Now, on to the In Ear Monitor transmitters and receivers themselves. What is the difference between the high dollar and low dollar models? A few things. First, there is the amount of drop-outs. Especially if you play in a busy frequency area, i.e. Fair Grounds, busy club street with other bands playing maybe using wireless units, and near cell phone towers, radio towers, a building with a lot of exposed metal, etc. Noise Factor. Are you hearing everything but your instrument, cleanly? Then there is the rugged-ness factor. Will it stand up to your roadie? you being tired at the end of a gig? or your drunk friend who just has to help?
So what do the cheaper ones have/ don’t have….
They usually won’t let you scan or change different frequencies and /or channels. If you travel around the state or country you should not look at these. You might get a frequency choice between two presets but that’s about it. They will probably have weak or non-existent limiters. So it may let in a distorted sound also due to a limited frequency response. You will more than likely experience a hissing underlying in the sound (artifacts) and you might get static in yours ears during quite moments. And of course certain features will be missing. Mono/ Stereo, (Note – On Stereo vs. Mono, I always run mono. Signal seems to stay stronger, less background interference.) LED operation lights, battery strength, on/off operation switch, mute switch and control knobs will be missing. Maybe a flimsy plastic housing, fragile antenna. Input jacks might be flimsy and solder connections can break if handled roughly. Remember, you will be wearing the receiver (body pack) and things get bumped, dropped and…knobs fall off. In general, Stuff Happens.
Now, if you are performing in worship services, house band for local club and aren’t moving from one vicinity to another and the environment is fairly consistent, some of the cheaper ones can work just fine. Just upgrade to good ear buds.
So what can the more expensive models do for you?
You can (and this is really important to multiple users and traveling bands) Select/Scan/Sync different frequencies/channels. Get a better sound to noise ratio, get a better reference for the companding of the sound, a larger frequency response, mute switch (important), removable and/or adjustable antenna (small thing but makes a difference). And easy front panel and body pack adjusting. User Friendly! Signals will stay strong. And what I feel is the most important…Battery level lights/indicator!!
** Do Not Get Anything That Operates In The 700mhz Spectrum.** You will be violating the new FCC laws and they will frown heavily upon this! I had a Sennhieser IEM in the 740mhz range and it is worthless now, you can’t modify these.
Here is my opinion on some of the brands out there. I have used some and have had other band members use some of these brands.
The inexpensive brands: Could be used for rehearsals where you can’t get too loud and aren’t moving the unit around a whole lot. Nady and Galaxy. Lots of plastic not many features, but not many $$.
Medium priced: Audio Technica, MiPro, Carvin. I had a band mate using Audio Technica and the sound was not so good. A lot of artifacts (underlying hiss and static) came along with his music in his ears. Also wasn’t as user-friendly, in my opinion. A lot of plastic. Carvin? Good quality, metal housing for belt pack and good frequency range. I have used these for 6 months and now have them as a back up and I rate them just a notch under Sennheiser. (Note* – I have used and am currently using some Carvin products and they work without fail). They do stand behind their gear. MiPRO? Don’t know much about these guys but they have the right specs and the units look sturdy enough. The price seems to be right in line for these as well. There are some reviews, albeit older ones, on MIPRO. These I believe are made in Taiwan, not China, worth looking into.
I think the units in the category above with some outboard gear and good ear buds would do just about anybody fine. You would have to do the same for the top shelf units as well, so maybe save some money.
Top Shelf: Shure – They have a few different models, ones I have used are the PSM 600’s and 700’s and the PT 9’s. The PT 9’s are the way to go with traveling bands who will be scanning for the frequencies. But Pricey. The PSM 200’s and 400’s would be in the cheaper catagory above. I personally don’t like their belt packs. There are cheap feeling.
Sennhiser – I use these as well, in my rig. Strong signal, sturdy build and a cheaper than the Shure PT 9. To my ears maybe not as warm as the Shure’s but I run these through the out board gear and mic my cabinet anyway, so I get just what I want. I also like the fact the belt pack runs on AA batteries. Much longer life. Both brands accomodate muliple users and freq’s very well and are easy to scan and change frequencies.
So you get what you pay for, is definitely the rule in the In Ear Monitor world. The cheaper ones are good starters for anybody not sure or not use to having something in their ears besides their fingers. They will just be a bit more fragile and missing some bells and whistles that you might require in your playing situations. There is a learning/adjustment curve to playing with IEM’s.
With some outboard gear and/or mic-ing your cabinet(s), getting some good quality ear buds, you can really acheive a good sound that will have you playing better, enjoying your music and protecting what your maker gave ya.