5 Of The Best In Ear Monitors For Musicians (2020 Reviewed)
Whether you are a professional singer, instrument player, sound engineer, or simply love listening to great music and hate to have it ruined by subpar tech equipment, the information below should help you find the best in ear monitors for musicians.
The five products featured here should suit any budget and preference, and our Buyer’s Guide will help you learn what to look for in a set of high-quality in-ear monitors. So, sit back, relax — and happy listening!
The Best In-Ear Monitors in 2020
1. Audio Technica ATH-E70
Audio Technica’s latest addition to their ATH-E series is a truly next-generation in-ear monitor system. These in-ear monitors are specially designed for heavy-duty professional use, including both studio mixing and onstage monitoring.
For starters, ATH-E70 comes with three built-in balanced armature drivers and excellent housing. Together, these ensure extended and correct response across the full frequency range as well as maximum sound isolation, so that ambient noise is minimized, and you can hear nothing but the music. That is a definite improvement compared to earlier models, which only provide bass and balanced mid- and high-range frequencies (ATH-E40) or accurate full-range response (ATH-E50).
These monitors are also very comfy to wear and easy to use. The over-ear loops are made of supple memory material to ensure a tailored fit and maximum comfort, and the detachable cable allows for extra flexibility and range of motion.
If you order this product, you will also get a free carrying case, foam and silicone tips, and an adapter.
On the other hand, ATH-E70 is definitely on the pricier side. Depending on your budget, this set of monitors may not be a wise purchase, especially if you will not be using it for professional purposes.
- Specially designed for professional use
- Works both in the studio and onstage
- 109 dB sensitivity
- Three balanced drivers
- Extended and correct response across the frequency range (20–19,000 Hz)
- Comfortable to wear
- Memory custom fit
- 3 mm (1/4″) plug-on adapter
- Detachable 1.6 m (5.2′) cable with A2DC connectors
- L-shaped, 3.5 mm (0.14″) gold-plated mini-plug stereo connector
- Free carrying case
- Silicone (XS/S/M/L) and foam (M) tips
- Relatively more expensive
- Might be an overkill for amateur use
- Foam tips only come in one size (M)
2. Shure SE846
Shure calls its SE846 sound-isolating in-ear monitors “state of the art,” and that may not be far from the truth. This model has not one, not two, not three, but four high-definition micro-drivers that provide some of the best low-end performance and high-end clarity on the market. SE846 also comes with a revolutionary low-pass filter that gives you the performance of a true subwoofer.
With this set, you get a three-way configuration for low, mid, and high-frequency distribution. The detachable metal nozzle and optional nozzle inserts further allow for customized balanced, bright, or warm sound signatures. What’s more, SE846 also features a special sound isolating kit with a number of sleeves that can block up to 37 dB.
The snug, over-the-ear design makes sure the earphones stay securely in place with the wiring out of the way. For maximum flexibility and comfort, you have the option to go wireless using the Bluetooth-enabled cable.
Each SE846 headphone set also comes with a basic and expanded fit kit as well as a number of accessories including two audio cables, an adapter, a removable nozzle kit, a cleaning cloth, a carrying pouch, and a shirt clip.
However, note that the Bluetooth cable is sold separately. In addition, these are definitely not budget headphones, which is a bummer.
- Four high-def micro-drivers
- Excellent low-end performance and high-end clarity
- Revolutionary low-pass filter ensures subwoofer performance
- Low, mid, and high-frequency distribution
- Customizable sound signatures (balanced, bright, or warm)
- 14 Hz–20 kHz frequency range
- 114 dB SPL/mW sensitivity
- Cancelation of ambient noise of up to 37 dB
- Secure over-the-ear design
- Wireless option using Bluetooth cable guarantees up to 10 hours of battery life
- A great selection of accessories
- Bluetooth cable sold separately
- No hard case for safe storing
- Rather expensive
3. Shure SE215
SE215 is Shure’s budget alternative to SE846. The lower price does not mean low quality, however: these earphones are a great choice for professionals and casual music lovers alike — as well as anyone on a tighter budget.
This product is rooted in professional personal monitor technology. It offers enhanced bass, detailed sound, and noise isolation of up to 37 dB. Both wired and wireless Bluetooth versions are available, and the wireless models are compatible with most Bluetooth 5.0 devices. Like SE846, these provide up to 10 m (30 feet) wireless range and 10 hours of battery life.
What’s more, select models come with a remote and built-in mic for iOS and Android, allowing you to make phone calls and use voice commands.
