One of the biggest struggles for artists who perform live is figuring out how to make their live show sound as good, if not better, than their studio album. But thanks to technology, we can now use stems from the record to re-create those intricate productions on stage.
The only problem is, artists need to be able to hear themselves clearly, just like they did when they were recording in the studio. That's where in-ear monitors come in handy. They serve as both professional headphones and noise-canceling earplugs, so artists can focus on their music without getting distracted by the noise of the crowd.
And because I'm all about helping out my fellow musicians, I've put together a list of my top seven picks for the best in-ear monitors on the market today. Check it out!
The 7 Best In-Ear Monitors for Singers
Table of Contents
- The 7 Best In-Ear Monitors for Singers
- Choosing the Best In-Ear Monitors as a Singer
- Final Thoughts
1. Mackie MP-320
Mackie started off making mixing boards and PA systems, but then they went on to create a really awesome set of studio monitors called the HR824s. These monitors were especially popular in hip-hop and electronic music circles because they had killer bass for being such small near-field monitors.
Now, with the MP-320, they've taken a lot of what they learned from making great professional monitors and packed it all into these amazing in-ear monitors. I love that it's a triple-driver monitor system, meaning they basically broke down a professional studio reference monitor and gave you separate bass, mids, and highs all in one small headphone.
And let me tell you, these monitors also do a great job of acting as noise-canceling earplugs, with 40 dB passive noise isolation. It's almost like performing in a recording booth, especially when playing for those big festival crowds that can number in the thousands.
The frequency response is also top-notch, with a full range of 20Hz to 20kHz, so you can really hear that bass on those modern pop tracks.
The only downside I found is their sensitivity. At a maximum of 100 db of SPL, it's pretty weak for a triple-driver headphone. I know their studio monitors can definitely handle a lot more signal, so I'm a little surprised at this design choice.
2. Westone Pro X30
Westone is a company that is widely known for making earplugs for professionals and regular individuals alike. Therefore, it's no surprise that they have also developed some great ear monitors that effectively block out noise.
The Westone Audio Pro X30 is similar to the Mackie, with three drivers, but the noise cancellation is a little more relaxed at 25 dB.
I understand why they didn't go higher than that. I mean, as a performer, you want to be able to feel the energy of your band and the crowd, right? You don't want to be stuck in a vacuum or anything. So anything above 25 might be overkill if you ask me. It depends on the venue.
Another great feature of these earbuds is their sensitivity - a whopping 124 dB SPL! Of course, as an artist, it's important to take care of your ears. However, you also want to be able to get pumped up by your tracks, right? So it's nice to have the option to turn up the volume a bit.
Let's not forget about the small extras, like the silicone and foam tips for added comfort.
But what really impressed me was the included wax-removing tool. I know it sounds a bit gross, but when you're sweating on stage night after night, earwax buildup is a real issue. It can significantly impact the quality of your sound. Kudos to Westone for thinking of everything.
The only thing that confuses me is why they cut off the high end at 18kHz. Perhaps it's to protect your ears or prevent feedback. However, in-ear monitors should have a full range up to 20kHz, especially when trying to hear your own voice over the crowd's noise. If you're a pop star, that clear, crisp high-end is crucial.
3. Shure SE425
The Shure SE425 are great in-ear headphones from a legendary microphone company. They have dual drivers, which split the lows and highs for better sound quality.
However, it's a bit of a bummer that they only have two drivers when Weston and Mackie have three. Triple drivers provide more clarity at lower volumes, which is important when using in-ear monitors.
You want to hear everything without damaging your ears. The more separation in the frequencies, the lower the volume you can use and still hear everything clearly.
But it's not all bad. These headphones have cool noise-blocking technology. The sleeves themselves act as noise isolators, and there are many different comfort options to choose from. You can block out up to 37dB of noise, which is impressive.
So, the frequency range is pretty decent, but it's not as good as the Mackie monitors. It can go up to 19kHz, which is almost full range. It's a bit puzzling why they didn't just add one more kilohertz to make it full range, but hey, that's how they designed it.
Overall, the best thing about the Shure SE425 is its comfort. The noise isolation technology and various comfort options are designed to keep you performing for hours without ear pain. That's crucial, so props to Shure for that.
