February 13, 2020
My name is Aya Robinson and I am a vocalist from O’ahu, Hawai’i. In this post, I will be sharing my experience of switching from generic in-ear monitors to customs. The three biggest differences I experienced were improvements in tailoring my mix, vocal & hearing fatigue, and my overall performance.
IMPROVEMENTS IN MY MIX
I served as a vocalist at Sanctuary, the young adult ministry of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, CA for 4 years. When I started out, I had no experience using in-ears of any kind and thus relied on the universal in-ears my church had on hand for volunteers to use. I was grateful to have them as an option to protect my hearing and to allow me to use a wireless pack on stage. However, I did find that as someone with small ears, they weren’t always the most comfortable after the 3+ hours I would be wearing them over the course of a single night. My worship team had rehearsal from 3:30pm to 6pm then lead worship at the beginning and ending of the 7pm service. I used these generic in-ears for 3 years before joining the custom in-ear company I currently work for. Upon getting the job, I opted for the 3 driver model with a boost in midrange frequency response in the hopes that my vocals, and those I would be harmonizing with, would be forward in my mix.
The first time I used my customs on stage, I immediately noticed a difference in the quality of sound as well as my overall mix. The entire band sounded so much clearer that I joked with my band, “This is what we actually sound like?”. The first thing I noticed was the fact that I didn’t need to turn my volume up nearly as high as before thanks to the passive isolation of the custom fit. My church used an Aviom system, so I was in charge of setting up my mix every service. I also noticed that I didn’t need to turn up the channels for my vocals and the other singers nearly as high as before because they were more pronounced due to the frequency response of the model I had chosen.
IMPROVEMENTS IN VOCAL & HEARING FATIGUE
I think every singer can attest that the volume at which you can hear yourself on stage directly impacts your vocal fatigue over the course of a set; meaning the less you can hear the quicker your voice gets tired. I noticed that being able to hear myself better kept me from projecting more into the mic than necessary, ultimately reserving my voice over the 3+ hours I had to sing.
I also noticed that having better isolation drastically improved my hearing fatigue over the course of a service. Having a tighter seal that blocked out more stage bleed kept me from turning up the volume on my pack, which I believe in the long run has helped protect my hearing.
IMPROVEMENT IN PERFORMANCE
Switching to custom in-ears not only improved my overall experience in what I heard on stage; it also instilled a confidence in knowing that what I heard was as close to the room as possible. I mainly focused on background vocals, and since I was harmonizing with other members of the band, hearing their voices more clearly allowed me to blend my voice better with theirs. Being able to hear myself better also gave me the confidence to try new harmonies and experiment with different techniques. The more comfortable fit kept me from taking them out prematurely on stage, eliminating an unnecessary distraction.
Ultimately, it is very hard to quantify the value that utilizing customs in-ears has given me. Using customs versus generics are such different experiences that it can’t be truly explained in a post. Now you may be asking yourself, are they really worth the investment? I would say that if you are a musician that is regularly playing in loud environments, the return on your investment will far exceed your expectations. These products are really something to be experienced, and I am grateful for the drastic improvements they have provided me.
Aya Robinson is a life-long musician and a Sales & Marketing Specialist for Ultimate Ears Pro.