Next-Gen IEMs | Craig Anderton

Next-Gen IEMs | Craig Anderton - 3DWaveaudio

Now that IEMs are well-established, it’s not surprising that they’re evolving. The best example I’m familiar with is ASI Audio’s 3DME system.

While the IEM has many benefits, the downside is a feeling of isolation from the audience and other band members. The traditional fix is to wire up an audience reaction mic, and blend it with the monitor mix to the IEM. This helps with hearing the audience, but it doesn’t help with band interaction. Also, you don’t have control over the audience feed’s level. Personal monitor systems with mixers can take care of that issue, although the feed will use a channel that you may not want to give up.

The 3DME adds two miniature microphones that are visible when looking at the outside of the IEM. These are placed strategically at the opening of the ear canal, so that they can pick up the directional cues from the ear’s pinna for localization, and provide true binaural ambient sound.

The bodypack has controls for dialling in the desired amount of ambience. If you want lots of audience sound, go for it. If someone from the band wants to communicate, they can talk into the IEM’s mic without having to scream. There’s also an option for two preset settings. For example, you might turn down the ambient sound while the band is playing, but turn it up between songs to make sure you hear what the band members are saying.

Another aspect of modern IEM systems is integration with mobile device apps. For example, Yamaha’s MonitorMix and PreSonus’s QMix-UC, which are designed to work with their companies’ hardware mixers, can control levels of personal monitoring systems wirelessly. Audiofusion takes a different approach. Their system sends wireless audio to a phone or tablet, and you can plug IEMs into the mobile device instead of standard earbuds.

ASI uses their iOS/Android, Bluetooth-compatible app to personalize the 3DME in several ways. In addition to providing setup for the IEMs and level control for the ambient sound mics, it includes two bypassable processors: a 7-band mono/stereo graphic EQ, and mono/stereo limiter so you can set a maximum level. The stereo EQ is helpful, because you can adjust the left and right channels independently. For example, if the drummer is to your right and the mic picks up too much cymbal, you can turn down the treble in the right channel while leaving the left channel treble intact. Although the 3DME IEMs aren’t wireless, users can feed a wireless receiver into the 3DME’s bodypack.

Of course, once an app gets involved with IEMs, then the software engineers become the custodians of the wish list. For example, the 3DME has a built-in seal test to determine whether the IEM’s seal is tight enough to keep out potentially harmful audio. Also, if the bodypack is already powered-up, there could be a squeal when you insert an earpiece while covering the mic with your finger. So, a start-up squeal suppressor limits the level to the limiter’s lowest threshold. There’s even a feature called CROS for those with hearing loss in one ear, or who have Ménière’s disease (where only one ear experiences hearing loss and/or tinnitus). CROS moves the stereo image toward the good ear. You still have control over the stereo EQ and limiting, but hear the result with a sound that’s closer to mono.

One tip is that if an app is compatible with iOS or Android, you can dedicate an inexpensive, older Android phone to your system. You don’t need a lot of memory, and you don’t need to make phone calls—but as long as its OS is compatible with the app you’re using, you’ll have the power needed to control IEM systems. And if anything bad happens to a cheap Android phone, you’ll be much less upset than if it happens to your brand-new iPhone 14 Pro Max.

I did find a novel application when ASI let me evaluate a prototype. Now, I no longer go to movies or concerts without the 3DMEs. I don’t use them for their intended purpose of monitoring while performing, but as “full-fidelity earplugs with a volume control.” The mics and drivers let me hear the sound at theaters or concerts where the sound is uncomfortably loud, at whatever volume level I want. Prior to the 3DME, I used conventional earplugs but the muffled fidelity was annoying—especially because going to a theater instead of streaming at home is to enjoy stunning visuals and sound (yes, I’m a huge iMAX fan). I’m not sure this application alone is enough to justify the 3DME’s price tag, but it gives a hint of what the future may bring beyond traditional IEM live-performance applications.

The bottom line, though, is simple: always remember that your hearing is your career, and you can never do too much to protect your ears. IEMs are a big piece of the hearing protection puzzle. Ignore them at your own peril.

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