Once you go with custom in-ear monitors (IEMs), you’ll never want to go back to using universal monitors again. In this article, we take you through everything you need to know.
I’ve personally used a pair of UE5-Pros over the last few years when drumming. They are on the cheaper end of custom IEMs, but the sound isolation you get from them is fantastic, and protecting my hearing health is what matters most to me.
In-ear monitors (IEMs) revolutionized the way music was played in every possible situation, from stadium concerts to club gigs. Since they arrived at the beginning of the 80s, in-ear monitors have become a standard addition to every musician serious about their job.
They are essentially small headphones that go into your ear, blocking the outside noise and giving you the direct sound from monitors while on stage without the need to use on-stage monitor speakers in all that noise.
If you are looking to buy a cheaper, generic set of in-ear monitors (that do not require custom impressions), then check out this article.
Differences between universal and custom in-ear monitors
If you get into the topic of in-ear monitors, you’re instantly going to see that there are two main types – universal and custom IEM. The main difference is that custom IEMs are customized for each person’s ears, whereas universal ones are generic.
To get custom monitors created, you’ll need either an ear impression or a laser scan of your ears (more about that later in the article).
This makes for a bunch of other differences as well. Firstly, universal monitors, because they don’t have to be personalized are much cheaper and there are many more options for them on the market. If the price is your decisive factor then universal monitors are your pick.
Custom IEMs, on the other hand, provide a much better sound and noise isolation than universal ones. Because they are custom-molded to fit your ears, it’s only sensible that they are a much better fit than universal IEMs.
Also, you can personalize custom monitors, as they are already being handmade for you, whilst you can’t (usually) do that with universal IEMs.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Custom In-Ear Monitor Brands:
1. Ultimate Ears
Ultimate Ears is one of the leading brands for custom in-ear monitors in the world. They rise above the rest with their sound isolation, comfort, sound quality, and ultimately portable yet aesthetically pleasing designs.
All this quality comes at a price as custom in-ear monitors are more expensive than generic (universal) ones due to the attention to detail and amazing quality above all else. All for good reason, Ultimate Ears have provided artists with some of the industry-best custom IEMs, from their more affordable models like the UE 5 PRO to their high-end ones like the UE LIVE.
- Custom fitted IEMs
- Waterproof design
- Great acoustic isolation and quality sound
- Powerful drivers for clarity and detail
2. Empire Ears
Empire Ears is another excellent Custom In-Ear Monitor brand that also has universal and B-stock IEMs for those who are interested. They have amazing and aesthetically pleasing designs with quality specs to choose from.
Empire Ears offers pricey but exceptional quality IEMs that are already well-known as well as earning awards such as The Best IEMs of the year. Starting from their more reasonably priced models like the Bravado MKII to their high-end and award-winning IEMs like the Odin model. Yes, the prices may be steep but the quality, sound detail, comfort fit, and premium driver technology you get are amazing.
- Incredible sound detail (bass, sub-bass, and clarity)
- Acoustic isolation
- Custom fitted IEMs
- Premium driver technology for detailed sound
3. JH Audio
JH Audio is yet another high-quality and leading name in the Custom In-Ear Monitor sector that you may have already heard of. With affordable to high-end custom and universal IEMs, they shine with their portable, quality, and cool-looking designs.
First and foremost, the design on these custom IEMs is simply amazing, one look at them and you will see the incredible aesthetics. They have a range of IEMs at all price ranges, starting from more affordable ones like the JH7 to their more high-end ones like the Layle model. They have very detailed-oriented IEMs for the most precise sound one can have while playing music.
- Custom fitted IEMs
- Aesthetically pleasing designs
- Balanced Armature Drivers for more detail
- Good sound isolation
4. In-Earz Audio
In-Earz Audio is a more affordable entry for custom in-ear monitors but ultimately quality ones that many successful artists like Machine Gun Kelly use. Their simplistic yet colorful designs are ones that are sweeping the music industry with their reasonable prices.
The great thing about In-Earz Audio is firstly their budget-friendly models like the S150. While having a limited driver, still perseveres with its attention to detail and clear sound quality, comfort fit, and beginner-friendly roots. While more high-end models like the Utopia With Adel provide an even more detailed sound, quality build, comfort, and driver tech.
- Simple and affordable designs
- Good quality drivers
- Custom fitted IEMs
- Top-notch sound isolation
Sensaphonics is an extremely versatile custom in-ear monitor brand with a wide range of IEMs to choose from. They are a leading manufacturer when it comes to ear health and preserving your hearing that offers custom IEMs and Earphones.
