10 Reasons Why In-Ear Monitors Are Better Than Wedges

Remember that time you had a great live sound experience with wedge monitors? You could hear all your cues without turning up the volume to eleven. The monitor engineer responded instantly to your requests. And there was zero feedback.

No? You’re not alone. In-ear monitoring arose out of the need for a safer and better-sounding onstage experience. Read on to learn more about what it can do for you.

#1–Superior Sound Quality

The expression “garbage in, garbage out” applies here. If you’re using wedges and can’t hear yourself unless you turn up loud enough to damage your ears and interfere with the house mix, then nobody wins. Alternatively, in-ear personal monitors deliver consistently clear sound to you onstage, regardless of your venue’s limitations. When you can adjust your performance to reflect what you hear, it’s a better experience both for you and the audience. Your confidence as a performer will get a big boost too.

#2–Optimal Volume Levels

When using wedges, monitor engineers often end up in the middle of a volume war between the amplified and the unamplified. Singers, acoustic guitarists, and keyboardists can’t hear themselves over amplified electric guitarists and bassists, let alone over the drums. So, they ask, “Can you turn me up?”

“Maybe,” is the best the engineer can offer due to the limitations of power amplifier size, power handling of the speakers, and potential acoustic gain. If the room has bad acoustics, then peace is even less likely. With an in-ear personal monitor system, you’ll get studio-quality sound in a live-sound context. You can choose what you hear, and your engineers aren’t stuck waving the white flag.

Stage Wedge Monitors

#3–Elimination of Feedback

You know the sound of feedback: that intense buzzing whine that sends your hands to your ears. But what causes it?

Feedback happens when amplified sound from a loudspeaker is picked up by a microphone and re-amplified. This often occurs on crowded stages where microphones and monitor loudspeakers are too close together. When your whole band asks the engineer to turn up their mics, feedback is inevitable. In-ear personal monitor systems make this scenario moot. They seal the “loudspeakers” in your ears, breaking the feedback loop.

#4–Hearing Health

Chronic exposure to the high sound pressure levels of wedges can damage your ears permanently. Earplugs can help, but even the best plugs alter frequency response enough to muffle the audio. In-ear monitors both protect your ears from outside noise while simultaneously delivering only the sounds you need to hear. With the controls in your hands, you can adjust the volume to a safe level.  It’s by far the healthier option.

#5–Reduced Vocal Strain

The most powerful singer is no match for an amplified guitar turned way up, or even a drum kit as-is. When singers can’t hear themselves over the stage mix—which often happens with wedge monitors—they push their voices too hard, damaging vocal chords and shortening singing careers. In-ear personal monitors allow you to hear yourself clearly when you sing, and you won’t have to scream over guitar amps and wedges. In addition to your own vocals, you can include in your mix as much or as little of the other instruments as you want.

Shure PGA 58 Microphone

#6–Stereo Monitoring

A distinct advantage of most in-ear monitor systems over wedges is the ability to listen in stereo. Our ears are made for stereo listening, so a stereo mix is more like a natural listening environment. When you’re able to listen to a natural-sounding mix, you’re more likely to listen at a lower volume. This means healthier ears over the long term.

#7–Clean Audience Mix

Wedges are directional at high frequencies, but they become omnidirectional at low frequencies. Why that’s bad: when wedges are turned up, low-frequency bleed from the backs of the units can muddy the house mix and make vocals unintelligible to the audience, especially in smaller venues. When you use in-ear monitors, the front-of-house engineer can concentrate on delivering the best possible audience mix without having to factor in bleed from the stage mix.

#8–Portability

If you play an amplified instrument or drums, then you’re no stranger to schlepping gear. Amps weigh around 55 pounds each. Wedges weigh about 45 pounds each. The more of those you have, the larger the vehicle you need, and the more you’re spending on gas. A complete in-ear monitor system fits in a briefcase, with no extra schlepping, vehicle space, or gas required. Plus, getting rid of wedges and speaker cables gives your stage a cleaner, more professional look, which matters if your gigs are weddings, worship services, and corporate events with different aesthetic standards than the average night club.

#9–Mobility

When you use wedge monitors, you’re limited to a sweet spot onstage where the mix sounds as good as it gets. Move a little to the right or left, and things go downhill. Why? Because loudspeakers are directional. Using in-ear monitors, on the other hand, is like using headphones: the sound goes where you go. So, if you want to play to the crowd on either side of the stage, you hear the same mix wherever you go.