4. Sennheiser EW IEM G4
So check it out, another legendary microphone company, Sennheiser has entered the game and stepped it up with not only ultra-reliable in-ear monitors but also a monitoring system of the highest quality.
The EW IEM G4 wireless in-ear system includes a transmitter, bodypack, receiver, and earbuds. Almost as important as the sound and fit of your monitors is the reliability of your wireless transmission. Sennheiser has a reputation for making absolute top-notch products, so it's no surprise that this is one killer system.
It operates on 61 channels with a crazy 42 MHz band so that you can really isolate your frequency and lower the chances of having any interference while performing. It also has an HDX compander for crystal-clear sound. And they didn't just leave it at that. It features a high boost, adjustable limiter, and even stereo image focus mode and balance.
So in essence, you're getting a total HD, almost surround-like mix in your in-ear monitors. In pop music, I don't know how important that actually is, but if you're performing textured music, such as classical, opera, film, or anything with dense harmonic layers, it could prove to be a game-changer.
The only red flag with a system like this is that it focuses its power a lot more on the wireless quality and reception, and a bit less on the actual drivers and components of the monitors themselves.
That's unfortunate because, at the end of the day, you might have to buy in-earbuds of higher sound quality from another manufacturer on top of already having the expense of this monitoring system.
5. Shure SE215
If you're trying to save some cash, the Shure SE215 is a solid choice for quality. They can actually do double duty as both performance headphones and travel headphones for the everyday listener.
With only one micro driver, they won't give you the full range of frequencies like the more professional SE425, but they still cover a decent range of 22Hz to 17.5kHz. It's not exactly pro-level hi-fi, but for the price, it's pretty impressive.
You’ll appreciate the passive sound-isolating feature that blocks out noise. That's great for both performing and traveling.
Keep in mind that these are the lower-budget versions of the Shure headphones, so the included "fit kit" is a bit limited with only small, medium, and large sleeves. But, if you want to add some more accessories later, you still can because they're part of the Shure SE series. It’ll cost extra though.
Plus, these headphones are built tough with a detachable Kevlar-reinforced cable that can handle a beating. Yup, that's the same stuff bulletproof vests are made of!
The only downside to these headphones is that the noise-cancellation technology sleeves provided are more limited in choice than the ones on the SE425. That could be a deal-breaker if you're looking for the most comfortable fit possible for a performer.
That being said, I still really like the design of these Shure monitors.
6. Sennheiser IE 100 Pro-Clear
If you're looking for ear monitors on a budget, the Sennheiser IE 100 Pro is a great option. They're comfortable and well-designed, so you can wear them for hours without discomfort.
The ear mold design is ergonomic and provides a flatter look and feel. It's much better than the bulb-like earplug design used by other competitors.
One downside is that it only has a single-driver monitor, but it's still a high-quality, low-distortion design. Sennheiser always makes top-notch products, so you can trust them when they say it's crystal clear.
If you dig deeper, you'll find that the driver design is a broad brand transducer, which gives a clear, phase-free image of the music. That's how they got away with just having one driver and still having an incredibly detailed sound.
Another great thing is the proprietary internal cable duct for the detachable cable, which is helpful for stage performers. It makes the connection much sturdier and less likely to pop off during a performance.
In terms of specs, it has a decent 26dB of passive noise isolation and an "OK" 20Hz to 18kHz frequency range with 115dB SPL. It's middle-of-the-road, so to speak, but not terrible.
Considering the price, it feels like these are the best ear monitors you can buy to replace the limited ones that come with your EW IEM wireless system. They're all about comfort, design, and quality signal at a decent price.
7. Audio-Technica ATW-3255
So when you hear "headphones", you probably think of Audio-Technica. They've been the big dogs in this headphone game for a while and have made some amazing, professional studio-level headphones. Here, we've got the ATW-3255 in-ear monitor system, which competes with the Sennheiser wireless system.
This system comes with headphones, a bodypack receiver, and a high-quality system transmitter, similar to the Sennheiser. But where this system really shines is in the quality of the included monitor headphones.
They have enhanced bass, a smooth frequency spectrum, and dual push-pull drivers to give you a nice, clear signal with plenty of power.
