July 26, 2020
It is no wonder that in-ear monitors are so popular. They are multifunctional tools of the trade. They are used in recording sessions, they are found on stages all over the world nightly, and they are an audiophile's go-to headphone for portability and fidelity.
But it wasn't always this way.
When in-ear monitors were first invented, they were strictly for stage use. They were meant to replace traditional stage monitors — floor wedges — in loud arena tour settings. They were made for hearing conservation and to ensure that artists who had already suffered from hearing damage were still able to play properly. They were tuned for live music. They were meant to be played loud.
As they became adopted in the touring world, a few pioneering artists began to take them into recording sessions rather than to rely on studio headphones. It was what they were used to using while performing so this just made sense. This led to the development of specialized reference-quality tunings that gave more accuracy with less low-end.
During this same time period, the rise of portable hi-fi was just beginning. MP3 files and FLAC formats led to the first phase of Palm Pilots being used for music players. Early adopting audiophiles were quick to realize the benefits of pairing these early players with custom in-ears. It was not long before there was a blur between the Pro Audio and "Pro-Sumer" buyers.
Eventually, the market for Hi-Fi listeners grew so large tha some in-ear manufacturers never worked with professional musicians. Instead, they were able to focus solely on developing tunings for reference listening.
Today, there are now over 200 in-ear manufacturers serving the pro audio and hi-fi needs. What was once a niche market now influences overarching headphone design trends. In-ear monitors were able to have such a profound impact because of their size, their portability, and their fidelity. What other headphone do you see on stage, in the studio, and on the street?