By Contributing Author Dango
Our list of the best in-ear monitors for drummers has you covered, whether you’re new to in-ears, want universal IEMs, or custom molded in-ears.
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In-ear monitors are one of the best inventions in the world of live music, recording studios, and sound production over the past 60 years.
The idea is that you can have a speaker in your ear that protects you from outside noise, while giving you a clear mix of the music.
In the mid 60’s the first In Ear Monitors (IEM’s) were created by Stephen Ambrose and were only available to the elite professionals.
In 1995 Jerry Harvey came along and revolutionized the product by creating the first dual speakers within IEM’s, while he was on tour with Motley Crue running sound.
That year Harvey founded Ultimate Ears and the first boutique IEM company took off. They started contracting Westone to do their custom molds for clients a few years after that.
Eventually in 2007, Jerry Harvey started JH Audio and his ex-wife took Ultimate Ears. To this day, JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone are still the 3 top companies in the IEM world, from my experience.
There are now countless small companies trying to compete, but let’s look at the top products available.
5 Best In-Ear Monitors for Drummers
Some of the big audio brands like Shure make a great stock product. But if you really have the money to invest, the best IEM’s are all from boutique companies that specialize specifically in IEM’s.
My best advice for any IEM’s is to get custom molded ones designed to fit your ear and totally isolate outside noise.
All the companies offer universals that can have removable rubber sleeves, but you will always have extra noise.
If you can afford to get molds, that will change the game for you even more than the amount of drivers. A molded triple driver sounds much more clear to me than a universal 8 driver.
Ultimate Ears UE Live
UE has been around since the start and they make several great options for IEM’s at the pro level.
Their very top model is the UE Live, which carries a hefty price tag over $2K.
These are reserved for people doing music as a profession, but UE makes several less expensive models as well.
For the sake of truly putting the best options out there, I am comparing the top models from each company.
UE Live features five way crossover and eight specialized drivers. It has a custom 6mm sub and True Tone Plus drivers to cover 5 to 40,000 Hz range. It features a waterproof connection system and SuperBax cable.
This is the cream of the crop for UE. They are super clear at low volumes or high.
They offer a 1 year warranty as well as a fit guarantee. UE is also the first company to offer 3D scans of your ears to fit the molds.
If you have the cash, these are literally amazing.
The UE 18+ is also a great option for drummers and is also 6 drivers, with great headroom. It comes in at $1500.
UE’s come in a black round hard shell case. As a drummer, you can’t go wrong with either of these models from UE.
Westone is a Colorado company that has designed hearing aids, hearing protection, and custom molds for decades.
They were the original mold company that UE subcontracted until Westone started making their own IEM’s as well.
I have personally toured several years using Westones and they sound unbelievable. I own their 5 and 6 driver models and both are exceptional for drums.
One slight difference I notice with Westone is their volume hitting a little harder because their models are a little more hyped with EQ. Some prefer a flatter mix, and Westones may not be the choice for that player.
The ES80 is their newest flagship model and features 8 masterfully tuned, balanced drivers. They boast more clarity and extended harmonic range than any other IEM ever made.
They feature a flex canal which allows the piece to slide into your ear easier. I own one pair that is solid and hard shelled, and one pair with this flex feature and really prefer the flex.
The AOL Reference 8 Cable features 8 braided silver plated copper wires for fine detail.
Westone’s come in a waterproof Pelican style box and custom name badge.
A drummer would appreciate any of these top models from Westone, all the way from the 5 driver (ES50 $1100) up to this ES80 model.
Westones are truly some of the best available on the market.
They also offer several universal models on Amazon and several other retailers. Westones universal 8 driver can be purchased here.
- Ideal For: All personal audio and video devices
- Sensitivity: 111dB SPL at 1mW
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 22kHz
JH Audio Layla & Roxanne
Jerry Harvey is the guy who has made almost all of the major developments of IEM’s and this is his company.
He has all of the biggest names in every genre because they make the best product available.
He even does custom monitors for artists with hearing loss to replace frequencies for that individual artist or musician.
