It’s no secret. I’m not a huge fan of in-ear monitors (also known as IEMs) in most church music situations.
In that regard at least, I am swimming against the current trends in church audio.
I’ve even used some of my earlier articles here for Worship Tech Director (and other places) to caution against the wholesale leap to IEMs, from older, open speaker technology:
Previous related articles:
• For Your Praise Band, Are In-Ear Monitors Really The Right Solution?
• Monitoring: In Ears vs. Wedges (Part 1), with an accompanying video
• Monitoring: In Ears vs. Wedges (Part 2), with accompanying video
My main concerns behind the use of IEMs (usually paired with personal digital mixing consoles) in church music situations are:
1) The isolating effects of IEMs between musicians, and also between the musicians and the congregation.
2) The shifting of responsibility for creating a monitor mix from an audio engineer, to an (often inexperienced in this aspect) instrumentalist or singer.
Read more about this in my article:
• Sound System Engineering: Monitors Still Need the Audio Tech).
3) With the sheer cost of decent IEMs being beyond the reach of most volunteers, amateur church singers and instrumentalists (or even their church’s tech budget), many of them end up using crummy ear buds, headphones or broken-down old generic IEMs. Often, they find themselves using IEMs that were purchased eight years ago and have eight years of different people’s earwax squished into the ill-fitting silicone tips! Yuck!
Note: Your IEMs should be like a toothbrush. One user only.
Concerns #1 and #2 are ongoing for me. But #3? Read on…
I get it.
In-ear monitors are here and (at least for the foreseeable future) they’re here to stay. I can happily use IEMs, if needed. I have, for close to two decades!
Touring with bands like PC3 (Paul Colman Trio) and Sonicflood and other artists throughout the U.S., and several other countries, that was how monitoring was done.
I first bought a pair of IEMs in 2002. They were single driver, custom-molded Future Sonics. At the time, cutting-edge tech.
From the blaring, over-loud stage volumes I had grown accustomed to before that, they sounded really great. From what I recall, they set me back about $1,200 with “artist pricing.”
Nine years later, and by then not touring much, I replaced the Future Sonics IEMs with some generic (not custom molded) triple-driver (that’s three tiny speakers per ear) IEMs from Westone Audio. Those IEMs ran about $350, and sounded much better than my older technology, much more expensive IEMs.
As the years have passed and the technology has continued to be fine-tuned, a growing number of companies making IEMs have greatly upgraded their products. The sound quality has vastly improved. The range in prices has also widened.
Most notably, the top end of that price range has risen well into four figures. There also seemed to be a race to jam as many little speakers into an IEM as possible. The reasoning seemed to be that more must be better.
Now, the biggest number of individual armature drivers in each ear piece I have seen (and heard) is 18!
Discovery in Nashville at Summer NAMM
Eureka! After all these years, there’s a solution to my #3 main concern! An answer to the price problem! I have found an affordable way to improve the musicality of IEM-using church music teams that are on a budget.
Great sounding IEMs have (finally) become affordable!
How did I make this discovery?
In June, I had the privilege of attending Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants - the world’s largest trade-only event for the music products industry), a gathering in my home city of Nashville.
It’s like a massive Guitar Center, where no one is buying anything.
I made it my mission to listen to every available IEM onsite at the event that I could, and to speak with a representative from each IEM company. No small task! An opportunity not to be missed.
For a whole day, using the same reference song from my smartphone over and over again (my current choice is “Drawing Pins” by Nothing But Thieves, that starts with lots of tasty sonic subtlety, before ramping up to pounding rock mayhem, in the space of a single minute) I hopped from booth to booth and back again, listening to each company’s IEMs.
What did I find?
There are plenty of great products currently available. Most range in price from about $200, up to several thousand! The differences in price are massive. The differences in sound quality certainly exist, but are nowhere near as dramatic as the price differences.
What was my Eureka discovery?
In my professional opinion, from everything that was on display at Summer NAMM, the not- well-known (as-of-yet) MEE Audio products stood out head and shoulders above the rest - giving by far the best sonic bang for your buck. Their simple, single driver offering of the M6 Pro, and the dual-driver M7 Pro (giving more low-end) IEMs, both sounded great!
And they force these two rhetorical questions to be asked: While more drivers certainly make for bigger prices, to what extent do they really make IEMs sound better? And is it worth it?
In short, I don’t know how MEE Audio does it for the price. But they do.
Every IEM-using church instrumentalist and singer should own a pair.
The touring pros are going to spend as much as they want on their in-ears. Maybe they can hear a difference too.
But what about our Sunday morning warriors of the Christian church? I’d like to think that a starting price of $49.99 for the M6 Pros puts them well within their reach. We must not leave them trying to monitor their sound on subpar equipment like ear-buds and headphones, that were designed for listening to music as distinct from monitoring our ensemble’s combined vocal and instrumental performance.
Bad monitoring, means bad singing and playing. Bad singing and playing means the congregation have a much tougher time singing worshipfully to God! And that’s the ultimate goal, right!?
Want the people to sing? You’ll need good monitors.
And, I can honestly say that I have never been happier using IEMs than I am now, reaching for my MEE Audio M6 Pros. Knowing that the starting cost is so low, I am happily recommending them during my workshops, at conferences, from my web platforms and (obviously) in this article.
Hey, you can spend two or more times the amount on IEMs, but I am super confident that your church musician (whether pro or of the volunteer/amateur variety) will agree that MEE Audio M6 Pros sound at least as good as any of them. And at a fraction of the price!