's the basic history of monitors and the issues with having none or using wedges.

So, how do you hear yourself no matter where you're playing or how loud the band and/or PA are? In Ear Monitors. Yes, they can be expensive (but they don't have to be) and yes, you need a PA - but then, if there isn't a PA then as long as the rest of the band aren't going through Marshall stacks you're probably okay anyway.

The first thing you want to look for when choosing your first IEM is a system that has more than one frequency choice. I made that mistake with my wireless sax mic. Even if no one in your band at the moment uses them, once one person has them it doesn't take long before everyone's using them. You don't need to spend thousands on a system, but you probably don't want the most basic, single channel system, either. A little future-proofing goes a long way. Something like the LD Systems MEI1000G2 is a good place to start. It has multiple channels to choose from, XLR and jack inputs, stereo receiver and a decent range. I've never had issues regarding losing signal on stage. I've only played on stages up to around 40m x 20m, but it hasn't let me down yet.

With one of these systems you'll probably want to replace the ear buds that come with it. However, the standard ones are more than good enough to get the job done. If you fancy upgrading, you don't need to spend loads on buds, either. Something like Linsoul's KZ AS10 go for around £50 and will give you a sound on stage you never thought possible.

What was really a revelation for me was the combination of IEM and a digital mixing desk. Many venues and bands use these now and, boy, do they rock. Digital desks allow you to connect your phone or tablet to them so that you can bypass the sound engineer completely and create your own personal (and even stereo) monitor mix. Some desks have their own app (such as the ultra-common X32) while others use webpages. You, or the sound engineer, plugs your receiver into the desk (via an AUX Out) and you do the rest. You don't need a digi desk, though, to use IEM. Any desk with Aux Out will run your system, you just can't access it remotely. I can't begin to describe how good this set-up is. The difference it makes to your on-stage experience and ability to hear and play at your absolute best is astounding.

Of course, there are a few lessons to learn. You didn't think it was that easy, did you?

The first thing is getting the overall volume right. This probably sounds a little odd. If you've got a great mix then surely the overall volume isn't important? You'd think so, but...

Even if you've got your sax nice and high in the mix, if the overall volume in your ears is loud then you may very well find that you blow hard/over blow anyway. It's a strange, natural reaction. Your body hears high volume and reacts accordingly. It can be even worse if you've set the sax volume at a level where you sit in the rest of the music. Annoyingly, you can also over-compensate if you're deafening yourself with sax and end up playing really quietly.

The same is true if the overall volume is too low. You can find yourself playing really quietly or over-blowing trying to get the volume you think you should be playing at. Setting the mix and also the overall volume takes a little practice. Ear buds do an amazing job of keeping the stage and PA noise at bay, so you do have quite a large amount of volume options to play with. Just don't expect to find it on the very first try. If the band you play with are using their own desk then use the IEM at the band rehearsals where you can tweak and play to your heart's content.

The other thing that can take a little getting used to is feeling isolated from the band, crowd and general ambiance. Some sound engineers have an extra mic on stage to pick up the overall band and audience sound that you can then add to your IEM mix to give you a more natural 'feel'. Or, you can do what a lot of musicians do - only use one ear bud. That way you get a great mix and also hear the whole ambience of the music and audience. Personally, I just got used to the slightly unnatural feeling of isolation. It doesn't take long to get over that initial 'oddness' if you persist - generally, anyway. I think, given some of the vids I've posted, that it's pretty clear I'm now well and truly over that issue allowing me to completely immerse myself in the music. ;)

Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve to using IEM, but that's no different to learning to play with a band when you've only played to records at home. Or learning to play on stage when you've only ever played in the rehearsal room. Quite honestly, if you're thinking of IEM then you've already put a lot more effort in then you'll ever need to expend on playing with IEM. It's definitely better and easier than changing your whole set-up and then having to learn how to play it.
 
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ellinas

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,253
Locality
Athens, Greece
After having played with a loud RnR band for ages and having had an acoustic trauma ( permanent loss of a range of high frequencies ) I'm super careful about my hearing.
This includes not exposing my self to loud noise. I use ear plugs even in rehearsals when people use amps or PAs and like it louder.
I used to play with Aviom in ear plugs when they were "hype", small personal mixer and everything, but to be honest I'm always afraid that something might go wrong and a "boom" sound occurs and makes my condition worse.

Good news is that after all these years of being super careful, I have been able to play in any setting loud or quiet .. and whenever I use headphones or plugs of any type I'm super careful.

I'm "only" 42 and I have two precious ears.
Have fun and always be careful.
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Messages
3,563
Locality
Citizen of Nowhere
to be honest I'm always afraid that something might go wrong and a "boom" sound occurs and makes my condition worse.

As far as I know, all remotely decent IEM systems come with built-in limiters that you can turn on or off so that this doesn't happen.

Thankfully, I've not needed it up to now.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,794
Locality
Sweden
After having played with a loud RnR band for ages and having had an acoustic trauma ( permanent loss of a range of high frequencies ) I'm super careful about my hearing.
This includes not exposing my self to loud noise. I use ear plugs even in rehearsals when people use amps or PAs and like it louder.
I used to play with Aviom in ear plugs when they were "hype", small personal mixer and everything, but to be honest I'm always afraid that something might go wrong and a "boom" sound occurs and makes my condition worse.

Good news is that after all these years of being super careful, I have been able to play in any setting loud or quiet .. and whenever I use headphones or plugs of any type I'm super careful.

I'm "only" 42 and I have two precious ears.
Have fun and always be careful.
I can protect my ears but the result is often recurring ear infections. When I protect my ears I often get ear infection. Worse when it's electronic in the ear protection. So I just use headphones for a couple of minutes. To damage my ears with too high volume or ear protection is my dilemma. Headphones and IEM is double for me. "Closing" my ears and also increase both warmth/heat and high volume.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,794
Locality
Sweden
I recommend sax players that don't want to play too loud to be more active when it comes to "instrumentation", gear, good venue places, songlists ...... . Start your own band. Learn to be the leader. Don't play sax in a band that don't get you so much back. Of course, I can understand when you saxophone pays your bills. Bands that don't have their own style are often compensate with high volume. It's starts with a bad singer that have to crank to be heard, two Stratocaster's at high volume, an arena drum kite with many cymbals, add some horns to make the sound bigger and to fill out the big stage ....... . Learn how play with full volume without being loud.
 
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