In short, these are the greatest sounding IEM’s I’ve ever heard. You will see them on every Super Bowl halftime show, every late night TV show, and most major arena tours. Check out the JH website and see for yourself.
IEM’s aren’t just about how many drivers are in your ear, it is far more about how they are tuned.
A pair with 4 can sound amazing, and a pair with 8 can be super messy or far too bass heavy. It’s about a pair that is clean and easy to hear, so you don’t have to crank up the volume.
JH Audio are hands down the cleanest sounding IEM’s available.
Both of these models have 12 drivers in each ear and feature quad low, quad mid, and quad high. They feature an integrated 3 way crossover, a massive frequency response, and -26db of noise cancellation.
These two models also come with a super heavy duty cable that allows you to adjust the bass directly on it. Almost everything on these models is designed and patented by JH Audio.
I can’t speak highly enough if you have the money to get the best. JH IEM’s come in a custom carbon fiber case with your name embossed.
Universal Laylas available here on Amazon, however if you buy these, you should get them molded.
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64 Audio A18’s
64 Audio is the newest company on the list of heavy hitters that has really made a name in the last decade.
The price seems quite steep to pay more than you would with the bigger 3 companies, but this model is the first to offer 18 drivers.
The unique driver configuration is 1tia high, 1 high mid, 8 mid, and 8 low. Really a different direction than Jerry Harvey ever designed with UE or JH.
They also feature integrated 4 way passover, and -20db of isolation. 64’s feature the Apex venting system to alleviate air pressure build up in the ear.
Some players like to leave the valve open to allow some real stage noise in (similar to running one ear in and one out). I personally would never care for that feature while performing live, as I want total isolation.
Also running one IEM in and one out is extremely dangerous to your hearing because you have to turn up the one much louder than normal, and then your other ear is getting killed with stage volume.
64 Audio makes some really nice models and I have personally listened to several.
My only beef with them as a company is that their products tend to break consistently while used on tour.
As the only member of my touring band who doesn’t use 64, I’ve watched every other member’s IEM’s break at least once on the road from normal wear and tear.
64 is still probably figuring out some of their quality control like any newer company, but for $3K…. I sure wouldn’t risk it.
They also offer several pro level models from $1200 on up.
64’s come in a round hard case with a cleaning kit. These 18’s sound fantastic and if you have a good opportunity with them or decide to go this direction, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed in the sound.
If you want to stick with universal IEMs and not have custom molds made for your ears, then the big companies have some of the best products available.
These Shure Sound Isolating headphones sound great and are significantly less expensive than the heavy hitters on the list.
In my early touring days I had Shure’s dual driver model of the time, and they really sounded great compared to anything else I had experienced.
It wasn’t until I got into the custom molded world of IEM’s that I really heard a huge difference.
These headphones have no frills but feature 4 drivers and a solid build. The cables on these are stronger than a lot of the small in ear companies that are new on the market.
They come with changeable sleeves for different ear sizes, and backups can be ordered easily on Amazon. They don’t come with a hard case like the 4 boutique companies product, but they will hold up well in heavy use.
If you’re spending almost $1K, I would strongly suggest going to custom molds when you can, but this is still a strong option. You can sometimes find these on clearance or marked down for Black Friday sales.
And due to Shure being a huge company, they will be easy to find in every major music retailer across the country.
- SOUND ISOLATING TECHNOLOGY - Own your audio space with sound isolating design that blocks up to 37 dB of noise to eliminate distractions. Enjoy the most immersive listening experience with a design...
- CUSTOMIZED FIT - Includes three sizes (S, M, L) of the flex and black foam sleeves. Experiment with the size and style that creates the best fit for you.
- SECURE, OVER-THE-EAR DESIGN - Wireform fit ensures earphones stay in place and cables remain out of the way.
Wired vs. Wireless In-Ear Monitors: Which are Best?
This entire article has been based on In Ear Monitors, specifically the headphones.
As a drummer, you will really never be asked to come to a gig with your own wireless pack. I have never owned that or a system, and I’ve never really known any musicians to.
