If you were to picture a stereotypical image of a DJ, you would likely see a person (probably male, more on that in another post) standing at a set of turntables with a large pair of headphones. It’s not a crazy assumption, as professional over-ear headphones have become synonymous with DJ culture. However, there has recently been an upward trend in the number of DJs using in-ear monitors, which can provide many advantages to users when compared to over-ear headphones.
Previously, in-ear headphones had been too quiet and unable to produce as accurate a sound as their over-ear counterparts. Now, the technology produces sound improved in punchiness and clarity, making them a viable option for auditory professional. Also, the in-ear monitors’ accuracy and improved sound insulation can often make them an excellent choice for a DJ wanting to avoid distortion.
However, it is crucial to make the distinction between earphones and in-ear monitors (IEMs). While all IEMs may be earphones, not all earphones are IEM grade. Many of the headphones used for recreational listening lack the range and impedance of IEMs, making them unfit for professional use.
One of the motivations for using professional earphones over traditional headphones is the greater noise insulation offered by IEMs. As such, the fit of the earphones is an important consideration when considering multiple products. All ears are different, so an earphone that fits well will provide better isolation to the user preventing distortion. DJ Tech Tools says that some people will pay hundreds of dollars for custom inserts.
Furthermore, IEMs can protect the hearing of DJs when they are performing. The ambient noises of a nightclub or other performance venues can often be deafening. To compensate, some DJs will slowly push the volume on their monitors to hear what they are playing. Unfortunately, the club and your set’s combined noise can lead to hearing loss over time. The isolation offered by earbuds prevents hearing loss by reducing ambient noise contamination.
The isolation may also help you improve your track monitoring. Frequently, the loud ambiance of venues can make it difficult to distinguish between the different tracks within your set. The isolation prevents the tracks coming from your monitors and your speakers from mixing, increasing clarity.
As with other hobbies, when you switch away from familiarity, there is a learning curve as you adjust to the new method. This is true for IEMs and over-ear monitors as well. There is a substantial difference between monitoring with the two, and these differences can make the transition difficult.
Furthermore, the fit of the IEMs is essential. If they do not fit, the IEMs do not provide the isolation that makes them a beneficial option. The poor fit can also lead to headphones coming loose in the middle of your performance, or perhaps worse, not coming out at the end of it.
Finally, with IEMs, DJs cannot monitor using only one ear. Many DJs will only use their headphones over one of their ears to allow them to hear both the mix and their speakers. This strategy directly opposes the advantages of using IEMs by preventing isolation from taking place.
Best Overall: Shure 535
The Shure 535 is the best of the IEMs on the market right now. Its triple-driver design packs an absolute punch in the field of sound quality, especially the base. In addition, its music playback is reportedly on the “audiophile level,” sounding balanced, warm, and detailed. One of the other unique qualities of these headphones is their detachable cables, which some have praised for ease of portability. In contrast, others have criticized them for their supposed lack of usefulness. Pick up yours here.
Runner Up: Mee Audio M6 Pro
While Shure may have a formidable presence within the IEM market, other options exist. One of these competitors is the Mee Audio M6 Pro, which has an excellent reputation for its bass quality and durability. Unfortunately, they have been criticized for their somewhat muddier sound signature when compared to Shure. Amazon has them here.
Parker, J. (2022). In-Ear Monitors for DJs – Everything you Need to Know | Best DJ Gear. Retrieved 31 March 2022, from https://www.bestdjgear.net/in-ear-monitors-for-djs-everything-you-need-to-know/
Golden, E. (2022). The Best In-Ear Monitors for DJs – DJ TechTools. Retrieved 31 March 2022, from https://djtechtools.com/2010/10/13/the-best-in-ear-monitors-for-djs/