I'd like to revisit a topic that gets brought up every so often - In-ear monitors.  I've read the past conversations on this topic but it looks like it's been awhile since the last one.  I'm considering getting IEM's for our church but will probably need to do it in stages as our budget allows.  What would you all recommend as far as brand, price?  What would be some things I should watch out for as we make this transition? (assuming we do, I am not 100% sure yet.)

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Why are you heading in this direction? We're not convinced yet, but I want to keep my finger on this pulse.

We currently meet in a 50x40 room (wider than it is long), and we try to keep the volume at a comfortable level without being too soft.  The problem is we can pretty much mute the FOH speakers and not a whole lot changes with certain instruments/singers (apart from the obvious loss of clarity if there ever was any to begin with).  Others, like the drums (electric) and harmony singers aren't audible without the mains, so we have to keep those up but then we end up blasting people with sound to match the other instruments.  Putting the monitors at lower volumes results in the musicians not being able to hear themselves.  (Really, they're not loud at all!)  We have 3 floor monitors (Yamaha MSR100's, powered speakers) that weren't my first choice but it was the right decision at the time. As it is, we have piano, bass, drums, 2 guitars, and 4 singers (2 of which play instruments).  The monitors are shared, but there aren't enough to go around even at that because it seems like the monitors work like SM58's; only whatever is right in front of it will hear what it's putting out (nothing if you stand too much to the side).  I am afraid if we add another floor monitor, it will only make it worse.  We'd like to have more clarity in the room. 

 

I know there's this thing called post fade monitoring, but I'd rather deal with the sound issues than spending hours adjusting the levels and potentially fomenting a war between the musicians and sound engineer.  Ok so that's quite exaggerated, but I do prefer pre-fade mode.  (I once heard an old preacher say:  "Turn it up and leave it up or I'll break your fingers!") 

 

So getting back on topic, I have tried placing the monitors so that the sound won't bounce off the back wall so much, but that still doesn't solve the sharing issue.  So we are considering getting our lead singer an in-ear monitor and over time adding people into the in-ear world. I don't want to be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire either; so that's why I am asking for advice. 

Just to clarify - You are running your monitors prefade, so the fader has no effect on monitor volume? This is the usual way of doing it.

 

 

 

 

Well, I think you can do it without in-ear monitors, but it certainly would be easier.

But I must say, you have way too much gear for a room that small. You can get away with much much less and have more of an organic experience. Lid the piano and tame the drums and you have a good start. I'd start by turning it all off - all of it. Then start with your non-amplified instruments and build around them and see what you have. That's what I would do anyhow.
Agreed on the vocalists. Unfortunately, for Carl, it seems like two of the players are also vocalists. But it's not so bad. My only point here is that with a room that small, I think Carl can get good "monitor" to his team by reducing the amount of stuff he's pumping up there. With a room that small, it's easy to get into the escalating stage volume dilemma. Monitors are only there to help, house sound is only there to reinforce. Start with nothing and see what you need to add rather that starting with everything. It's like throwing bandwidth at an IP network when you really only need better management.
We got some IEMs on the cheap.  We use them for electric guitar players, electric piano, and sometimes cello and drummer.  We have a larger room-about 500 people.  There are definitely benefits... the monitors can be turned down, the musicians can hear themselves well.  The biggest issue is that it is another issue altogether!  More stuff to deal with.  I'm with the guys on this one for a small place, although I certainly do not know all the particulars.

I have used wedges in many situations (my praise team uses wedges) and In-Ears in many others.. Each has its benefit.

 

It would not be wise to put our 4 singers on In-ears, since they all tend to stand next to each other, and are not 'band' singers, they all listen to each other (or should) as they know how to from singing in the choir...In this case, a wedge or two (depending on high frequency horn dispersion) is really the best option. The hard part is making sure the singers can 'listen' for themselves... most times they cannot (youth or adult, trained singer or otherwise) and ask for more of themselves in the monitor... when this occurs, a level war may start. FOr sound people, specifically when volume is an issue,' reductive mixing' is probably the best option. When the singers ask for more piano in their monitor it may be best to reduce the vocal levels just a bit instead of adding more volume... 

