The first microphones I recall in the concert sound business were Shure SM58s and SM57s. Shure was definitely one of the pioneers of the sound reinforcement microphone industry, and now, more than 30 years later, is one of the pioneers in the in-ear monitor (IEM) industry.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, broadcast
Key Features: Standard single-driver, optional dual-driver universal fit earphones
Price: Shure PSM 400: $1,653.60 PSM 600: $1,686.67; optional Shure E5 Dual-Driver universal fit earphones $625.87
Contact: Shure at 847-866-2200, Web Site
+ Excellent step by step instructions for newcomers to IEMs
+ High-quality RF path
+ Excellent sounding dual driver earpieces
– E-5 is a large unit – can be seen if you do not have long hair to hide them
The Score: The Shure PSM systems are a truly fine product and I recommend them without reservation.
In-ear monitors are quite the rage these days with many performers on both national and local levels. Many performers believe that in-ear monitors will solve all their hearing deficiency problems (problems attributed to many years of prolonged exposure to excessive volumes). However, as a prologue to this review, I must warn you that if you are considering purchasing in-ear monitors, pay extra special attention to the OSHA volume/time exposure ratings included with the use instructions of any of the ear-worn monitors. These devices are intended to be a positive experience, but many have abused the ability of these in-ear monitors to produce very loud volumes, leading to additional hearing deficiencies.
Shure provided us with two models of personal monitors: the PSM 400 – the more affordable version – and the PSM 600 – the more high-end version.
First, the PSM 400 features a P4M, four-channel mixer that allows four mic or line signals to be mixed to a personal in-ear system by being placed “in-line” in the mic to console cable path with each input channel having both stereo pan and volume controls. The 400 also features a beltpack receiver module with a combination volume and on/off switch, a separate L/R pan control, stereo 1/8-inch earphone jack, battery door, mouse-tail antenna and an LED display showing channel, battery life and signal reception strength.
Also present inside the beltpack are several DIP switches, controlling Mono/Stereo signal, high-frequency boost and limiter on/off, with corresponding LED markers on the display panel. One nice feature I liked was the frequency adjust lockout, which allows the user to disable the channel selector so as not to inadvertently change receiver frequency. The transmitter of the PSM 400 contains a swivel-mount RF/UHF antenna, frequency adjustment/display and L/R In and L/R Through connectors, allowing attachment to conventional monitors and amplifiers. The standard earpiece is the Shure E1, a single-element driver, with several different size foam sleeves, to allow the earpiece to fit and seal securely.
The PSM 600 in-ear system is comparable but has no in-line mixer. (The P4M is compatible with any of the PSM systems) It does feature upgraded electronics and materials. For example, the P6R receiver is a steel beltpack (as opposed to plastic) and appears to be almost identical to a Shure UHF beltpack. The transmitter module has only two selectable channels, and is noticeably larger and heavier, which suggests higher quality RF filtration and a generally more high-end approach to the PSM 600 system. Standard issue earpiece with the PSM 600 is also the E1, single-element transducer, also with an assortment of foam sleeves in varying sizes.
Available for either the PSM 400s or 600s, is the Shure E5 dual-driver earphones, which is a considerable upgrade from the standard single-element drivers. Here is the difference: the single-element earpieces are adequate at representing full spectrum audio, but much like a single speaker being expected to represent full-spectrum audio, lacks somewhat in full fidelity. It is for that reason that a dual-driver system was developed by Shure, much the same as a two-way speaker system is able to handle the full spectrum duties better than a single speaker does. In order to develop the extended low frequencies, a second driver was necessary, much like adding a sub-woofer to a conventional speaker system. Then, a micro-sized crossover separates these drivers, assuring proper frequency allocation to the proper driver.
Another parameter in all of this is the fit and seal of the earpiece. While the standard foam sleeves for the E1 are adequate, they do not allow for a lot of movement by the performer, as they fall out quite easily if not properly inserted. Also, for an earpiece to function properly, it must seal the ear canal from the outside world, so that all you hear is what is in the IEM mix. In order to reach this level of comfort, fit and usefulness, one should consider obtaining a custom ear mold. These custom-fit earpieces, which must be precisely fit by a qualified audiologist, cost about $100 (minute in the overall cost of an IEM system) and take about two weeks to make. Shure was kind enough to put me in contact with Dr. Michael Santucci, head of Sensaphonics. Michael is one of the foremost audiologists in the field of in-ear monitors, and provided me with not only exceptionally comfortable, perfectly sealing ear molds, but gave me a taste of his extensive knowledge in the field of hearing conservation.
After receiving my custom ear molds, I installed the Shure E5 dual-driver earpieces, which fit into the molds quite easily. The first show in which I used the PSM 600, was a Christmas concert by Judy Collins on Thanksgiving weekend 2001. On numerous occasions throughout the series, I compared the sound of the Shure E1 single-driver earpieces, the Shure E5 dual-driver earpieces, and conventional monitors. The first thing that hits you is the fact that you hear nothing but what is in the monitor mix. That is to say, you are completely sealed off from the outside world. Consequently, for a performer to react and interact with the audience there must be audience microphones, which are mixed into the IEM mixes so the performer can hear the surrounding audience. Second, it is just weird to have silicon stuck in you ear for hours at a time. If you have never worn in-ear monitors, it does take a little getting used to, but after a while, it actually feels perfectly comfortable. Third, the sound quality is totally different from conventional monitors; you are definitely up close and personal with sounds that may not otherwise appear to be there. Some engineers still like to insert a graphic or parametric EQ in the mix output master to smooth the response of IEMs, but I found it not to be necessary, as the E5 had a very flat, natural response. In comparison, the Shure E1 placed in the Sensaphonics ear mold was a fairly good sounding unit, but the Shure E5 was a total surprise. The clarity, definition and overall sound quality of the E5 was superb. The secondary driver made an astounding difference to the quality, discernability and low-frequency response. The Shure E5 is a good-sized unit, and does protrude a bit from the ear, but the overall audio quality is worth the size.
I used the Shure PSM 600 and 400 on more than 20 different occasions, mixing monitors for everything from Doc Severinsen to Beatles tribute bands (Classical Mystery Tour) to Christmas stage shows to country rock and roll (Ricochet). On every occasion, the electronic and RF paths were clean, quiet and free of any of the annoying clicks and pops associated with lesser quality RF equipment. The custom ear molds by Sensaphonics were the perfect complement to the Shure PSM in-ear monitor systems, and added significantly to the overall IEM experience. If you have given thought to purchasing IEMs, the Shure PSM systems are a truly fine product and I recommend them without reservation.
Soundcraft Series FIVE Console; Yorkville TX2M stage monitors; Audix OM6, Audix VX10, Sennheiser 441 mics; BSS AR116 DI; dbx 2231 graphic EQ; Lexicon PCM70 version 2.0, Lexicon MPX500 multi-effects processors.