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In ear monitor systems

I'm considering an upgrade for the live sound monitoring system that I run for my jazz and alt. country groups. In another thread Dvdhawk mentioned Hear Back, Aviom, & myMix as distribution systems. I can try out Hear Back locally. It would be helpful if some of you could compare it to some of the other systems. If you could comment on how it worked in the studio as well as live, that would be a help as well.

I'd also like some input on the in-ears themselves. A couple of us would go for top quality, audiologist fitted. But I'd probably need inexpensive ones for the cheapskates/short timers. Some of this is covered in the archives, but I thought I'd throw it out there in case someone has something new to say.)


dvdhawk Sat, 02/20/2010 - 18:21
Hi Bob,

Brace yourself, because there's a mountain of little tidbits to consider that you wouldn't necessarily get from the brochures. You may need to pack a lunch and get a thermos of coffee before you try to assault the text wall.

I won't be able to give you any personal experience on the Hear Back system beyond what you could find on their website. As I understand it, they're limited to 8 inputs and the 8-channel A/D also acts as the net hub.

I've installed several Aviom systems and own numerous pieces myself, and I've got another rep who would be very happy if I sold the new myMix equipment, but I haven't tried it in-person yet. It's a new line and I just got the info on it last week, so I haven't had a chance to try any of it yet. Certain aspects of it look intriguing, but it is a slightly different approach from the way Aviom and HearBack gear works. Maybe I'll request a myMix demo. With this building project, I'm trying not to tie up too much money in non-essentials.

An Aviom system can be as simple as a 16-channel input module followed by X number of 'personal mixers' chained together via Cat5 cables. Aviom 16 series is 48kHz 24-bit, which sounds very good. There is also an upgrade to the more expensive 64-series that has higher sample rates (but the bitrate is still 24) - but I haven't installed or used one, because I can't justify the substantial difference in price.

The standard input module is a 16 input A/D converter with 16 TRS inputs (and 16 TRS thru - which is convenient for live recording). There's also a more versatile (read - more expensive) mic/line version with 16 combo XLR/TRS jacks (16 XLR thru), PLUS on every channel it has; phantom power, gain control, lowcut, phase, and balanced inserts per channel. Use the mic version with a 16-channel D/A output module and voila, a digital Cat5 snake 50ft., 100ft., 400ft long. - just use a Cat5 cable whatever length you need. (That's also pretty convenient for live remote recording.) Need more than 16 channels?... no problem, you can buy a merging device that will allow you to run up to 64 channels through a single Cat5 cable. (64 input, 48 in x 16 returns, 32 x 32) Hold on to your wallet though, 'cuz these add-ons aren't exactly cheap.

The TRS model can be fed from your FOH mixer's direct outs, aux sends, subgroup outs, matrix outs, mains - any combination whatever you need - but note the input sensitivity is only switchable in channel pairs [ -10, 0, +4, +22 ] so it may take some planning if you've got an odd number.

Each musician can have a 16-channel personal mixer within arm's reach, connected to IEM or powered wedge via one 1/4" TRS jack. The musicians can all mix those 16 inputs in any way they like at any time. The personal mixers have global volume, bass, and treble controls. You control the level and pan of the 16 mix channels - using just two knobs. There's a row of 16 chicklet buttons across the front, and if I want to adjust "Bob's Vocal" I press the "Bob's Vocal" button and adjust volume and pan. If I want to adjust "Dave's Guitar" I press the corresponding button and use the same two volume and pan knobs and so on. Each knob has a row of LEDs associated with it, which gives you a good visual indication of level / pan of the one channel you have selected at the time. These mixers automatically remember the last settings and can store 16 mixes to internal flash memory for recall later. The A-16ii personal mixer can be mounted to a mic stand or music stand and comes with a wall-wart power supply * more about that in a minute. There is also a 1U rackmount version, that functions the same but adds stereo XLR outputs and another mixable analog input. inserts and MIDI capabilities.

