In-Ear Monitors vs. Wedges

Compared to wedges, IEMs are a superior monitoring solution. In addition to better sound quality, IEMs are preferred by musicians for several unique advantages.



Remember CDs, dial-up internet, video stores and floppy disks? None of these lasted because something better came along. Technology comes and goes, just like the wedge monitors of the ‘70s. If your band still depends on them, especially as you grow, it might be time for a change.


Unlike IEMs, wedge monitors don’t provide a balanced monitoring experience you can rely on night after night, venue after venue. Today, bands choose IEMs for improved sound quality, reduced feedback, hearing protection and more. In this article, we’ll explain how IEMs can make a positive impact on your band’s live shows.



Avoid Volume Wars with Your Band


A lot can go wrong on stage, but nothing is worse than a volume war among the band. Here’s a tale as old as time—you turn up your guitar amp during a show because you can’t hear yourself in poorly mixed wedges. After all, you can only ask for more of yourself so many times before you give up (if FOH is even putting your guitar amp in the wedges in the first place).


Then, your bassist turns themselves up because you’re too loud. The pattern continues until the volume becomes overwhelming and nobody can hear anything. Worst of all, the audience gets stuck in front of a staggering level of noise; it might even be enough to turn them away. 


Fortunately, an IEM system will keep volume wars from spurring with your band. You hear yourself more clearly with IEMs, eliminating the need to compete for loudness. 



Listen at the Perfect Volume


When using wedges, you lack personal control over volume levels. While some bands and musicians are fine with one volume throughout the entire show, musicians who jump between different instruments or bounce between different dynamics throughout the setlist might need more control. IEMs paired with a dedicated mixer enable you to set levels and shape your mix without relying on an engineer for fine-tuning throughout the show. 


That perfect volume is also going to be a lot lower than you’d expect. UE IEMs block outside noise using passive noise isolation, so you can listen at a comfortable level.  



Eliminate Feedback


Let’s talk about feedback. That high-pitched, screeching sound is a nightmare for performers and the audience alike, and it’s often the fault of wedges. 


Wedges are notorious for sending unwanted noise to microphones on stage due to feedback  loops that occur when noise gets caught in a cycle that travels through the sound system. Sound from the wedge monitor, like the singer’s vocals, gets picked up by the singer’s microphone and played through PA speakers, causing that terrible sound. 


IEMs prevent feedback by isolating your mix to your ears. The show will run a lot smoother, and your fans won’t need to cover their ears from harsh noises. 



Protect Your Hearing


Do your ears tend to keep ringing after gigs? That’s called tinnitus, and it's a dangerous sign of the onset of hearing loss. 


Performance venues are noisy environments that can be harmful to your ears. Stage wedges are known to produce high sound volume and sound pressure levels. Without proper ear protection, exposure to high sound pressure may cause permanent ringing or buzzing in the ear. When you use IEMs on stage, you don’t need to use those loud wedges and can instead use your IEMs at lower volumes.


Of course, stage wedges aren’t the only source of volume on most stages. Unless you’re running a silent stage, you’re also working with percussion, amplifiers, PAs, and a happy, cheering audience. Custom-fitted IEMs like UE PRO offer an impressive maximum 26dB of noise reduction. That means you don’t have to crank your monitor mix in your IEMs to compete with stage volume—after all, wouldn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?



Conserve Your Voice


Whether you’re a lead or background vocalist, you need to hear yourself. There is a ton of noise vocalists compete within a venue—from the other instruments onstage to the crowd to the hum of the venue’s electricity. 


IEMs can play a positive role in vocal health for singers. It’s common for vocalists, especially quiet ones, to strain their voices to hear themselves on stage. After multiple gigs, it can begin to take a toll on your ability to control volume and articulate words. Wedges don’t provide the isolation or clarity required to set vocalists up for a successful performance, but IEMs do.


IEMs are a superior monitoring solution that enables you to focus on performing by helping your voice stay at a comfortable level without screaming into the microphone. You’ll be able to focus on the dynamics, timing, and delivery of your voice, which will help you conserve your voice for the duration of the gig, tour and your entire career. 



Connect with the Crowd


One of the biggest concerns we hear from performers is that they’re worried that wearing IEMs, with their up to 26dB of noise reduction, will create a disconnect from the audience. In fact, that’s a big reason you’ll see some performers, especially singers, with one IEM hanging out of their ears while they’re on stage. 


