Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
Adventures with in-ear monitors.

Adventures with in-ear monitors.

With our recent move to a Soundcraft Ui24R digital mixer, we also expanded our ability for monitor mixes. Previously we had four mixes available. Now we have eight available monitor mixes, so everyone can enjoy their own. This opened the door for us to start using in-ear monitors.

Most modern acts have been using in-ear monitors (IEMs) for years, but I had yet to take the step as a local act. Most local acts are still using stage monitor wedges. The wedges blast sound all over the stage, and raise the volume for every musician. That means going home after shows with our ears ringing, regardless of how we try to keep our volume to manageable levels. In-ear monitors would require some getting used to.

Why in-ear monitors?

With in-ear monitors, each band member can have a personalized mix of the audio elements they need to hear. Whether it’s vocals, instruments, or effects, we can fine-tune our individual mixes to suit our preferences. This level of control ensures that we can hear exactly what we need without the interference of stage acoustics or competing sounds.

One of the most remarkable aspects of in-ear monitors is the noise isolation they provide. In loud venues, it’s easy for sound to become muddled, making it challenging to stay in sync. Even at reasonable volumes, we found this happening in those indoor venues with bad acoustics — such as craft breweries, which are often constructed from warehouses with little in the way of sound treatment. In-ear monitors significantly reduce external noise, allowing us to maintain perfect timing and harmony. This newfound clarity has elevated the quality of our performances, making them tighter and more impactful, particularly our vocals.

As musicians, preserving our hearing health is paramount. By providing clear and controlled sound directly to our ears, our IEMs keep the volume at a reasonable level while still delivering a powerful performance. This has long-term benefits for our hearing and ensures we can continue making music for years to come.

Gear we chose

We decided to take a less expensive step to start. Audiophile quality earphones — the small sizes needed for in-ear monitors — were restricted to only the wealthy or big-name acts. But nowadays there is a thriving market in high quality wired earbuds made in China. These target music lovers who want to hear better quality sound than typically found in Bluetooth wireless earbuds. A band can’t use these effectively for gigs because there is are delays in sound transmission — not a concern for music listeners, but devastating for keeping time together.

We chose the Linsoul produced KZ ZS10 Pro monitors. These take a hybrid approach of a dynamic driver for bass, and 4 extra armature drivers for mid-range and high-range frequencies. The sound is quite astonishing for under $50, compared to $150-200 for the cheapest standard IEMs for musicians — and those IEMs are notorious for failing after regular use.

Then we also needed a way to transmit the mix to our IEMs. Those of us who tend to stay put on stage — meaning the drummer, keyboardist, and myself — use a wired connection. We run a standard mic cable to a “belt pack” style personal amplifier. We are using Behringer P2 amps, but guests have also brought the ART HP-1. These units are both switchable from stereo to mono. Our singers and guitar player are using Xvive U4 wireless transmitters and receivers to send sound to their in-ear monitors. They do need to remember to recharge them before gigs, but with wireless units they can roam the stage (and even leave it) if they like.

The in-ear monitor experience

The mono sound of a mix started out quite novel. Most of us usually listen to music in stereo. While our mixer is capable of sending stereo mixes, each stereo mix takes two channels. With eight channels of auxiliary mixes, we could only do four stereo mixes, defeating the new mixer’s advantage. Typically monitor mixes on stage are mono anyway, so we stuck with this practice.

It can be a little odd having all the instruments and voices coming in directly in the center of your head. But by managing the volume of the individual audio signals, and emphasizing only the necessary ones, I got used to it very quickly. The bandmates have also found this perfectly workable. I need to hear the drums and other instruments at low volume, and the singers to harmonize. My bass guitar and my own voice are typically the loudest things in my personal mix.

I found that I could hear my own voice incredibly clearly, even compared to having my own monitor mix on stage. I have been able to control my vocals far better, and I never need to sing too loud in order to hear myself. This has meant less wear and tear on my vocal cords, an unforeseen benefit. And no matter where I turn or move on stage, the sound is consistent.

Additional ideas

I opted to buy a set of foam ear pieces to replace the silicone that came with my ZS10 Pro’s. These resemble the roll-up hearing protection ear plugs at any grocery store, but fit on the earphones. This increases the noise isolation of my in-ear monitors making them even more effective. I’ve been very pleased with this setup and can’t ever see myself going back to monitor wedges.

One final benefit: I was able to stop transporting about half the heavy gear we carry for gigs. Now I only need to carry the main speakers, mixer, sound and power cables, and odds and ends like stands and lights. What a relief!


Our journey with in-ear monitors has been a sonic revolution. The personalized sound experience, noise isolation, and hearing health preservation have transformed the way we approach live performances. As a band, we’re no longer confined by the limitations of traditional stage monitoring. Instead, we’ve embraced a new era of live music where precision, connectivity, and artistry converge. So, the next time you catch our live show, know that behind the electrifying performance lies the magic of in-ear monitors shaping our every note and beat.

Photo by Hamid Roshaan on Unsplash.

[Author’s note: I tried out ChatGPT to write selected parts of this article. It won’t be a regular occurrence, but I wanted to get this done more quickly to move on to other things today.]