Each mixer has a Cat5 in and thru, so you can daisy-chain from one mixer to the next and power each mixer with its own wall-wart. Or you can use one of the two hub devices they sell. Both of their dist. hubs are 1 in, 8 out. Both can provide PoE (power over ethernet) to power the mixer, but they do it in different ways. The expensive one has its own beefy power supply to feed the multiple mixers via the Cat5, while the less expensive model employs the individual wall-warts provided with the mixers to power the hub's multiple power feeds. That means you need a powerstrip of some kind that can accommodate all of those wall warts too. So you have to prioritize cost vs. cable clutter.

The church system I run is probably the most complex, of the Aviom installs so far - although I'm working on another that will be a little more complicated. In this system I use an analog snake to a Soundcraft Live8 32-channel mixer and from the house mix-position feed a single 16-channel TRS input module from a variety of the Soundcraft's outs.

  1. Drums from Subgroup of 3 channels ( Kick, Snare, Toms )
  2. Cymbals from Subgroup of 2 channels ( HiHat, Cymbals )
  3. Bass Guitar - Direct Out
  4. Electric Guitar - Direct Out
  5. Acoustic Guitar - Direct Out
  6. Piano - Direct Out
  7. Keyboard - Direct Out
  8. Low Brass - Aux 1
  9. High Brass - Aux 2
  10. Vocalist 1 - Direct Out
  11. Vocalist 2 - Direct Out
  12. Vocalist 3 - Direct Out
  13. Vocalist 4 - Direct Out
  14. Vocalist 5 - Direct Out
  15. Room Mics - Matrix Out of Subgroup not assigned to FOH
  16. Main Mix - A split from the FOH mix allowing them to hear the Pastor(s), multimedia
    So the only people who have to 'share' mixes would be my High Brass (3 trumpets miced collectively with a single Crown PZM-30D mounted on the plexiglass blast shield) and my Low Brass (Trombone, French Horn, Sax each miced individually). We're taking 5 outputs from a top-of-the-line Roland TD-20 kit, but if we were using acoustic drums it would be more of a challenge and possibly take more Aviom channels.

    For those who don't want to, or don't know how to, make their own mix, they can start with the Main Mix and add a little more of themselves plus whatever else they may need to take their cues from.

    The Room Mics are nice for adding some natural ambience back into the headphone mix, so you don't feel as isolated from the audience. I just upgraded to Crown PZM-11 over the front of the stage to pick up the congregation and room vibe. If you wanted to, you could even hook up a talkback mic or off-stage mic that lets you communicate privately with the band. I suppose it could be cheater tracks, metronome, cues, chord changes, songlist changes...

    Like anything digital - latency is something you need to look at. The Aviom is top dog there at under a millisecond, 800 microseconds or less, depending on length of cable up to 400ft between devices. I gotta take their word for that, because I can't detect any - and I'm using a couple of their hubs. In total I'm probably running through 150ft. - 200ft. of Cat5 from the input module to the farthest mixer in this set-up and it's got no noticeable delay. If anything, it's more immediate than you're accustomed to in a room that size.

    Now, so this doesn't just seem like a sales-presentation (which it is not) I have to tell you the only complaint I have with Aviom is with the 1/4" TRS connector on the personal mixers. You have to be careful and not stress the connector. For a unit in this pricerange they use a relatively cheap jack and they are nearly impossible to find as replacement parts unless you want to buy 100,000 units directly from China. They are soldered directly to the circuit board, and there isn't much room in there - so retro-fitting a solid switchcraft or neutrik would constitute a major project. Aviom will not even sell OEM parts to me as a dealer - which I think stinks. They expect you to send the unit back to the factory (here in Pennsylvania) for repair. If you're under warranty you're obviously OK, but if you're out of warranty you're at their mercy. We haven't had any trouble with any of ours in 2 - 3 years, but another church I do service work for has had a bad mixer jack or two. With the systems I install we use 10ft. headphone extension cables secured to the stand so the cable doesn't pull down on the jack. This extension also gives the band more freedom to move around anyway. And if you keep the strain off the jacks they should give you years of service.