The lightweight design comes with a secure over-the-ear fit as well as a lock-snap with 360-degree rotation. The SE215 earphones also feature black foam sleeves and three flex sizes that ensure a great seal and maximize comfort, noise cancelation, and bass response.
That being said, however, just as with any budget product, something’s got to give. SE215 only features a single dynamic driver, which makes it a great entry-level headphone set. However, it might not be suitable for more advanced expert use.
- Enhanced, clear bass and detailed sound
- Noise cancelation of up to 37 dB
- Both wired and wireless Bluetooth versions
- Some models come with iOS and Android-compatible remote and mic
- Comfy over-the-ear design with 360-degree lock snap
- Three flex sizes (S, M, L) available
- Four color options (black, blue, clear, white)
- Comes with a carrying case
- Only one high-definition driver
- May not be suitable for more advanced users
4. Easy KZ ZST
This product is definitely the cheapest on our list, but make no mistake: these are some of the best in-ear monitors out there and can easily compete against much higher-priced sets.
With an independent sound channel per driver, Easy KZ ZST provides an excellent listening experience across the frequency spectrum, from bass to midrange and treble. These headphones also come with a noise-canceling mechanism that features special black carbon housing and patented silicone tips. These not only enhance noise cancelation but also allow for a more comfy fit and ensure that the sound is directed straight toward the eardrum.
Thanks to its lock-in mechanism, memory wire technology, and detachable cable, these monitors provide an ergonomic fit allowing you to move around freely. You can also opt for a model with or without a built-in mic.
On the negative side, Easy KZ ZST only comes in the color black, and the pack includes just the earphones and three pairs of different-sized silicone tips.
- Hybrid dynamic and balanced armature driver
- Great sound across the frequency spectrum (bass, midrange, treble)
- Noise cancelation technology
- Patented silicone tips in three sizes (S, M, L)
- 106dB/mW sensitivity
- 20–20,000Hz frequency response
- Lock-in mechanism
- Memory wire
- Detachable cable
- Models with or without a mic are available
- Available in one color only (black)
- The pack does not include a carrying pouch/case, foam tips, a converter, or a secondary wire
5. MEE Audio M6 PRO 2nd Generation
These second-generation in-ear monitors improve and build on their already highly acclaimed predecessor. You can expect a more accurate midrange sound as well as a smoother treble. Like the other products in our review, M6 PRO 2nd Generation also comes with noise-canceling technology.
The design features universal, over-ear fit and sweat-resistant materials. The memory wire ear hooks and seven pairs of memory foam tips will further enhance your comfort and ensure a tailored fit. The detachable and replaceable cables provide added flexibly too.
What’s more, the headset cable is equipped with a built-in mic and remote. The product pack also includes a stereo cable, protective case, silicone and memory foam tips, and an adapter. Last but not least, you also have the option to order custom-engraved faceplates.
However, while M6 PRO 2nd Generation is one of the best in-ear monitors out there, please note that it was developed with professional or semi-professional use in mind. Therefore, this headset brings you a clear yet flat sound that allows you to hear precisely what an instrument or voice sounds like on stage or during mixing in the studio. If you are looking for an exaggerated, heavy bass and overstated highs, that may not be the best product for you.
- Accurate, clear sound across the frequency range
- Noise cancellation
- Universal over-ear fit
- Memory wire hooks
- Memory foam ear tips
- Detachable and replaceable cables
- Built-in mic and remote
- Protective case
- Custom-engraved faceplates
- Different color options (black, blue, clear, red)
- May not be the best headphones for listening to music for entertainment
Before committing to a purchase, there are few things you need to know about in-ear monitors first.
What Are In-Ear Monitors and Why You Should Use Them?
In-ear monitors or IEMs are professional earphones used by musicians and sound engineers onstage or while mixing music in the studio. Unlike regular earbuds, an in ear monitor system is specially designed to allow experts to accurately hear and test the sound of all instruments and voices and adjust their audio output accordingly. That is particularly important in situations where sound distortion might cause musicians or singers to try to outperform one another out of fear that they will not be heard. Therefore, if you are a professional sound expert, you really ought to invest in a pair or two of premium in-ear headphones.
Many people use these words interchangeably. It is crucial to know which of these devices we should pick if we want to get the best product for ourselves because they are different in a few ways.
One of the key components of in ear monitors that make them vastly different from regular earphones is their advanced driver technology. To put it simply, drivers convert electrical signals to sounds that the human ear can hear. Headphones for amateur use typically come with only one driver, whereas professional IEMs can have anywhere from two to twelve. As can be expected, that greatly improves the user’s sound experience.
