I recently got this email from a friend:
I think you may be the best person I know to answer this question. I've continued doing church music and I alternate between bass, acoustic and electric and sometimes keys. We use an aviom in ear monitor system. I had just been using $20 headphones simply cause it's tough to afford nice ones.
I really don't know if I can bring myself to spend $300 on a triple driver headphone. So in your opinion is it really worth it to spend $100 on a single driver version say shure 215 or westone? Or am I really just going to not get much better sound than a cheep pair considering its still single driver?
In-ear monitors are such a personal thing, but I feel like a good pair can really change your playing for the better! Right up front I’ll be honest: I am endorsed by Westone Audio, and currently own a pair of their custom molded ES60 in ear monitors, so I am very, very biased toward them as a company. Rather than talk specifics, here are 5 things to think about when you’re getting ready to purchase your first in-ear monitors:
5. How much do I want to spend?
It’s hard to justify spending much on in-ear monitors, but when you consider that a good pair of in-ear monitors could actually last you most of the rest of your career, it might be a good idea to drop a few dollars more and get a higher quality pair. A decent pair of general fit in-ear monitors with even a single driver will cost you between $100-$200, and molds generally start at around $300.
4. What do I need for my career?
This is where the rubber meets the road: what do I really need? Only you can answer this question, but I’d ask myself some of these questions:
• Will I earn money off of these?
• Will my playing improve significantly if I can hear myself better?
• How much time each week do I spend playing music?
If I was a volunteer musician at a church, I’d probably not be able to justify dropping $400+ on a set of in ears (unless I made a ton of money in my regular career). As a full time career musician who’s livelihood is partially based on how well I can hear myself play live and in the studio, it’s a no brainer that in-ear monitors needed to be a top priority for me.
3. Custom molds or general fit?
If you have a small budget (less than $300) I’d recommend buying a general fit in ear monitor system, since you’ll be able to sell them later down the road if you decide to upgrade. If you go with a custom mold, I’d recommend spending as much money as you can possibly afford so you get a great set, since it’s almost impossible to sell your custom molds.
In terms of sound quality, custom molds are far better than general fit to my ears.
2. How do they actually sound?
Don’t get hung up on all the specs- ask people you trust what they think of their in ears, and go to somewhere like Sweetwater Sound in Indiana and actually listen to some of them.
From my personal experience, I was happy with my Westone 4R general fits, although compared to my new customs they definitely had a bit of a mid-range boost to them and not as much presence as customs.
I’ve had my current pair for about three weeks, and I’ve been super impressed. It has roughly the same detail as my Sony MDR-7506 closed back headphones, but without some of the “air”. My Westone 4r would have been comparable to my AKG K240 studio headphones, but again with less air because of the speakers being so close to your ear canal.
1. How many drivers?
Don’t get caught up with the number of drivers, but the difference between having one and having three drivers can be huge. I’d think about getting at least two drivers, and three would be optimal especially if you’re playing bass or keys. I personally have a 6 driver in ears, and it makes a big difference in the low end and mid end definition.