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  • DIY for Drummers: In-Ear Monitoring with Click

    By Dendy Jarrett |

    5318ee81519d7.jpg.11672a4b1769358a0520f486e7d596ff.jpgby Dendy Jarrett


    I was recently trading stories about in-ear monitors with fellow Harmony Central Drum Forum member Tommy Maras, and we discovered we were both using the same setup - and ironically, we had each assembled it ourselves. But neither of us can take credit for it, as we've both gigged out of Nashville, and gathered our setup data from seeing what others were using.

    For many drummers, simply having a wedge monitor is enough (or at least they think it is). But having an external monitor can do some serious damage to your hearing over the course of many years if you play for long periods of time and besides, drummers often aren't hearing the mix correctly. Tommy put it best when he said: “The main point of my IEM (in-era monitoring) setup was hearig protection by reducing the sound levels entering my ears. The secondary point was to be able to hear a click when playing live.” 

    When touring with a larger act that plays relatively large venues, drummers should seriously consider their own in-ear monitor setup. Unfortunately, for the majority of drummers touring regionally and even with national or international acts, having in-ear monitors is the drummer's responsibility. In other words, you have to provide your own IEM setup.



    IEM is a better alternative to wedges and better for your hearing, but beware! You must avoid running a monitor mix direct from the house or from the board where the sound engineer has control of your volume. If the sound engineer mistakenly turns the wrong knob, you can end up with a blown eardrum. I never had this happen to me, but came too close for comfort (see below for info on an inline volume control box).

    The options for inner ear monitor “buds” cover quite a range. You can use your normal iPhone type buds but you'll get bleed from stage noise and the isolation won’t be good. The result can be pushing your volume to a level that could damage your hearing.

    Some companies offer a single driver version with replaceable foam isolators that you use much like soft earplugs. These work quite well and fit just about any person’s ear size and more importantly, they are very affordable.

    Personally, I use dual-driver, custom-fitted (molded) in-ear monitors from Future Sonics. Tommy states: “After hearing single-driver monitors, I knew I wanted dual-driver monitors so I could hear the bass. I was fortunate enough to make it to NAMM and listen to several brands. After hearing for myself, researching on line, and factoring in price, I decided on the Westone UM2 dual driver monitors. I have a small OtterBox in my stick bag I use to store and protect my monitors." We both find the sound quality and the lows to be much better for the type of playing we do; the dual-driver Westones that Tommy uses have a foam insert to accomplish what the molded types offer in a little more affordable fashion.

    Pricier, custom-fitted in-ear monitors are coordinated through a hearing clinic, where they pour a substance into your ear which hardens. They then send this to the manufacturer who, in turn, sends you the finished IEMs. The result is a flesh-colored, custom set of extremely comfortable (and great-sounding) in-ear monitors. Many are now available in a wide variety of clear, glitter, and colored finishes.

    And finally, you don’t have to use inner ears; you can always use circumaural (around the ear) studio quality headphones. You can’t move your head much when you're playing (which was a deal-breaker for me) and they do look a little odd on your head, but headphones like the CAD DH100 Drummer Isolation Headphones do a fine job at a very reasonable price.



    I hate playing to a click! Most drummers do. A click makes me feel confined and restricted from the feel and flow of the music, and the tenor of the band. However, there are times when a click is necessary through an entire song, but more importantly, is needed to establish the correct tempo at the beginning of every song.

    Multiple devices allow establishing a click. Tommy and I both use the Tama Rhythm Watch, which features a line-level audio output for adding the click to your mix. I took my setup to a newer technology lately with an iPhone/iPad app by Frozen Ape called Tempo Advance. It lets you tune, set tempo in any time signature and format, and build a set list so you can step right through your songs. Some people run a drum machine nto their in-ear mix or even front of house, so they can assign a tambourine or cowbell to the mix to establish and maintain tempo. You can run multiple devices into your in-ear monitors with a split cable or one of the devices mentioned below.


    5318ee8153cf9.jpg.1037db90e129c0e34c5ece0d5bfa1cb5.jpgTHE BLACK BOX

    As stated above, having a way to control the volume coming into your ears is not only crucial for hearing a proper mix, but also to protect your hearing. Enter the Black Box. As Tommy explains, “I needed to find a monitor amp, and after researching the Rolls company's web site, found their PM50s was exactly what I wanted. It has two inputs for monitor and click, volume controls for both, and can be battery-powered if you're not near an outlet. All I needed was the DI between the click and the mic in for the monitor amp, and a few cables to connect everything.”

    Another option is the Rolls PM55, which like the PM50s, accommodates multiple inputs and outputs and can control the volume to your ears. Both units are in the $50- $60 range, so they're well within the average drummer's budget (see resources below)..

    You’ll also need a Rolls Matchbox DB25 to run the Tama Rhythm Watch (or your click of choice) into the PM50s or PM55. I use a small compact Behringer mixer that's about the size of two decks of cards to do the same. Either setup will fit in the accessory pocket on your cymbal bag.

    It's also important to carry a small pouch with different kinds of connectors and adapters. As Tommy recalls, “At my first gig using my newly assembled in-ear monitors, the house had an XLR cable for my monitor feed. The PM50s has only a ¼" in for the monitor, so I ended up buying female XLR-to-¼" male and male XLR-to-¼" male adapters to cover all bases. I could have used the mic in on the monitor amp and run the click into the monitor in, but what I used was more suitable for my application. Overall, it's been a fantastic setup."



    As a musician and drummer, your ears are probably the most important piece of "gear" along with your limbs. You need to protect them, and you also need to hear the best mix possible. I typically ask for front of house with a slight bass and rhythm guitar boost, with a little less electric guitar and vocals.

    Having a proper mix also ensures that you aren’t under or overplaying for the venue. The click also helps you lock in that tempo from the beginning.

    There are other ways to accomplish the same result, but for many pro drummers in Nashville, this is an affordable solution to protect your hearing while keeping the beat - and that's what it's all about.





    Tommy Maras



    “~Move to the beat of a different drummer.”


    TAMA Rhythm Watch:



    Westone In-Ear Monitor Choices:



    ROLLS Personal Monitor Amp and Mini Mixer Boxes:



    Behringer Compact Mixer:



    To Talk About All Things Drums:



    5318ee8156024.jpg.fa7b8cb6cba820b07434bb1f9795be81.jpgDendy Jarrett is the Editorial Director and Director of Communities for Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.

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    Thanks for the article.  Question from an electronics dummie:  why do you need the DI box between the metronome and the PM55?  Could you just use a TRS to XLR adapter?

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    Excellent article. I found that by using the Rolls PM55p, you can eliminate the DB25, as it has a line/mic level switch for the Mic input, as well as an inbuilt limiter. I use a metronome app on my smartphone for a click.

    I also carry an ambient mic in my kit for situations where I don't need a click and have the mic input free. I aim it towards the front of the stage to pick up some stage and audience noise.

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