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Best Custom IEM's for live use....

s0c9

Moderator
Moderator
I have been using “generic fit” single-driver IEM’s (Westone UM-1) at gigs for a while now (+ church gigs) and want to upgrade to FULL custom molds (CIEM's) with Triple drivers. I do have custom tips on the UM-1's (and they are better than the Comply/soft tips) but even they pop the seal when I sing (jaw movement) or when my ears get a little sweaty.
So, for those who use Custom IEM’s and gig regularly, I'm looking for some input.

Obviously, I have a budget (under $500 including molds which run $50-60), so the $1200 CIEM's are not an option. I play both bass and guitar, so need something with some bottom end - which is why I thought Triples would be a better choice than Duals. And to answer the usual "did you look" type questions, yes! I've done a ton of research on what's on the market, read the reviews on head-fi.org and elsewhere - which tend to be analytical/matter-of-fact. Now I'm looking for first hand user experiences.

So far my 3 choices are between these:
1964 Ears V3 Triple driver ($425)
Alien Ears C3 Triple driver ($410)
Dream Earz (Bass-3x) Triple driver ($465)

Thoughts? Experiences? Positives? Negatives? Other Recommendations ?
Thanks in advance.

PS: I'm not looking for buds or generic fit IEM's, but custom molds only. The generic fit do not work well in my ears (I have small canals) and seldom seal well.
 
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grape

Experienced
I don't have any of those but do have higher end pair (I won't bias you by saying which ones). To be honest, it's kind of a crapshoot when choosing them. To really know which ones are best, you have to buy several of them, hope that the molds are all good, and compare from there. But here are a few general tips that helped me:

1. The molds often come out wrong. Get two molds done and DO NOT walk out of the doctor's office if they didn't do it properly. Make sure they mold past the second bend and on the outer ear.

2. Even if you have pristine molds, the earpieces don't always come out right. Whichever ones you buy, make sure the company has a return and fit policy b/c you don't want to spend that money and not have earpieces that actually fit. If they feel uncomfortable, note the cause as best as possible and send them back to be replaced/reworked.

3. More drivers doesn't always = better sound. 2 drivers for 500 can sound better than 4 for 2000. The companies have been in a race to sell as many drivers as possible due to the marketing perception. The crazy guy on headfi is the best source for comparisons.

4. The cable matters. If you actually use them a lot, the cables will break. Make sure you understand the replacement process. Detachable cables are an absolute must but I doubt any of the contenders are hardwiring anymore. Understand the availability of the cable (the whole cable or just the ends). Buy at least one extra and some ends if you can.

5. Braided cables matter... and the material of the bare cable or sheath matters. If you wear them for a long time, the material can react with your skin. Some people are allergic more than others but at the very least, you'll be irritated. I tend to pop the cables to the side of my head Michael Stipe style unless I really need to hide them so that this isn't a concern. The braid allows it to curve more easily and reduces microphonics.

6. 100% isolation is great... but it can be disorienting. If you can swing ones with microphones built in (and the receiver to support it) then go for it. Audio Technica M2 has an input on the receiver to which you can attach a lav mic which is kind of a pain but better than nothing. I personally prefer digital units (that one is UHF) but it might be good... if you're not wireless, then consider adding a mic to your mix.

7. Bass is not everything. Depending on your other stage monitors and pa(s), you may get enough bass to satisfy you. The importance of iems for a bassist is to clarity and that usually means mids and hi-s, not actually low bass.

8. Impedance matters if you don't have a good amp to drive them.

9. You MUST have decent processing before the IEMs. Plan on a separate mix that you have FULL control over (e.g. not just a copy of the mains). Equalization is incredibly important. You'll find that you have to dial out the hi-s quite a bit - especially with a digital wireless or direct that doesn't naturally filter it out. IEMs tend to be very harsh at the top so unless you want to slice your head in half or stay awake for a long gig, be nice to yourself and eq out the high end as much as possible. When I first started out with IEM's, I detested them until I used multi-band eq to make them sound more like studio headphones.

Out of the ones you've mentioned, I'd go with 1964 because I like the name :0)
 

muudrock

Experienced
I have the Alien Ears, 3 driver version. They are good for the price range and an improvement over the Westones I used to use. I still prefer not to use IEMs but when I do, the AEs have worked well. If you get them, get the detachable cord.
 

guitarnerdswe

Fractal Fanatic
Probably out of your price range, but I've had both the Sensaphonics 2max and 3max, and I really dug the 2max. Use them every gig.

Just a some thoughts:

If the molds aren't good enough, the IEM company will tell you before they start to make them (if they are any good).