Shure P3RA Bodypack Top

#10–Personal Control

Perhaps the most empowering part of in-ear monitoring is having direct control over what you hear. You’ll still rely on the monitor engineer for fine adjustments, but you can adjust the volume using the knob on your bodypack, and you can choose different mixes yourself.

If you use a stereo mix, you’ll hear the same thing in both ears, but you can pan left and right to hear more or less in either ear. If you use a system with MixMode®, you’ll hear a summed mix in both ears. From there, you can use the bodypack controls to adjust the balance of the sound sources. For example, you might want vocals and guitar in the left ear, and drums and bass in the right.

Shure Personal Monitoring

Check out our entire line of personal monitoring systems on shure.com. If you’re just getting started, or you’re running your own sound in clubs or at a church, PSM®300 might be the right option for you. For large pro tours, PSM®900 and PSM®1000 are more appropriate. We also offer a wired personal monitor, P9HW, for drummers and keyboardists who want the in-ear sound quality but don’t need the mobility of a wireless in-ear system.

P.S. Huge thanks to Shure Systems Support Manager Gino Sigismondi for doing the heavy lifting in writing this with me.

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Allison Wolcott

Allison Wolcott

Allison Wolcott started singing at Shure and now sings wherever they'll let her. She wishes she were Brandi Carlile, Neko Case, and Johnny Cash all rolled up in a voice box. Her favorite mic is the BETA®87A. Interviews with product developers and general Shure news are her beat.

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  • Scott Oliver says:

    As a musician who has played a thousand gigs or more, I have decided that in-ear monitoring is for the birds. The problem is that we live in a four-dimensional world of sound. Length, width, height, and time. When you plug you ears up with speakers you remove all the psychoacoustics from your brain. Yes, we have two ears, but the world is not in stereo. And neither is a live music stage. Both are way more than just left and right. The biggest problem with in-ears is you can only monitor one of two things effectively at a time…either yourself or everybody else, not both. Part of playing with other musicians is being able to distinguish different parts from different sources at different locations. Wedges are great because they are by design only there to supplement the natural sound of the rest of the band’s sound arriving at your ears in four dimensions. In-ears simply cannot do this. Additionally, as musicianship continues to be on the decline, in-ears only serve to accelerate the process. Once you learn to play in a band, at a proper level, wedges are a wonderful thing. I wont even go play a gig if all the house has is in-ears; regardless of what it pays. I have tried them numerous times, and it just plain sucks. I’d rather stay home.

    • webmaster Allison Wolcott says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Scott. Ultimately, what’s right for you is what you’re comfortable with onstage, and what allows you to give the best performance you can. Personally, it took me about a year to get used to in-ears. For the band I use them with, they’re the definitely right solution. For another band I perform with, perhaps not. One thing that my in-ear band has tried recently is adding a room mic to the in-ear mix so that those of us who miss the crowd sound and room sound can have it.

  • Michael Triplett says:

    Reasons why in ear monitors just don’t work for me!
    1, Another belt pack, with my guitar wireless, wireless head set microphone and a wireless monitor system all on my belt, I feel like Batman with his utility belt and I can’t keep my pants up!
    2, I’m at total mercy of 50% of engineers that lake training and experience.
    3, Every thing on the stage needs to be in the sound system, overhead mics on drums and all instruments.
    4, If some one on stage needs to communicate with you they have speak into their microphone, allowing the entire audience to enjoy your your conversation about the hot chick in the 2nd row!
    5, How do I get my guitar to feedback with out melting the brains of my band mates.
    6,It’s difficult to hear audience, hecklers and ,cheers.
    7, When I need to hear something louder on stage for a brief period of time I cant just move closer to the source, I’m again at the mercy of a overworked sound tech.

    • Allison Wolcott Allison Wolcott says:

      Michael, thanks for your comment. You’re not alone in those opinions and experiences. If you ever want to talk to someone on our product support team about workarounds for those things, please call 847-600-8440. You can also email support@shure.com, submit a question at http://shure.custhelp.com/app/ask, or chat live between 8 am and 4 pm Mon through Fri. (From personal experience, I can tell you it took me about a year as a singer to feel completely comfortable with in-ear monitors, but it was sooooo worth it.)

  • Sam Spicer says:

    Every location’s wedges sound different so there would be quite a bit of adjustment and advance work to get the wedges on par with the sound you’re expecting. http://www.bestinearmonitors.net/

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