IEM (In Ear Monitor) – Definition: listening devices(Earphones) used by a person (DJ) to listen to music or are recording studio mixes without coloration of sound. In a Nut Shell, earbuds that feel and sound great as well as isolate the outside sound to give you a clean and direct sound.
When dealing with hearing loss more and more DJs/Producers are trying to protect thier hearing as much as possible. For some its too late AC/DC singer Brian Johnson quit the band recently because of hearing loss. Producer/DJ Lil’ Louie(French Kiss) lost his hearing from some asshole blowing an airhorn next to his ear in 2015. Today, more DJ’s are switching from Over the Ear Headphones to IEM’s (In Ear Monitors) not only do they provide a cleaner sound to mix and cue songs, they provide at least some hearing protection (without getting into ANSI standards) and can be worn for long periods of time without ear fatigue and noise exposure.
Of coarse, as with anything on the market today, there are IEM models that are priced over the top for those people with a lot of money and golden ears. e.g. JH Audio Layla – $2725, Ultimate Ears Prim – $1999 although I have never tried these nor can I afford these, I don’t doubt that they sound amazing. Then there are the mid priced IEMs that sound amazing as well and they can range from $200 -$1000. And finally the budget/consumer range that consists probably of 90% of the market. In this area, prices range from $10 – $200. It is in this price range that you find the real bang for your buck.
Today, I have 3 pairs of IEMs that I am going to test out and compare. All 3 are in the Budget/Consumer range and are perfect for the DJ who are unsure that he/she will even like the fit or sound of an IEM. Lets face it, we have no problem dropping $200 – $300 on a pair of Sennhieser HD 8 or AudioTechnica M50x. IEMs unfortunately have that perception that they are for your iPhone and not for DJing and most people would hesitate to spend $200 – $300 on a pair. So with the benefits of better isolation in the booth and a little hearing protection lets see if we can change a few readers perception on IEMs.
So how do you DJ with IEMs in both ears? How can I hear my booth monitor to mix? You need to learn how to mix using split cue or balance you cue/master volume. If you’re using any decent DJ mixer (Allen&Heath,Pioneer, Rane) it will have the option to mix via headphone as does DJ software such as Serato,Virtual Dj or Traktor etc. Remember that crappy monitor in the booth blasting at 120db is killing your eardrums!
The first thing you’ll notice on some IEMs are the way they are worn. They are worn behind the ear to reduce cable noise and comfort. Next, they need to be inserted into the ear canal, not like ear buds that hang off lobe. The inner ear insertion is what gives you that protection aspect when it seals the ear canal with a foam/silicone tip. So if you’re a DJ that likes to talk to people while DJing you may have a hard time hearing them with IEMs in due to the noise attenuation.
The 3 pairs that I am going to be testing are:
MEE Audio M6 Sportfi – $20
MEE Audio M6 PRO -$50
Shure SE215 – $100
MEE Audio M6 SportFi
|driver||9 mm ultra high performance drivers with neodymium magnets|
|frequency response||20 Hz to 20 kHz|
|impedance||16 Ohms at 1K|
|sensitivity||98 dB (1mW at 1KHZ)|
|maximum power||30 mW|
|memory wire||stainless steel|
|connector||3.5mm gold plated, right angle connector|
|cable||color matched 130 cm (51 in) cord with attached shirt clip|
I was amazed at how many people had given the MEE M6 SportFi a Best Buy review. I had barely even heard of MEE Audio let alone knew they made a great IEM. At $20 when I bought them I was skeptical, but for the price I chalked them as replacements for my iPhone. They come with a small carrying case and 6 pairs of silicone tips (S,M,L) perfect for the price. Although the sound was okay it wasn’t great….Let me tell you why IEMs need to have a seal created in the ear canal to create the balance of sound(especially the low-end) from such a tiny armature(driver). Silicone is the main choice companies include with these budget IEM because they are flexible and cheap but lack creating a good seal.
Luckily there is a company that makes an array of eartips for 100’s of different headphone companies. That company is Comply Foam, specializing in foam eartips that isolate and form a seal to enhance the sound coming from these tiny drivers. The MEE M6 SprotFi takes a T200 isolation tip that replaces the silicone with foam.The sound from these $20 IEM’s after replacing with Comply Foam are very good as far as overall soundstage. Bass is not over powering. Mids are centered and the Highs are a tad to crisp. This quality of sound from such an inexpensive set of earphones surprised me to say the least. For DJing in a pinch they would be okay but not a permanent solution because the sound could be better and the cable is a tad short and not replaceable, although you could get an extension cable and have them in your gig bag as a backup set. For casual listening, If you still have Apple Buds quickly lose them and replace them with the M6 SportFi. You can thank me later.
MEE Audio M6 PRO
Enter the MEE M6 PRO. After experiencing the M6 SportFi from MEE Audio I was on a mission to find a suitable IEM without breaking the bank and also be a viable option for DJing. The M6 PROis basically the same form factor as the SportFi but the sound signature is totally different. They are priced around $50 and come loaded with little extras such as (6) pairs of silicone tips plus (1) Comply Foam set (M), (1) Gold plated 1/8″ to 1/4″ jack, MEE redesigned the M6 PRO to have replaceable cables…Two are included one with a mic and one without, and it all comes in a nice soft covered case. The quality of build is very good and would think these will last some time, and if they don’t, oh well! They have a lifetime warranty that allows you to purchase a new replacement for half price…even if you lose them … or step on them in the DJ booth.