    Pros - versatile, scalable, good sound quality, virtually no latency, user friendly controls
    Cons - initial cost, add-ons are expensive, sub-par headphone jack

    OK, catch your breath, get a refill on that cup of caffeine, maybe camp here for the night. If you've made it this far you can probably send your Sherpa home, because I don't have nearly as much to say about the myMix yet. Their concept seems geared toward more straightforward bands. Your personal mixer has two XLR/TRS combi-jack inputs, two TRS outputs and a bi-directional Cat5 jack. This would be super-easy for a rehearsal system, just plug your vocal mic and instrument signal into the jacks on your mixer, tie your mixer into the network box with the rest of the band - and boom, your two channels show up on everyone else's mixer and you they show up on yours. You get up to 8 stereo mixes coming in from as many as 8 other band members.

    For live performance, they suggest two configurations. 1) Use an analog splitter snake and use one output from your vocal mic to feed the FOH mix and the other to patch into your myMix personal mixer. Repeat as necessary. {that could lead to a LOT of cabling} Their other suggestions seems implausible, but I suppose it would work for some small acts.... which is 2) use yet another myMix personal mixer for the FOH mix. It would be all menu driven and their is some limited DSP on the individual channels and a master 4-band parametric. I suppose if the band had really good tones, was very well-behaved, and was consistent in their performance and volume - mixing on something about the size of an old palm-pilot would work.

    On the plus side, no expensive hub is required. You can use just about any generic network 1x8 box and it'll work. Common PoE boxes are also supported to eliminate wall-warts at the mixers. As far as latency goes, it's advertised as
    But the part I found most 'intriguing' was the fact that you can put an SD card into your mixer and record all of the individual channels present and mix them in your DAW at a later date. You can record up to 18 tracks (up to 16 individual inputs PLUS your stereo mix) at 48kHz 24-bit wav files on any of the three most popular version of SD (micro, standard, HD). Recording time will obviously depend on SD size.

    Pros - recording capability, common inexpensive networking equipment can be used
    Cons - expense of a splitter snake and many many more cables, geared to 8 musicians or less, only 2 inputs per musician, potential cable clutter

    Pros - stop carrying wedges, mon. speaker cables, mon. amps, mon. EQs.
    Cat5 is cheap and readily available, and easy to carry a spare, everybody gets the mix they want at a volume they're comfortable with
    Cons - common sense must be used to prevent hearing damage, if you want to be a wireless rockstar you still need another system. earbuds have really short cables, so you need headphone extensions for your hardwired band members.

    Standalone wireless IEM systems. Some of them (like Shure) can give you some mixing capability for "group monitor mix + more me"
    Crest X20RM or similar rackmount monitor mixer with built-in mic splits to hardwired phones or wireless IEM.
    BSS London system 16-channel rackmount i/o module mixed via laptop, insane routing/mixing capaibilities, tons of DSP available per channel

    The installs are all using Shure SCL2 earbuds. As far as custom-moulded earbuds, I've been really happy with my Alien Ears C3. The sound quality is very 'reference monitor like' and not exaggerated in any way. With 25dB of isolation and a clean 3-way speaker jammed that far up your ear canal - I can almost guaranty you'll hear details in familiar songs you've never heard before even from an iPod. I know there are models by Ultimate Ears, Westone, Etymotic Research, Sensaphonics etc. with even higher fidelity - but they cost twice as much. If you're a mega-audiophile listener I could see that being a possible upgrade. In a live performance environment I decided anything at the upper end of the price range, would be in the "diminished returns" category for me.

    OK, so after that insufferably long read, at least you can take some comfort in the fact it took much longer to write than it did to read :-)

    - standing by for "wall of text" comments -

sheet Sat, 02/20/2010 - 18:33

What is your budget? What is your existing console?