 

Instrumentalists like the drummer, bass player,  guitar players, etc... currently have their own wedges/mixes. I feel that the instrumentalists could do with IEMs, since we have a lot of bounce from the back walls. We do have a pretty decent sized sanctuary, but the platform is all finished wood (ohhhh, bouncy!), which causes some issues on its own.. 

 

I found that as a singer, I don't like to have a really loud monitor, but I like to be able to sing instead of having to scream just to hear myself... IEM's have helped my vocals in a big way in my classic rock band. It has also reduced our stage volume by a lot. Both the drummer and I are on IEMs, That puts just two wedges on the front of the stage (each corner, facing in, they are not LOUD, but I can usually get by with just them if my battery dies in my IEM pack..) so it really helps!

 

One thing to consider (besides cost) is that unless each person/stage position has its own mix, people are not going to be happy sharing a mix with IEMs. Since the sound is going directly into the ears, they will only 'need' what they really 'want' and nothing more. If you control your own mixes, it won't be an issue....

 

That said, I love my IEM's and really don't like using wedges anymore. I have even considered wiring them into the rig on Sunday mornings ( but the 20 minute turnaround time between services doesn't allow for much 'extra'. will have to do it on a Thursday at rehearsal, I guess..)

 

If volume really is an issue, then it should not be too hard to convince folks that it is worth the investment. I don;t think there is much more that you could do (you mentioned that the drums are electronic already, so that is usually my first suggestion...). What kind of material is on the back wall? is it possible to add some sound-dampening material like big stage drapes? That might help a bit..

Thanks to all of you for your advice - sorry I can't respond to each of you but I will try to address everything you brought up.  I think it's easy for musicians who haven't crossed over to see IEM's as the promised land where it will fix everything; I know there are downsides to them other than just cost.  I am not sold that they will be better overall because I know that you end up being isolated from the room when you use them, and it can be difficult to get the right mix for each person.  It was suggested to me that I research and pray about it.  Greg, thanks for the reminder about priorities, it does put things into perspective.

Ironically, part of the reason we are in this mess is because we wanted more control over volume so the only acoustic instrument is one of the guitars.  The bass is on it's own amp and not plugged into the system (Our FOH speakers (powered Mackie SRM450's) can't handle a bass...at some point we will be replacing them with large passive speakers and separate amps), but the piano, 1 guitar, and drums are electric.  Combine that with the fact that we are spread out the width of the room in one long line, makes it difficult to see and hear (and limits our placement of monitors).  Fortunately for us, we play well as an ensemble and don't have issues with staying together for the most part.  Considering that we are renting this place and are bursting at the seams, I'd rather not use any sort of wall treatment unless I know we will be here for a longer period of time, although I recognize it certainly would help. We will be doing everything we can do to avoid any unnecessary costs. 

So to sum up - I certainly don't want to be using this as just an excuse to move to in-ear monitors.  In fact, I think I am the one that is most hesitant about switching to them.  Because I have only had limited use of in-ear monitors and certainly never bought them, I don't know what the difference is between a $600 set and an a $1300 set, apart from brand name.  So I wanted to see what would be involved should we go that route.

Hi Carl,

 

We're a mid-sized Anglican church (250 people at largest service) meeting in a 100+ year old building that was designed for organ and choir, not for drums/electric etc. We've had problems with stage noise in the past and have recently moved in stages to in-ears, our experience may be of use to you: 

- originally our setup was 6 or 7 Nexo PS8 wedges running off 6 monitor auxes, plus bass and guitar amps on stage. That meant everyone had their own monitor which was great, but the resultant noise was pretty extreme. We had a drum shield and some acoustic panels behind the kit, but if we had one of our louder drummers on rota at the same time as one of our more enthusiastic electric players, we ended up like you putting stuff in FOH only for clarity rather than because it was necessary. From the sound desk we measured about 83-85 dB just from the stage, adding FOH took it to about 88-90 which was as loud as we wanted to go, but that was basically making vocals and keys audible above a mush of reverberant spill from monitors. 