IEMs are fantastic noise isolators, but it’s still important to hear the audience and make a connection. Live performances are better when you can interact and communicate with the crowd. If you’re worried about the 26dB noise reduction making it harder to connect with your fans, we recommend using our ambient noise feature to feel more immersed on stage. With this feature, you can blend crowd ambience into your stereo mix for a more connected experience. 



Transport IEMs Easily


Nobody likes the idea of carrying heavy wedges between gigs, and while most venues provide them, the last thing you want is to show up to find that the place you’re booked has absolutely no monitoring solution. IEMs are portable and take up less space than wedges, so you don’t have to spend as much time playing tour van tetris each night. 


Ultimate Ears IEMs come with a road-ready case and feature a waterproof connection system and SuperBAX cable to withstand life on the tour. Just make sure you take care of your IEMs and store them properly, and they’ll happily live in your backpack for years to come. 



Move Freely Around the Stage


Have you ever walked to a different part of the stage and noticed something sounded off?. When using wedges, you have to stand at the “sweet spot” because it projects sound directionally. If you stand anywhere else, you can’t hear the mix accurately. Because of this, wedges restrict you to a particular area on stage. Obviously, this can grow into an uncomfortable disadvantage if you’re the type of performer who likes to use a lot of space to express yourself or engage your audience.


IEMs take your proximity out of the equation because the mix is confined to your ears. Thanks to the custom-molded fit of UE, your IEMs will always fit securely. No matter where you stand, your in-ear mix will sound the same. As you move around, you’ll still hear every aspect of your mix, exactly the way you want it. 



Get the Perfect Sound


As musicians, the chase for the best sound is a worthy one. You invest a lot into the instruments you tour with, carefully choosing the guitar or bass with an unshakable tone. It’s uninspiring to hear yourself through wedges and wonder why it doesn’t sound right. Put simply, wedges lack the quality components to reproduce your sound accurately. 


IEMs are built using multiple precision-tuned drivers and balanced crossovers that produce a wide frequency spectrum. Most wedge monitors are designed to output a frequency range limited to roughly 50Hz to 20kHz, which means you won’t be able to savor all the sonic details that make your sound unique. IEMs reach as high as 40,000Hz with an extended low-end that dives below 10H and the flat frequency response allows your original sound to remain completely neutral. 


Wedges fail to produce full transient details, like the attack of your guitar pick striking a chord. Transients are a key characteristic of your sound. They play a role in how we perceive loud and soft passages of a song. To deliver a dynamic performance, you need to hear transients and their relative volume in your mix. IEMs grant a realistic transient response across the entire spectrum. More importantly, you won’t need to compensate for what you can’t hear.



Create Great Mixes Every Show 


When using wedges, you typically experience inconsistent mixes during separate shows, especially if you change venues. The way sound behaves in a live setting depends on the size and shape of the room and the FOH engineer, so getting a good mix through wedges can be difficult night after night. You’ll have to routinely account for sound reflection, reverberation, and absorption. These hurdles make it hard to get a good mix through wedges every night.


UE IEMs will give you consistent audio that sounds identical on every stage. Getting a consistently solid mix through IEMs night after night is easy. It starts with identifying what you and your band members need to hear to perform your best. Typically, you need a good balance of rhythmic, melodic, and chordal references. Consider which members of your band have these roles. Once you dial in the right blend, you’ll be set. 


When the whole band uses IEMs, everyone can build separate mixes, even if you don’t have a dedicated tour engineer. Giving everyone the tools to build personal mixes establishes a foundation for a strong performance. Regardless of the venue, you’ll hear the same mix from your IEMs and have one less thing to worry about when showtime comes. 



Use a Click or Backing Track


Although rhythmic imperfection is normal, adding a click track to your performance toolkit keeps things tight. If you’re looking for a way to adopt professional habits on stage, having a rhythmic beacon as reference can really help your band stand out. 


The flexibility of an IEM system lets your band use click tracks in their personal mixes. You can benefit from having a click track using an IEM system and a small mixer. Feeding the drummer a click track will help your band stay on point. You can also blend backing tracks into your in-ear mix if you want to get closer to the sound of an album. Set aside time to experiment with different mixes during rehearsal to see what works best for your band. 


Is your band ready to switch to IEMs? Find your perfect pair.


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