We sell all Aviom, Hearback, Roland and Samepage systems. The Roland is the most robust. Avioms break easily when knocked over and on their faces. As the Avioms age, the buttons get funky. They break. Hearback is light duty at best. It is not a high quality system. It is a bang for the buck pricepoint system. The Roland would be the top dog as far as I am concerned.

BobRogers Sun, 02/21/2010 - 05:23
Hawk - Tour de force! Great information.

Sorry to hear Sheet's comment about the Hearback system. Frankly, it was the price point and of the Hearback that made me think this was a feasible idea. Also, its feature set looks like it would be enough for my needs (more below). Of course, that doesn't matter if it sounds like crap or falls apart. Fortunately, our church bought a Hearback for the PA at the youth center, so I can go and try it out (and see if the kids have managed to destroy it in six months).

I'd like to have a system that served both as an upgrade for my studio headphone system and acted as a monitor system for live use. My present equipment and my needs are actually pretty modest.

Live: I don't play live that often any more, and when I do there tend to be a lot of ...uhh...old guys in the band, so eliminating the need to haul monitor wedges is a big plus, and there are enough cases of tinnitus and auditory discrimination problems that some isolation wouldn't hurt at all. Two groups working right now. Straight jazz and alt. country/Americana/folk. Both five people. Drum, bass, 2 guitars in both groups. Trumpet in group 1, lead vocalist (and three vocals total) in group 2. I'm planing to supply sound support only in small venues. My board is a 16 channel A&H Mixwiz. It's a simple little board, but it's versatile enough to send eight usable feeds to the Hearback or the main mix plus five "me" channels to the MyMix (assuming I didn't explore using it for FOH). Of course, with the Aviom, I'd just send the individual channels. The Aviom sounds like a great system, but there are a lot more features than I had envisioned using.

Studio: I'm using a Digi 002R, so the number of aux outs matches the Hearback perfectly. Frankly, I don't have the type of equipment to take advantage of the Aviom - at least until I upgrade or reconfigure. I'm currently using a Presonus headphone amp. It's not terrible, but nothing to write home about. And of course it would be better to have control at people's fingertips.

dvdhawk Sun, 02/21/2010 - 12:26
I would defer to Sheet's experience with the different brands. He's sold a lot more of them than I have in my small market. And I would certainly agree none of the systems I've seen are built to take much abuse. That's one reason I try to use PoE and keep the cabling to 1 A-net in / 1 headphone out. Adding power supplies, additional ins, and thrus increases the trip hazard factors. Our Aviom buttons have been funk-free to this point - it might be something we'll have to deal with when they hit a certain age. Having replaced one headphone jack for someone else, I can tell you they are absolutely no fun to work on.

There's no doubt the Roland stuff looks great and I like the extras like limiting and an ambient mic. Roland has really thought some of these things through better than the rest. And as you'd expect for better gear there's a corresponding jump in price-point.

dvdhawk Sun, 02/21/2010 - 20:54
Most earbuds in that range come with a variety of foam and silicone sleeves of different sizes. If you can find a comfortable size sleeve that gives you a good seal you'll probably be happy with the bass response. The foam lets in more of the outside world and the soft silicone sleeves should seal up pretty well for most people. Without a decent seal, you'll feel like the bass is deficient and as a bass player - you won't like it. I've got band members using foam on one side and silicone in the other (to block out more of the trumpets).

Of the 18 musicians on-stage with the church system, everyone was ok with the SLC2 except our bass player. Their ear canal was too small to fit even the smallest sleeve. They wore fullsize cans until they found an earbud of their own that fit.

One of our guitar players lost his Shure, and replaced them with Bose - which he preferred to the Shure, but I have never heard a pair.

I occasionally listen to my iPod with a mid-grade [$79] pair of AKG buds K324P and have used the [$99] Shure SLC2 as well, both sound good with the right sleeve. Not as good as custom molded, but certainly not bad. Incidentally, Alien Ears will make a custom mold that will fit the most common buds including Shure E2 (renamed SLC2).