- so we started adding in-ears in stages - first the drummers went to headphones, they protested until we got some Beyerdynamic DT 770M's, which are brilliant - the end result is that they can hear themselves perfectly and keep the volume lower than they would without cans because they're so good at isolating sound. 

- then we bought a couple of little mini-mixers (ahem, Behringer... sorry) for keys player and BVs, and fed their monitor send into those desks instead of into wedges. We bought a few sets of Ultimate Ear 700s for about £130 each, they're not amazing and I'd recommend something a bit higher spec if you want better sound quality, but they're easy to wear and do the job sufficiently well. Keys and BVs had always been the people who'd struggled to hear themselves against the wall of noise so they really appreciated it. 

- we got a lid for the drums, then a carpenter in our church got inspired and turned the lid and the acoustic panels into a complete drum box (complete with proper door to get in and out!), then added headphones for bass / electric (putting the electric amp in a room out the back and running long cables to it) and then for the WL. We didn't have the money to go wireless for everyone, and radio frequencies in the UK are about to get messed up anyway with a big sell off to mobile phone companies, so for the guitarists including WL we did a bit of a bodge in running the monitor feed to more mini mixers (they're not mixing anything as such, just serving as a volume control and headphone amp), then running a headphone extension cable that gets taped to the guitar strap. Earphone cable runs down your back, when you need to take the guitar off, you just unplug from the extension cable and you're free - I figured there's not much point paying for me to be wireless when I'm playing an acoustic guitar that isn't wireless either! 

 

That's it - I'm sure someone will point out the lack of headphone limiters on the system (true, but we're careful and it hasn't been a problem) and at about £1300 for several mini-mixers, 6 pairs UE 700s + 2 pairs Beyerdynamic DT 770s it's a fraction of what you'd pay for wireless, and it works. Advantages:

- stage noise massively reduced by 15-20dB. It now sounds a lot better, and if we want can be run quieter than before - drums are fat and crisp where they were previously mushy and too loud, vocals are clear etc 

- we can use click tracks easily which have revealed to us how much we previously sped up! 

- in-ears do add clarity to your listening - we can now hear everyone else clearly. 

Disadvantages:

- it's taken a bit of getting used to (obviously) - BVs love them, electric players... not so much. But they appreciate the massive difference it's making out front

- it can feel isolated from the congregation - but to be honest previous stage noise was so loud it was difficult to hear them anyway. We've added an ambient mic to help with that. 

 

There you go - apologies for essay but it sounds like we've just gone through the journey you're contemplating so thought I'd describe in detail - hope it helps! :) 

 

God bless

I want to cast a vote for In-Ear Monitors for another reason.  After several years of long services and rehearsals at 80-90-100 dB (not my idea, but the way the guitars and drum played anyway), I have a new job at a high school.  I have gotten in serious job trouble because I cannot distinguish the director's instructions from the high-pitched racket the girls make; I have lost a good deal of high-frequency discernment, the director's suspicion, which was just confirmed by an audiologist.

Reducing the platform volume and making my own input adjustable, the two big advantages of IEM's, would have helped this situation.  I'm 63, so I'd be losing some of it anyway; but I feel for younger people who are frying their ears several times a week.  By the way, a hearing aid that can help a musician properly goes for around $5,000, a bit above the cost of a good IEM.

One of the big complaints is that IEMs are also damaging folks' hearing. It's just a thought, I'm not sure how that works since I've never used them. I've not seen IEMs presented as a hearing saver so much as a performance saver, allowing better and more articulate sound to reach the performer's ear while also reducing stage volume. I don't see how they can be quiet enough to be safe and still be usable when they have to compete with stage volume (noise cancellation not withstanding).

 

Does someone know?

You almost need (shudder) a total-IEM situation.  Our guitarist, who leaned on the pastor to get the things (actually, we had insulated headsets, which were cheaper, but made it impossible to talk normally with each other, and it sounded like you were in Maxwell Smart's cone of silence), told us the reduced stage volume would be better for our ears.  It was -- until two of the singers, who were insecure (psychologically), and still had wedge monitors, kept pushing us to crank them up.  In the end, we had clean sound on the platform, but still at high levels.

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