Occasionally a singer or artist has their own for emergencies. Typically if you are playing club shows, or festivals, or churches, they will have packs for you. Or as a drummer you will be hard wired since you’re sitting down.
My 2 cents is not to invest in your own pack or receiver because if it conflicts with frequencies of the house, venue, or festival, you won’t be able to use it.
Are there any cheap options for being hardwired and self contained?
Absolutely! The real money should be spent on the ears themselves.
Every tour I’ve done that travels with their own sound will carry all the packs and receivers.
Every church I’ve used IEM’s at has the Aviom or Behringer system, or something similar.
Any studio I record in has this provided as well. I typically just travel with my gear and my IEM’s.
But I also play a lot of clubs that just have wedges and aren’t quite pro enough to have packs for the musicians.
In that setting I carry a small 2 channel mixer that basically just powers my ears. I plug the monitor XLR straight into it, and the IEM’s straight into it as well with a little extender cable.
I’ve used Mackies and Behringers for this option and it’s super cheap and easy. Your mix will only be as good as the wedge, but you can turn everything down significantly if you’re running in ears and it will save blasting your real ears all night.
Even with my $2000 IEM’s, I will run this super cheap mixer as my backup option.
You can also run a metronome into one of the channels, or even a laptop if you are running tracks on a budget. It’s a great inexpensive option.
Behringer 2 channel can be found here on Amazon.
Mackie offers a 5 channel one also, which you can find here on Amazon.
Things to Consider When Buying In-Ear Monitors
Getting used to using IEM’s can be a huge change for some people.
For older musicians who played for decades without IEM’s, it can be a slow and painful transition. But once you learn to get the sound dialed in, IEM’s can be one the most freeing things to perform with and feel confident as a drummer.
They allow your ears to be protected from excessive stage volume, as well as allowing you to have a mix directly in your ears.
I have tried several models and brands over my 15 year career and have tried to help all different kinds of players and singers get adjusted to them.
You have to decide how serious you are about investing in IEM’s, and how much you plan to use them.
I am so thankful I thought to wear ear plugs as a kid, and got my first in ears as a fresh college kid going to school for music. I’ve never played regularly in my life without hearing protection.
If you are doing music even semi-professionally, then I strongly encourage custom molds. If you are reading this, then you’ve already considered investing and protecting your ears long term. It’s truly such a valuable and worthwhile investment.
Protecting Your Investment: How to Take Care of In-Ear Monitors and Cables
If you buy in-ears, I strongly suggest having a backup cable or two. Cables can short out or break over time, even from normal use.
I always travel with two pairs of IEM’s at this point because once I had a pair stolen on tour, and once I dropped a pair and they shattered.
Hopefully you never face that, but even if you get molds, take your universals with you as backups. As you upgrade, always try and keep the old ones around just in case.
I also strongly suggest insuring your IEM’s if you actually go for any of these high end models.
I insure all of my road gear: drums, cymbals, laptop, and my In Ears. They’re far too valuable to have a stage hand accidentally damage something. Protect your investment.
Our Top Picks
The choice of the best sounding In Ears is entirely up to the listener. I have A/B tested them on several occasions and it’s interesting to hear how each sounds a little different.
On the high end, all 4 of these boutique companies make a slamming good product. It comes down to taste, your influences, and maybe relationship with the company.
For my money, I believe JH Audio will always be making the best product on the market.
With that said, I would feel confident using any of these 4 boutique brands on tour and having it sound great.
If you aren’t in the high-end spending market yet and don’t need the best, then get some Shure dual or quad drivers. They will be a huge step past Airpods or Beats headphones.
One other cheaper option I’ve never personally tried but know several people who have is a small company called AZ. They make multi driver universal ears for under $100.
They are made with cheap overseas knockoff components and certainly won’t hold up next to anything on this list.
But if you’re just wanting to try out the idea of IEM’s and you haven’t started gigging beyond your basement, these might be for you.
Here’s a 6 driver model on Amazon.
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