And in an effort to consolidate these two threads - I would think 25:1 compression would be reasonable protection since you're working with um..... experienced (yeah, that's it) musicians. Hopefully if you ditch the monitor wedges the chance of feedback goes to about zero. Then your only concern is some other accidental blast of noise - whatever that might be. (mic hitting the deck, pop of a bad cable - are two things that come to mind)

I have nine open mics in the church system and several dbx 166XLs, which have a limiter at the end of the line of each channel, inserted in a variety of places.

BobRogers Mon, 02/22/2010 - 04:24
Did you have an audiologist make the impressions for the Alien ears molds, or did you make them yourself? If you did it yourself, was it hard? Would you recommend doing it?

BTW: Sorry about the parallel threads. I started this one because I didn't want to hijack the other one, and then didn't pay attention to making the names distinct. I ended up asking the question about limiters in the other thread because I thought all of the digital distribution systems had them.

TheJackAttack Mon, 02/22/2010 - 07:15
I've had it done at an audioligist for the Westone/Etymotic ER9's I use in the orchestra. They basically stuck a silicone caulk gun in my ear and squeezed some in. Lather rinse repeat. A home kit is probably similar but with syringe like injector. Just a guess. It cost me $20 but that was also before I knew of any home kits.

dvdhawk Mon, 02/22/2010 - 07:56
I'm pleased to say my very sensible teenage son (who plays drums) asked for Westone ER-15 earplugs for his 17th birthday. So while were we at the local audiologist's office getting his impressions made, I asked [Ms. Audiologist] if she would make mine and about what it would cost. Like most audiologists, she genuinely cares about people's hearing and was glad to make my impressions, but she had no idea what to charge for that service a la carte. She thought it should be very cheap, citing "it only takes a few minutes, and the materials are only a couple dollars" and asked if I would be able to wait until later when we picked up the ER15s. So when we went back to pick up my son's finished earplugs, I asked again about having her make my impressions. She rather sheepishly said "they" (whoever 'they' is) told her she needed to charge $50 - which in light of her own words seemed a bit high. Despite feeling somewhat ripped off, I decided to go ahead with it. My thinking at the time was - it would improve my chances of success, it would save time waiting for the DIY kit, and since I'd probably need an assistant - I knew my wife would stress out over trying to do something she'd never done before and feel the pressure of trying to get it perfect the first time. Money well spent?.... I don't know. At the time I looked at it like a $50 insurance policy that the fit of the finished product would be perfect, plus the universal happy wife = happy life dividend.

I think if I were doing it again, I'd probably take a shot at it myself. If the DIY impressions turned out to be satisfactory, great, if they were a total failure, then I would go pay the audiologist $50. I have a feeling if I had pressed the issue with the audiologist on the first visit, she would have been happy sticking $10 in her pocket (since I was already dropping $185 on the ER15s).

You have nothing to lose by trying it yourself since it's included in the price. And it really is as simple as they depict on the AE site. There's a little string with a foam disc on the end that you insert as deeply into the ear canal as you can manage without getting too close to the vital moving parts. Someone sticks what amounts to a caulking gun or syringe full of goo into the ear canal and tries to form all the way out to the outer rim of the ear with no voids. Then you wait about 10 minutes for the goo to solidify and gently pull the impressions out -using the string if necessary. Note* if you sing you'll want to keep your mouth open during this process.

Codemonkey Mon, 03/01/2010 - 14:53
A few guys who do sound for mega churches have a monthly podcast. Guess what they covered this month? [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.churchte…"]IEM Webinar[/]="http://www.churchte…"]IEM Webinar[/]
It's mostly about switching to an IEM system from wedges, talks a lot about Avioms (mostly bashing them as being no good for people who don't use them regularly - most muso's can't mix). Good points about the IEMs themselves and how certain band members (drummers) change their playing style.

dvdhawk Mon, 03/01/2010 - 15:53
Codemonkey, post: 301003 wrote: .... It's mostly about switching to an IEM system from wedges, talks a lot about Avioms (mostly bashing them as being no good for people who don't use them regularly - most muso's can't mix).