There are two main types of drivers: dynamic and balanced armature drivers. Both help achieve a higher resolution level, greater sound accuracy, and faster processing speed. Nowadays, many manufacturers opt for hybrid designs featuring both dynamic and balanced drivers to further improve the sound experience.
Wired vs. Wireless
There are both wired and wireless in-ear monitors on the market. Which one you should choose mostly depends on the type of instrument you play. Players of more static instruments, such as drums or keyboards, may benefit from wired IEMs. In contrast, guitarists, singers, and anyone else with a wider range of motion should stick to a wireless in-ear monitor system.
Custom vs. Universal Fit
While most manufacturers nowadays offer universal fit IEMs with adjustable foam or silicone ear tips, many high-level professional musicians prefer a custom fit based on a mold of their ear canal. That helps improve the wearer’s comfort as well as noise cancellation and sound quality.
Custom fitting services, however, can get very pricey. What’s more, as the shape of both your ear canal and ear lobe change over the years, a custom fit by no means offers a lifetime guarantee.
Form and Design
Cheaper in-ear monitors sometimes feature outdated cable-down designs. Newer and more advanced models, however, usually have an over-ear design that is not only more comfortable to wear but also helps improve the sound quality.
When choosing between different IEM brands and models, make sure to compare the technical specifications. These include frequency response, sensitivity, sound isolation, impedance, and the sizes of the different components.
As there are currently no standardized testing and reporting requirements, many IEM brands use different specifications to make their product stand out from the rest. Therefore, if you are not familiar enough with IEM technology and the physics of sound, you may end up falling for cheap marketing tricks and not getting your money’s worth.
To make sure that you are well informed, consider reaching out to experienced sound professionals or at least reading through specialized materials.
As with any consumer product, you want your IEMs to last a long time. An essential factor for the durability of a pair of IEMs is the wiring. Ideally, you should invest in a set with detachable and replaceable cables. That would allow you to disengage the IEMs and the cable when needed, thereby reducing the risk of damage.
Another thing to bear in mind to ensure that your IEMs have a long shelf life is to keep them clean. The build-up of earwax and sweat over time can end up causing significant damage to your device. That is why it is important to clean them regularly, as per the manufacturer’s specifications.
Finally, it is best to buy a set of in ear monitors that is water- and sweat-resistant, especially if you plan to use them onstage. Performing live can be rigorous exercise, and the added heat from the spotlight can make you sweat even more.
Sensitivity is measured in dB and indicates how much volume can be delivered per 1 W. For instance, at 1 W of power, an IEM device with a sensitivity of 107 dB will deliver volume at 107 dB. For every 3 dB extra decibels, the power would need to be doubled.
Excellent noise canceling is key to effective sound monitoring. That is why in-ear headphones come with built-in sound isolating mechanisms. Typically, IEMs block unwanted noise from entering the ear simply by being inserted into the user’s ear canals. Many models also rely on ear-tips to achieve even better noise cancelation. Overall, custom-made in-ear monitors provide the best noise cancellation. The higher the noise cancellation, the more protection your ears will get.
Finally, impedance represents how resistant an IEM device is to electricity. Models with higher impedance require less power and are easier to drive.
Frequency response is the range of frequencies that an in-ear monitor device can recreate. To give you a rough idea, the human ear can only pick up frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. As we age, we gradually lose the ability to detect the higher frequencies. Naturally, the larger the frequency range, the better the sound quality of the IEMs.
We hope that our reviews of the five best in-ear monitors for professionals in 2020 have been useful to you. With so many great — and not-so-great — options on the market, we all can get easily overwhelmed. That is all the more so when it comes to products that come with highly specific and complex technical parameters. Our guide should help you steer your course through all the false marketing traps and separate the wheat from the chaff.
So, what’s our verdict? While we believe all five reviewed IEMs are truly great products, our number one pick is Shure SE215. This headset combines excellent sound quality and technical characteristics with affordable pricing.
However, whatever IEM headset you end up choosing, remember to always check and compare the four most important technical characteristics: frequency range, sensitivity, sound isolation, and impedance. Don’t forget to also consider the comfort and durability of the product as well as their type and number of drivers.
If you do all that, you are bound to have a great many hours of happy listening experience and endless creativity!
Editor Side Note: Are you a musician that is also a fitness enthusiast? Here is a guide on what is the best Bluetooth earbuds for working out.