Once again I trashed the silicone and fitted the M6 PRO’s with Comply Foam (T200 isolation tips). The Comply tips made these IEM’s fly to the moon. I could not believe how flat the frequency response was on the M6 PRO’s. As a reference I listened to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here (remastered), as well as, Eminem’s Curtain Call both of which are considered superbly produced albums. Having such a flat response is what you want in an IEM, you need to monitor your mix. If your IEM’s are too bass heavy or the mid’s sit to far back because of the driver tuning, you will be trying to compensate and will throw the whole sound off trying to make it sound good in your ears instead of the dance floor.
The M6 PRO are extremely flat, no colorization. There is plenty of bass if that’s what the original produced track had intended so if you add bass its a true representation of whats going through the mixer to the house system. I had all 3 pairs of IEM’s running through my Allen & Heath DB2 mixer and when throwing down a set of deep house the M6 PRO’s performed like a champ. The 909 kicks had punch and control and HiHat patterns were crisp and clear without too much sibilance. Phuture’s Acid Tracks has a great 303 pattern throughout and the M6 PRO lifted that so it sounded so crisp and evil without killing the resonance – truly haunting. For $50 the MEE M6 PRO will not only impress you but may convert you to using IEM regularly.
These are a steal at the price and should cost 3 times as much. My only grip is that I wish they came with the earphone cable length at 68″ as standard instead of 51″ but you really can’t complain due to the low price. MEE offers all sorts of accessories for these and longer earphone cables are available. Recommending these is a no brainer. Run don’t walk to buy these!
|Sensitivity||107 dB SPL/mW|
|Frequency Range||22Hz – 17.5kHz|
|Cable Style||64” Detachable (at ear) with wireform fit|
|Colors||Available in Clear or Translucent Black|
|Speaker Type||Dynamic MicroDriver|
The Shure SE215 is probably one of the most popular IEMs on the market. The Shure name has been around the music scene since 1925 making quality products from headphones to microphones. Priced at around $99 they fall squarely in the area of the budget minded DJ that wants something tried and true. The SE215 delivers in the quality dept. they feel very durable and well made. In the box comes the standard affair 3 sets of eartips silicone(S,M,L) and 3 sets of foam olive shaped tips. The foam is not as flexible as Comply foam so my suggestion is trash these too and get some Comply Foam (T100 isolation tips). I thought the SE215’s sounded okay but they have a fatal flaw in that they have some colorization tuned into the driver meaning the Bass is boosted (+3 db)and the Mids are cut (-3db) giving an almost V shape EQ.
When listening to reference tracks from Massive Attack and Daft Punk the SE215’s pushed the bass unnaturally. This is of coarse great if your walking down the street listening to tunes on your iPhone. In the Studio or Live DJ situation this is not good, I found that the sound lacked a solid sound stage and because of the tuning in the Dynamic Microdriver made vocals sound very muted in some of the other reference tracks causing it not to cut through in the mix. Again, trying to compensate for this may lead to an awful sounding mix. I was constantly second guessing the bass when mixing and caught myself cutting the low-end far to often and played havoc when using lowpass filters.
Fit-wise they do protrude a little outside of the ear more than the MEE Audio IEM’s which sit flush with the earlobe. Overall, the SE215’s are still a good choice but be aware of some of the issues. I found them more suited for casual listening than monitoring. The one thing that was really annoying is that the earphone swivels and makes it awkward to insert sometimes. Perfect for people who like overpriced Beats headphones.
So how did the 3 pairs do in the passive isolation department? Well, it’s a numbers game on how much attenuation of ambient noise is really occurring. Shure says the SE215 is rated at -38db and the MEE camp says the M6 PRO has a rating of -28db. This is of coarse are under ideal conditions and a perfect seal has to be made and yada..yada.. In DJ terms, Does it cut down on outside noise? Yes. Will it protect you from hearing loss? Not exactly. They will however, reduce outside noise quite a lot allowing you to lower your headphone monitor level to reduce some of the damage you otherwise would have done. For the record when both were fitted with Comply Foam they seemed to have about the same attenuation…just my opinion and not scientifically analyzed. If I had to guess I would say they attenuate noise around -25db using Comply Foam. So with your ear canal plugged with foam and tunes coming in crystal clear you can turn down that booth monitor at the club you hate so much.
With all this being said IEMs are a personal choice. I still wear Over the Ear Headphones on occasion but these are so convenient and light that you hardly know you are wearing them. One question people ask about is the cable length. Is the cable long enough? Yes, unless you’re jumping around like Steve Aoki. The MEE earphones come with shorter 51″ cables and the Shure is 64″. I found the MEE cable just a little short to DJ with, but they do sell a 72″ cable($11.99) that is perfect for most DJing situations, you could also find an extension cable that would work in that situation also.
Overall when comparing all 3 earphones its hard to deny that the MEE M6 PRO are the King of IEM’s in the budget/consumer category. Not only do they sound great, have replaceable parts, very responsive customer service, they are priced at half of one of the most popular models on the market. Don’t get me wrong the M6 SportFi and SE215 sound good as well, but the M6 PRO is just that much better than both of them. I still have a hard time believing they are only $50. Bravo MEE!!