Probably true of some. Do you know how to counter this? Send them a mix. I send my church band a direct FOH mix on one channel and Room mics on another. They only have to adjust the master volume. If they want a little more of themselves mixed in, pretty easy - push the button with their name on it and turn it up. So easy a musician could do it. It's also crazy-easy to send them the same old aux mix, use the PFL and you can monitor their mix with your phones. Instead of that method, I have an Aviom mixer at the FOH mix position so I can troubleshoot or monitor the same sources they're getting if needed.

Codemonkey, post: 301003 wrote: Good points about the IEMs themselves and how certain band members (drummers) change their playing style.
My Sunday morning FOH volume went down somewhere in the 5dB - 8dB range. That much of a drop isn't easy with a 5-pc - 7-pc horn section, (there's only so quiet you can play a trumpet and get a true note). Eliminating 1 bass amp, 2 guitar amps, 4 sidefills, and 6 wedges all pointing in different directions cleans up things in a big way. With the exception of the horns, all the sound now comes from one coherent source - my speaker clusters.

I'm a fan of IEM in general for church systems - no matter what brand. Sheet has me wanting to try the Roland now.

sheet Wed, 04/07/2010 - 16:30
BobRogers, post: 300367 wrote: Roland looks like a great system, but I can't justify the price for this application. Anyone want to chime in more info on the in-ears themselves? SLC2's been acceptable Hawk? Can anyone comment on the rest of the Shure line?

Shure does not make a comparable system. Their PM4 is nothing more than a 4channel front end. Whoopie.

Aviom does not have a product that is integrated with Digidesigns's Venue. They do have a card that works with the Yamaha's. Digidesign has their own integrated monitor system, which allows artists to access the console directly. Aviom cannot do that.

Roland is like Aviom in the sense that a system can be purchased and interconnected to whatever mixer you choose to use, but you will have to use their front end.

djeror Thu, 04/08/2010 - 10:32
I have used the Aviom system, own the Hearback system and I have the myMix system sitting on my desk in front of me. I'll try and give you a concise pro and con.

Pros- 16 channels, Easy to use
Cons- Expensive, not super durable

Pros- Low cost in comparison with other systems. Super easy to use.
Cons- Only 6 individual channels and 1 stereo mix. (total 8 channels).

Pros- Lower cost than Aviom. 16 channels. More control and better sound quality. Built in adjustable digital reverb and delay so your mix doesn't sound dead. Super easy interface. Can multi-track record. Units work standalone without a sound system so great for practices.
Cons- They have a cooling fan in them that produces some noise. You have to use a Y-cable or splitter box to connect to a FOH mixer.

My church currently owns the hearback system (we bought it a couple years ago), but I want to move to the myMix system. I was also worried about stage clutter, but I discovered that in most instances a simple XLR Y cable will work (plug the splitter end of the Y into the myMix and one of the other ends into your mic/direct box and the other end send to your snake). With a Y cable you don't end up with extra cables, the cable just makes a "pitstop" at the myMix. If you use a Y cable you have to be careful about ground loops though. Make sure you are using a high quality mixer, that everything is running off the same power circuit, and I also use power conditioners on the stage and in my mixer rack.

myMix is going to be releasing an input module that would allow you to hook it up just like the aviom systems if you wanted. It just isn't available yet. My current opinion is that the myMix has too many benefits to ignore. I'm willing to put up with a few negatives.

Live Sound Audio Thu, 04/08/2010 - 14:14
Aviom Interfaces

As an aside, the aviom system sound 10x better with the digidesign interface card (In the Venue) than the Aviom interface. The overall clarity, headroom and sonics are a substantial improvement. Haven't heard other internal interfaces so I don't know about those... I've seen a lot of issues with over driving the aviom interfaces and red lights on that unit = bad sound. We tried a presonus ACP88 but it too so much fussing...


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