I don't think IEM have alot of high end compared to studio phones. If anything, my Sensaphonics are on the mellow side, which means you can crank them more without it hurting. Anyway, most good transimitters have EQ in them, try that before you buy something separate.

100 % isolation is impossible, but I picked Sensaphonic over other brands because of the superior isolation. I think it's very much a personal thing if you want isolation, or if you want some leakage. I want as much isolation as possible, but my colleague actually never has both IEM in, because she likes to hear some of the PA system and audience.

As said, more drivers is not better. It's quite often more of a marketing thing than anything else.

As also said, control over your mix is so super important. I both a exensive and overkill mixer JUST so we could have totally separate and stereo IEM signal. And yeah, stereo is a must if you are the least bit picky about your sound ;)
 
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grape

Experienced
I don't think IEM have alot of high end compared to studio phones.

I agree for the ones that only go up to about 16KHz (like your Sensaphonics 2/3MAX). If they go to 20KHz, they are most likely very harsh (mine are). So I guess another note for the op is that the widest response isn't always necessary since you may need to dial it out if it's not accurate (or if it's wireless, your trans/rec may not support it anyway).
 

guitarnerdswe

Fractal Fanatic
But then again, many people can't hear up to 20k. That's really high, and there is not much up there in a guitar at least. I've tried some other IEM that aren't custom, and those where alot brighter than my Sensaphonic, but that was because of stuff far lower than 16k.

Which ones do you use grape?
 

s0c9

Moderator
Moderator
Thanks for the feedback guys... and especially grape for the info on the molds. Only had that doe once before, so no expert.

But, been using IEM's for a while now. Don't need 100% isolation, just a good fit that stays that way, so I'm not always messing with the seal. My current isolation is generally good - until I sing. I often don't take the IEM's out between sets as I can hear conversation quite well with them still in - as long a there's no music going thru them or one of the band (or audience) is try to talk to me while we're mid-song. Still, when I DO take them out, the volume difference is ESPECIALLY noticeable, so I'm hopfully saving my hearing....

Talking of which (@guitarnerd), you colleague should NOT use only ONE IEM. Use BOTH or none. Why? Research has shown that most people turn up the IEM volume to compensate for the volume difference between the IEM and the other ear. The whole point of IEM's is to get a good mix WHILE KEEPING the VOLUME DOWN!! Save your hearing. Taking out one IEM defeats the purpose, as you have to crank the other to compensate.

Yes, agreed with all points about individual mix controls, etc.
FWIW - We use a Presonus 16.4.2 console... I run 2*8-ch DB25->TRS connectors from console into Behringer P16-I, then CAT5 to P16-M's. Ch-16 on the the P16-I has the click track from the drummer fed direct if we're mixing on stage or via (reverse) snake return if mixing FOH. I usually mute the click track, but drummer uses it. Also, half the band is IEM, half not, so there ARE stage monitors.

The P16's are Behringers equivalent of the Avion/Heatback systems, and in the 6 or so gigs I've used 'em the Behringers are just as good (use Aviom @ church) for about 1/8th the $$.

From the P16-M, I go stereo out into Carvin EM900 Wireless, and then into my UM-1's. I do not use the Carvin buds as they DO have a lot of HF. The nice things about the P16-M is the built-in limiter and that one can INDIVIDUALLY EQ EACH channel.

For larger gigs, with house system/FOH, I get an mono monitor mix (festival style). Which works too.
To be fair, the UM-1's are REALLY good for the $$ and single-drivers. I'm no audiophile, just want good sound at a reasonable price and a good comfortable fit.

PS: Perhaps getting my UM-1's re-molded ($200) might be the better way to go ?
 
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guitarnerdswe

Fractal Fanatic
s0c9, no need to worry about her. We don't have any stage volume at all. Everything is digital or on a backing track, so the only thing making any noise is our voices ;) We are always behind the PA system too, and since we have no acoustic drums etc to keep up with, we can keep the volume down.
 

s0c9

Moderator
Moderator
s0c9, no need to worry about her. We don't have any stage volume at all. Everything is digital or on a backing track, so the only thing making any noise is our voices ;) We are always behind the PA system too, and since we have no acoustic drums etc to keep up with, we can keep the volume down.
That's good :) My band has some pretty loud stage monitor levels as some of them [appear] partially deaf and like to crank their stage amps. As most experienced musicians know, that is self-defeating as they then want "more me in the monitor" and the volume wars start. Then they wonder why feedback happens, etc.
Since I use IEM's I'm not part of that, and the only time I hear how loud the stage volume is, is if my batteries die mid-song (yes, I check levels before each set, but sh*t happens). :)
 

grape

Experienced
But then again, many people can't hear up to 20k. That's really high, and there is not much up there in a guitar at least. I've tried some other IEM that aren't custom, and those where alot brighter than my Sensaphonic, but that was because of stuff far lower than 16k.

