State of the Industry || NAMM In-Ear Monitor Recap

2020 is the year that the line between console manufacturers and personal monitor mixers fades away. The in-ear market has matured and is no longer a niche category.

This article is Authorized by the In-Ear Monitor International Trade Organziation

This is a new announcement from one of our founding members. Our members are always pushing the boundaries of what is sonically possible for in-ear monitoring.

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April 1, 2020

CONVERGENCE

The biggest story for in-ears coming out of NAMM 2020 is the merging and overlapping of consoles and personal monitor mixers. The DMI-KLANG is a harbinger of what's coming. “The DMI-KLANG is just the beginning of a new line of products,” says KLANG’s co-founder Pascal Dietrich. “Together with the DiGiCo OrangeBox and the many I/O expansion cards available today, we can now interface with almost any professional digital mixing console.”

The DMI-KLANG follows in the footsteps of the KLANG:fabrik. “This is the first hardware product since KLANG and DiGiCo joined forces,” says DiGiCo’s General Manager, Austin Freshwater “We took KLANG:fabrik’s immersive in-ear mixing core and rebuilt it with today’s latest FPGA technology. With one device, we can now deliver immersive mixes of 64 inputs for 16 musicians. This is the highest input count of any KLANG product to date. And the best thing is, we were able to bring the processing latency down to a quarter of a millisecond.”

Besides for the new product launch, DiGiCo received a trio of awards for their native integration of KLANG’s immersive IEM mixing system within its SD-Range worksurface. They won Indispensable Technology, Audio award during the 19th Annual Parnelli Awards. They received a FOH Gold Star Product Award, collectively selected by the publication’s editorial staff for Best Console Integration, and a ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International 11th Annual Readers’ Choice Award.

“Over the past year since we announced the deepening partnership between DiGiCo and KLANG, our combined R&D team has worked relentlessly to place an incredibly immersive yet easily usable in-ear mixing solution within our consoles’ worksurfaces,” said  Freshwater. “These recognitions by both the press and public are tremendously validating that we are continuing to provide our customers with highly useful tools.”

DiGiCo announces the DMI-KLANG at NAMM 2020

CONNECTIVITY

This integration isn't just happening within the DiGiCo / KLANG ecosystem. It's everywhere. Look at ME Personal Mixing Systems from Allen & Heath. Of course they're designed to work seamlessly within the Allen & Heath ecosystem but they play nicely with any other console manufacturer as well. And the ME-1 has a built-in ambient mic to give the user direct control of ambient bleed. This is a great function that helps solve isolation on-the-fly.

The ME 1 - a 40 Source Personal Mixer

The ME 500 — 16 Channel Personal Mixer

PreSonus is in the game too. Their EARMIX 16M is steadily gaining ground and we should expect to see more from them as success is cumulative. The EARMIX works perfectly with the StudioLive series and can connect anywhere within the network.  

EARMIX 16M — Professional, networked personal monitoring

And of course, Yamaha continues to innovate with their 1 touch outboard presets for IEM's on their TF Series consoles.

HALO PRODUCTS

IIt's not just the console manufacturers that are getting into the in-ear space, traditional amplifier manufacturers like Powersoft are expanding into providing power for tactile transducers so that artists using in-ears can feel frequency vibrations. Keep an eye on their MOVER and what continues to evolve in the space.

And Aviom got into the tactile space as well with their new BOOM-1 introduction.

Aviom introduces the BOOM-1

GROWTH

Along with the expanding ecosystem of the in-ear space itself, large MI brands continue to enter and participate within the in-ear space. Audio Technica adds new offerings to their in-ear line up. Fostex continues with their true wireless solution. Mackie expands their MP Series, CAD AUDIO doubles down on transmitters/ receivers and in-ear offerings, and Fender & Zildjian remains committed to the space.

CONSOLIDATION

All of these factors point to a maturing of the ecosystem. In-Ear Monitoring has clearly moved beyond a niche segment of the industry. As the console manufactures blur the lines between mixing and personal monitor mixing, what will happen to the smaller stand-alone personal monitor system manufacturers? Was the KLANG / DiGiCo acquisition a one-off or will it be the first in a trend? And if console manufacturers are acquiring personal monitoring systems, will they also be looking to absorb in-ear manufacturers?

A lot of this depends on the ease of manufacturing in-ears. Universal in-ears have their own inherent manufacturing challenges — the ear is a difficult environment with sweat and wax and if not built properly, there is a high probability of a heavy RMA burden. And there is still more that can be done for tip customization.

On the custom in-ear front, manufacturers still are investigating alternative methods for customization and for capturing the ear mold.

Horluchs debuted an Otometrics ear scanner at NAMM. This is a parallel development from United Science's eFit scanning devices. Otometrics and United Sciences initially had been co-developing the technology before parting ways. The Otometrics device has the same form factor but internally it is said to be highly divergent. I'm curious to see the results.

Mee Audio continues to work with 3Shape and their Phoenix ear scanner.

Sennheiser announced a partnership with Lantos at their San Francisco in-store open house.

And Ultimate Ears continues to work with their DIY Home Fit Kit.

NEW MARKETS. NEW TECHNOLOGIES.

Audeze showcased their ear mapping technology using cans. When will that be available for in-ears? Pay attention here. Very few in-ear companies integrate DSP. Audeze is the market leader on this front.

Sensaphonics teams up with Think-A-Move to form ASI Audio. Their 3DME platform will have many uses and applications but for me, the one to watch is how this will solve problems for symphonies and orchestras. This very affordable system will allow string players to control and adjust the ambiance to their needs — allowing them to boost some frequencies and lower others. This will allow for monitoring and protection for orchestral players. Keep eyes on this one and think about how the platform can expand beyond musicians...

EXPANSION

The developments made on stage in the in-ear space reverberate throughout the global headphone market. And the manufactures who are able to combine their manufacturing prowess and audio capabilities to meet the growing consumer demand for True Wireless will be the recipients of a giant windfall.

Look no further than Shure and their announcement of their AONIC True Wireless line.  

Etymotic also debuted their new Bluetooth cable / product line. Their value proposition is the built in DAC and amplifier along with Qualcomm's AptX HD high resolution audio codec.

OTHER NOTABLES

64 Audio's N8 was up for a TEC Award and they were showcasing their 18 driver model, the A18t.

64 Audio's A18t - 18 balanced armatures

Westone announced their latest additions to the the Elite Series, the ES 40 and ES 70.

The Westone ES 70 — 7 Balanced Armatures

Jerry Harvey Audio showcases how they beautifully mill the Jimi from resin and wood.

Sennheiser had to compete with themselves at the TEC awards. Both their IE PRO Series and their Neumann NDH 20 were up for the Headphone / Earpiece category.

InEarz was also up for the Headphone / Earpiece TEC Award with their Zen Universal IEM with ADEL Technology. They showcased that they can now bond acrylic faceplates to their soft silicone ears. This allows them to recess the estron T2 connector even deeper for additional sweat protection.

Clear Tunes Monitor was up for a TEC award for their Da Vinci X. They used the NAMM platform to launch their 320 universal fit IEM for retail. Look for them at Musician's Friend and GC online.

Alclair solves in-field maintenance with a wax vacuum. One of these should be standard issue for any touring band.

Stealth Sonics positions themselves for rapid growth in the touring industry.

Perfect Seal Labratories had a great location and their booth was always busy.

And finally, we saw 1st time NAMM showings from Sam Audio and Flip Ears. Expect to see more from both these firms in the coming years.

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