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A Real World Gear look at personal monitor mixing and in-ear monitoring, as well as a tour of recent systems

By PSW Staff October 2, 2015

Don't miss our Photo Gallery Tour of the latest systems.

Personal monitoring systems and/or wireless in-ear monitoring systems, working with earpices (“earbuds”), offer a number of advantages over monitor loudspeakers.

Typically, the performer has personal control of the level of the mix via the personal mixer or wireless beltpack receiver. And no matter where the artist moves on stage, the mix will remain consistent and cleaner.

Mixes can be more highly controlled, either by a monitor engineer or by personal mixing stations where the performer can select exactly what they want to hear at which relative levels, and make adjustments on the fly. With the mix going straight from the board into the ears, personalization is much more refined.

Using fewer or no monitor wedges lowers the overall level coming off the stage into the house, a nice benefit. Also, either having no wedges on stage or keeping them at lower levels helps with gain-before-feedback as well as mic isolation.

Listening to stereo-panned mixes also contributes to lower monitoring levels because it’s easier to hear individual instruments that are panned across a stereo field than by listening to a mono mix. And lower monitoring levels contribute to hearing conservation.

On the other hand, using just a single earphone leads to higher monitoring volumes, as performers raise its volume to match the ambient stage sound in the other ear, removing any hearing conservation benefits. Note that several of the personal monitoring systems in the following listings include mics that capture ambiance that can be added to the mix, curtailing the sense of isolation that bothers some performers.

Personal mixers allow musicians to select and custom-mix 16 channels or more (discrete channels or sub-mixes) of digital audio from all available channels, adjust levels, pan, EQ and effects for each channel, plus save and recall presets of previous mixes. These systems are increasingly sophisticated, and in most cases offer the ability to interface with a wide range of networking protocols. The Pivitec system is based on AVB Ethernet protocols, using compatible network routers and switches plus 16-channel rack-mountable input modules.

Some performers don’t have patience for creating monitor mixes from scratch, adding and adjusting one input at a time. Providing personal monitor mixes that are already assembled, with gain, high-pass filtering, EQ, compression and reverb adjusted for each input, greatly improves confidence in both equipment and engineer.

A more recent development are apps providing personal mixing capability, such as Mackie My Fader v3.0 for its DL32R, DL1608 and DL806 digital mixers. Designed for iPhone and iPod Touch, it allows on-stage performers to control their own monitors and is handy for engineers who need quick mobile control over a mix. Also designed for iPhone and iPod Touch, PreSonus offers the QMix app that provides up to 10 musicians with individual wireless mixes when used in conjunction with the company’s StudioLive console.

And QSC recently released the new TouchMix Control Android app for tablets and smartphones, joining its iOS predecessor in providing control of TouchMix digital mixers, effectively replicating the on-mixer touch screen interface. The app operates as a compact, personal stage monitor aux mixing approach, with up to a dozen external devices comprising any combination of Android or iOS smartphones or tablets able to be linked at once to a TouchMix mixer.

Meanwhile, wireless IEM systems provide additional freedom of movement while retaining a clean, consistent monitor mix. Note that as the term “wireless” makes clear, these systems use RF spectrum, so they need to be coordinated along with wireless mic, instrument, and intercom systems at every show.

These systems are noted for providing quality transmission, offering convenient setup and use with auto-sync functionality between transmitters and receivers—and in many cases, frequency agility. Transmitter power is often selected at two or three different settings. Some also offer an additional input for a click track or ambient mic.

There’s a lot of variety and flexibility in the world of personal and wireless in-ear monitoring. Enjoy our Photo Gallery Tour of the latest systems.

Gary Parks and Mark Frink contributed to this article.

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