And if that wasn't enough, the complete system also includes an EQ, limiter, and gain and balance controls like any high-end studio monitor system. The Audio-Technica even has an RF scan so you can pick the absolute best frequency that won't get any interference during your performance, which is super important.
Another really important aspect for performers is that the receiver can run for seven hours on battery life alone. I can't even tell you how many times I've heard stories from singers who noticed during soundcheck that nobody checked the batteries on their wireless in-ear system receiver.
If they hadn't noticed that the signal was weak, they would have gone on to perform and possibly lost all power during the performance. So major props to Audio-Technica for thinking of that.
My one gripe with this system is that even though it has an RF scan to choose a stable RF channel, it only comes with 49 frequencies, which is rather limited compared to the Sennheiser.
Choosing the Best In-Ear Monitors as a Singer
Alright, so here's my take on choosing the right in-ear monitor. First things first, you have to think about what kind of music you'll be playing. If you're into pop or electronic music with lots of bass, mids, and highs, then you'll need an in-ear monitor with the most drivers to handle all that frequency range like a pro.
On the other hand, if you're an acoustic performer who plays in smaller venues with fewer instruments, then 40 dB of noise isolation might not be the best fit for you. It might even mess up your performance.
So, it all depends on the genre and style of venues you'll be playing at.
I've narrowed it down to three major categories that you should consider to help you decide which in-ear monitor is perfect for you.
Drivers and Sensitivity
So, as I mentioned earlier, your monitors must fit your musical performance style. If you're an EDM singer playing huge festivals like Coachella and EDC, then you'll need the trifecta of triple drivers, the highest possible noise isolation from the crowd, and high SPL sensitivity specifications.
But if you're a jazz performer or you play in coffee houses and acoustic sets for fewer than 100 people, then comfort should be your focus, along with less isolation. Also, a triple driver might not be the best option for acoustic music, as it could produce a lot of mid-range that you don't need.
In that case, some single-driver, simpler monitors would be more than enough for you.
Here's the deal with noise isolation: it's like a double-edged sword. When I performed with noise-isolating monitors, it was definitely an adjustment, and I'm not even a singer!
The thing is, it can feel kind of weird to be up on stage and have it be so quiet because the energy and vibrations don't match what you're feeling and hearing through your headphones.
So my advice would be to maybe go for a pair of headphones that have the most isolation, like the Mackie MP320, and then try another pair that's less isolating to see which one works best for you.
I get it, everyone wants to recreate that studio sound live, but live shows are all about the energy. You've got to bring it, your band's got to bring it, and the crowd's got to bring it.
I've seen singers hold back on stage because they feel like they're already too loud thanks to the isolating monitors. And honestly, I've even seen this happen in the studio with certain headphones. But when they took one side off, not only did they sing in tune, they sang with more power too.
Hey, why not try testing two totally different in-ear monitors during a live gig on the same night? That could be a pretty cool experiment!
Full Systems vs. Single Monitors
Depending on your situation, you might want to go for a full-on integrated system, where one company makes everything - the receiver, the wireless transmitter, and the in-ear monitors. It has its perks; all parts are tested thoroughly to make sure they work perfectly together. Plus, it's more cost-effective to get everything bundled up sometimes, rather than buying them all separately.
Personally, I think the most important thing to consider here is which system is the most reliable, won't fail you during a live performance, and provides top-notch quality sounding in-ear monitors.
I recently wrote this article about how important it is to have top-notch studio monitors, but the same thing goes for in-ear headphones too. I mean, your performance is only as good as what you're hearing, am I right?
If you're blasting your own voice too loud in your mix, you might start singing more softly and lose your vibe. But if you can't hear yourself well enough, you might mess up your timing and pitch.
This also applies to acoustic sets. If you can't hear the guitar or piano (or any accompaniment) in your headphones clearly, it can lead to pitch and energy issues.
For all the singers out there, getting the right in-ear monitors is key, especially during live performances. I've seen even platinum artists struggle with their monitoring systems, which can be terrifying and confusing. Sometimes, they even end up using an auxiliary speaker on stage instead of dealing with the levels.
But hey, the good news is that in-ear monitors have come a long way and are actually better than studio headphones for live performances. So, if you're looking to step up your game, anything from the list above should get you started on feeling comfortable and confident enough to deliver an amazing show at your next gig!