They have a vast selection from affordable to higher-end models so anyone can choose according to their preference and budget. From more affordable models like the D2 model to more high-priced but ultimately more quality-packed ones like the Dual 3Max + PSM 1000 Bundle that features two 3 Max custom IEMs and one PSM 1000 Dual-Channel Wireless System.
- A wide array of selections for each budget
- Good quality products
- Custom fitted IEMs
- Exceptional quality drivers
How much do custom in-ear monitors cost?
Usually, the price range starts at around $500 (plus the cost of the ear impression depending on what approach you are going for – this can cost between $50 to $100).
From there, the sky is the limit, but some IEMs with great sound quality go for around $1000, and the top models will cost you from $2000 upwards.
Some examples of great IEMs are below. Please note, these are only a selection of the options available, and I am not claiming that these are the best options for you or the best in the industry. I just have experience with using Ultimate Ears and thought they did a great job. Do some research about the different brands available and pick something which will suit your budget and needs.
How much do universal in-ear monitors cost?
Since we’ve already written an article about universal IEMs (which you can read about right here) we’re going to keep this one short. The short answer is that universal IEMs generally cost much less than custom in-ear monitors do.
Low-end ones can go for around $50 and if you want good quality sound, you’ll need something between 150-200$. That’s a LOT less than custom IEMs.
Benefits of custom in-ear monitors
There are several benefits to custom IEMs. First off, they are made for your ears only. This means that they will sit perfectly in your ear, giving you the best comfort possible together with the best sound.
Universal monitors will never fit as well as IEMs can. Also, because they fit so well, they give you unprecedented noise isolation. Air-tight around your ears, they will block about 26dB of sounds, which is great to bring you down to healthy listening levels when on stage.
However, that can sometimes even be a downside, especially for singers, as they need some natural feedback from their mouths, which they can’t get when they’re wearing custom IEMs.
Ultimate Ears also offer the ‘Ambient Noise’ feature which allows you to bleed some of the outside noise in if you want through a filter. When in loud situations, you can still block this.
Overall, the vast majority of musicians prefer to have custom-made IEMs when on stage because positives outnumber the negatives that much.
How to fit in-ear monitors
There are two ways – either you need a physical ear impression using a custom mold, or you can get a laser scan in some situations.
Until pretty recently, the only option was to have a physical impression of your ear lobe taken so that the IEMs can be molded by that.
That means that an audiologist comes in and essentially pours some rubber into your ear for 5 minutes, which in that time solidifies and when is taken out can be used for later work. This can feel like a VERY strange experience at first, but it’s worth it!
In the last couple of years, however, there’s been a real breakthrough through several different laser techniques, like Ultimate Ear’s ED scanning.
These techniques don’t require you to do anything but sit still for a couple of minutes while a technician scans your ears and gets an instant 3D model of your ears.
The laser scanning option can result in much quicker manufacturing and delivery of your custom IEMs because the scans can be sent digitally to the manufacturer.
Are IEMs bad for your ears?
I’m not a medical professional, but based on research in this area and experience of using them, custom in-ear monitors can be very good for your ears if you stay disciplined and keep the volume relatively low. There is a reason that IEMs have been adopted by the pros in the industry for many years.
Custom IEMs give you a lot of noise isolation, which allows you to listen at a much lower level. This is particularly prevalent when playing with a band on stage while playing with a metronome or live mix in your ears.
However, if you monitor at a loud level when wearing custom IEMs, they are still going to do damage to your ears, similar to using universal IEMS, earbuds, or wedge monitors.
Overall, IEMs are good for you, not only for live performances but for rehearsals as well. As we all know the rehearsal room can get pretty loud especially when you’re right next to the drum kit so protecting your hearing should be of the utmost importance.
Buying a second pair of IEMs
If for whatever reason you need to buy a second pair of IEMS (such as a pair getting stolen or lost – or perhaps even getting a second pair as a backup), then check with the manufacturer of your previous ones to check if they have your impression on file.
If you were happy with your previous set of earphones, then they could create a second pair for you right away based on the previous impression.
If you’re a pro musician that’s looking to get a backup for a tour or set of important shows, you could consider buying a cheaper set of custom IEMs, rather than splashing out thousands of dollars on a second set.
We hope that this article has helped you to better understand the differences between universal and custom in-ear monitors as well as to find all of the information you might need on custom in-ear monitors.
Even though they cost more, they make for money well spent. With custom IEMs you’ll get unprecedented comfort and sound quality, as well as the noise-isolation while playing.
And whatever role you have in the bend, you’ll be grateful that you invested your money into something this good for your hearing and experience on stage.