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Advice on which in-ear monitors to choose


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From what I can tell there are two main competing companies when it comes to in-ear monitors: Sennheiser and Shure. I'm looking to drop between $200 and $400 on some nice in-ear monitors and wanted to make sure I get the best bang for my buck. I've checked out a few local music stores for information on in-ear monitors but none of their audio experts have too much experience with them and referred me to some online sources.

My main use for the monitors at the moment would be for listening to music; however I do have an electric drum kit and plan to do some recording (with the kit and other instruments) in the near future. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a drummer about headphones and he recommended going for monitors just the same. Maybe someone here can let me know if this is actually a good idea?

The sound isolation is a big deal for me, and I understand in-ear monitors are designed to replace stage monitors for live performance, so when I'm about to drop a much as $400 on a new pair of headphones I want to make sure I'll be getting the best sound quality for the type of music I listen to. I don't care for a lot of electronic music with big bassy sounds, I listen to music made mostly with real instruments and prefer a good balance and clarity to what I'm listening to, rather than being overblown with bass.

I was able to find a little information from Shure's website with regards to their SE series of monitors. Ranging from the SE X15, X25 and X35 the number before the 5 represents the number of audio drivers in each monitor (the 2 being a woofer and tweeter, the 3 being a tweeter and 2 woofers). What I can't seem to get a feel for is if any of the in-ear monitors offered by Sennheiser are more than a single driver. In this case, is it possible for them to sound better than the Shure's with multiple drivers? I know Sennheiser is a much higher quality name in audio, but in this particular case I'm unsure as to where to buy the best sounding monitors? If anyone can offer some advice or point me in the direction of further research I'd be very happy for your help.

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My main use for the monitors at the moment would be for listening to music; however I do have an electric drum kit...monitors...Maybe someone here can let me know if this is actually a good idea?
Nope, completely unnecessary. You only need monitors if you're doing live sound or recording, not with electric drums. Get any old thing. Etymotics, perhaps. ER-4...p? s? n? ...ER-4something.
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There are loads more choices and a few searches on Head-Fi will turn up many opinions. I posted on the Shure SE-425s over there myself, actually.

We don't talk about that kind of stuff much here, apart from abusing newbies looking for headphones by telling them to buy very expensive in-ears. But since you are actually asking about in-ears, where's the fun in that?

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We don't talk about that kind of stuff much here, apart from abusing newbies looking for headphones by telling them to buy very expensive in-ears.

I don't see that as abuse at all. I think it's good advice, even if it's not appreciated at the time.

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I honestly differ a bit with the advice to get JH customs for this application. While my JHs fit me very nicely, IMO they're not all that for isolation. It fills the ear but in my experience it's still somewhat transmissive. I get significantly better isolation with a slightly pliable custom eartip - like the ACS tips or certain of the Westone materials - and slightly better isolation still with an expansion tip (foam, but flanges can work too) that really overfills the ear beyond the point of long-term comfort. Anyway, assuming the OP is truly serious about isolation, and would like to stay in budget, I'd suggest ready-to-wear over customs.

So bmasseur, my advice is this: for best bang for your buck, do not get customs, look toward the lower end of your price range in ready-to-wear. Specifically I'd suggest Etymotic mc5 (or mc3) or above for really good clarity, or Shure (whatever model best hits your budget/capability curve) for more bass impact at the expense (IMO) of sharp-edged clarity for things like hard percussion and cymbal strikes.

Really, though, start towards the lower end. It sounds fantastic. It takes a fair amount of time for your ears to get sufficiently used to this level of fidelity to make it really worthwhile to invest in (say) ER-4 Etys over mc3 or hf5 Etys. With the money you save by starting with lesser models of Ety or Shure (or one of the others, though I'm less familiar with them), you can try a second brand if the first one you buy doesn't have quite the sound signature you are looking for. After you've settled on something then later for added comfort you can have ACS eartips made for them. All that and you're still within budget, probably with budget left over to put towards your next step up in audio now that you know what you like, or towards a stunningly decent DIY amp.

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I see a lot of professional football players using those Beets by Dr. Dre. I think football players listen to a lot of music. They must know what sounds good. They probably got a group deal though, but I'd go with those.

As a matter of fact, I think there are a few professional football players on this forum. Maybe they can chime in with some listening impressions and they might even give you a coupon code.

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On addition to the professional football players we have many professional pr0n actors (and actresses) who also are very well versed on high quality sound devices for their using Dr Dre Beats. The amateur ones know a bit worse.

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ACS eartips

"We manufacture our T-Series earpieces using medical-grade silicone to give you the best in both isolation and comfort. Manufacturing electronics in silicone may not be the easiest approach but we believe that the result is more than worth the effort. The shape of your ear canal changes with the movement of your jaw and having a flexible earpience not only gives you the obvious benefits of greater comfort but also helps to maintain a more consistent seal, particularly during vocal performances. Not only that, but using a softer compound means that your monitors warm to body temperature more quickly giving you complete comfort, flexibility and isolation in just a few minutes."

I din't know about this! This would be perfect for me to be used on the jh16, pming jerry..

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I have heard very little about the companies who use soft silicone to make their earpieces (ACS / Sensaphonics), and what little I have heard hasn't been uniformly great. Would be very cool if we could get the best of both worlds (reputable TOTL earphones like JH/Westone/UE with soft silicone eartips)

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FWIW I know nothing about the ACS softbody earpieces that Spych quoted. From what I know of the company and its founder they are probably very good, but I've never seen them. My personal experience is limited to the ACS custom tips for off-the-shelf earphones, and I do highly recommend those.

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Get the JH5s, even though the isolation is so so. Drums, as you may have heard, are LOUD. Wear the JH5 and put some shooting earmuffs on over them if you're tracking non-electric drums. For the electric kit, the isolation blocks out the thudding sound well enough (tested today at GC with my JH13). They do get a little slippery when you sweat, however.

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I don't know about JHs, but I have trouble maintaining a seal with my custom musicians' earplugs. In the absence of being able to transform them to silicon, I've found that smearing a dab of petroleum jelly around on them prior to use helps a lot.

needing petroleum jelly to get my hi-fi to work - "That'll be the day."

48855805b690690d435f7eb1933cab53.jpg

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