Which ones do you use grape?

I use 2 driver Sleek Audio CT7's. I *think* they are better than others under $1k but I don't know for sure not having tried a ton of them. I can't fully recommend them though due to several quality issues I had. They are great now but it probably took about 2 months of back and forth before I got a set that worked and fit properly. I prefer braided cloth like cable but these have really cheap ones. I haven't gotten around to fabricating new ones.

I must also note that I use them for a full digital mix (not just guitar) that goes up to 20k. I tried some others with wireless units that didn't have the bandwidth and didn't like them but I'm not entirely sure which component was at fault but something was limiting the range - maybe even lower than 16k. With my current system, I have to tame the high end otherwise I it's way too harsh. I can't simply knock out 16k-20k though. I leave some of the high end intact.

@s0c9
Fit:
It's important to have a block between your teeth while having the mold made so make sure the audiologist gives you something. It's usually a folded piece of cardboard. If the mold is made with your mouth closed, you're more apt to pop the seal while singing. My current ones do not pop but previous ones did and it's highly uncomfortable.

Isolation:
I think you'll find that customs give you more isolation and you may have trouble holding a conversation. The good thing is that the harder plastic ones are much easier to put in and take out which means there's less wear and tear on your ear.

Gear:
Sounds like you are fully geared up. The Presonus kicks butt and the little known Behringer stuff is a steal compared to the competition.
 

s0c9

Moderator
Moderator
thanks for the feedback guys.. getting molds done next Tues, so have until then to make a decision on which vendor to go with..
 

dpeterson

Axe-Master
thanks for the feedback guys.. getting molds done next Tues, so have until then to make a decision on which vendor to go with..

if you sing, make sure you have a bite block in...otherwise everytime you open your mouth your seal will break.
 

guitarnerdswe

Fractal Fanatic
I use 2 driver Sleek Audio CT7's. I *think* they are better than others under $1k but I don't know for sure not having tried a ton of them. I can't fully recommend them though due to several quality issues I had. They are great now but it probably took about 2 months of back and forth before I got a set that worked and fit properly. I prefer braided cloth like cable but these have really cheap ones. I haven't gotten around to fabricating new ones.

I must also note that I use them for a full digital mix (not just guitar) that goes up to 20k. I tried some others with wireless units that didn't have the bandwidth and didn't like them but I'm not entirely sure which component was at fault but something was limiting the range - maybe even lower than 16k. With my current system, I have to tame the high end otherwise I it's way too harsh. I can't simply knock out 16k-20k though. I leave some of the high end intact.

@s0c9
Fit:
It's important to have a block between your teeth while having the mold made so make sure the audiologist gives you something. It's usually a folded piece of cardboard. If the mold is made with your mouth closed, you're more apt to pop the seal while singing. My current ones do not pop but previous ones did and it's highly uncomfortable.

Isolation:
I think you'll find that customs give you more isolation and you may have trouble holding a conversation. The good thing is that the harder plastic ones are much easier to put in and take out which means there's less wear and tear on your ear.

Gear:
Sounds like you are fully geared up. The Presonus kicks butt and the little known Behringer stuff is a steal compared to the competition.

Weird that you had to send them back. I've had 5 different Sensaphonics (first 3max, then 2max, and then I sent one earphone in for check up a year later) and all have had perfect fit.

I don't know if I would agree on the harder ones being easier on the ear though. That's one of the positivte things about soft silicone, they are comfy to wear. I can only image how hard plastic ones would feel, seems quite nasty IMHO. Now, I haven't tried hard earphones, but that soft silicone is comfier than hard plastic seems logical to me, at least in my mind.
 
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finleysound

Inspired
I have the Alien Ears single driver model. I thought they were okay until, on a whim, I tried my Etymotics hf5s (with the Earglide tips) at rehearsal. Man, what a difference. Better isolation and sound quality. And for only $149, it's a no brainer. They do offer a custom fit option which I will do at some point.
 

grape

Experienced
I don't know if I would agree on the harder ones being easier on the ear though. That's one of the positivte things about soft silicone, they are comfy to wear. I can only image how hard plastic ones would feel, seems quite nasty IMHO. Now, I haven't tried hard earphones, but that soft silicone is comfier than hard plastic seems logical to me, at least in my mind.

What I meant by wear and tear is that putting them in/out causes more friction as you decrease hardness - especially if the iems have a medium/long second bend. Softer ones tended to jam up a bit going through the bend and I found it irritating. Once in, I still preferred the harder plastic but I'm sure it's a personal preference. It's unfortunate that it's so expensive to experiment and discover what works best!
 
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