Personal monitoring is everywhere you look: on TV, on stage and in the studio. Once dominated by expensive custom-fit systems, these professional quality monitors have seen a rapidly falling price point due to a growing number of universal-fit systems. Now IEM innovator Future Sonics (“ear monitors” trademark holder) has entered the affordable fray.
The Atrio Ear Monitor ($199) is a single driver design that promises wide frequency response, excellent dynamics and fits into the ear canal with either compressible foam or silicon earpieces. There are two silicon types provided: hard or soft (unflanged and flanged, respectively) with both in three sizes. The ear monitors hold in place via a semi-flexible wire fitting that can be bent to conform to the outer ear’s contours. From there, a single 1-meter black cable (claiming reduced handling noise) connects the Atrios to either your wireless beltpack or headphone amplifier with an eighth-inch stereo mini-plug.
Included is a handy vinyl carrying case with room for the monitors, two sets of foam earpieces, the silicone earpieces and the all important earwax remover tool. Specs are 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response, 32 ohms, 112 dB @ 1 mW and 26 dB of ambient isolation.
The three most important factors in successful personal monitoring are fit, fit and fit. A tight seal that goes deep into our often asymmetrical ear canals is absolutely necessary — for isolation and adequate bass response.
On my first test I tried the hard rubber earpieces, only somewhat comfortably, and found the Atrio pair to have a smooth, yet articulated top-end response, but a bit lacking in bass. Suspecting a poor fit in my troublesome left ear, I switched to the slightly cumbersome foam earpieces and found the missing bottom end. In this particular instance I heard an additional 6 - 9 dB of bass response, critical to say the least. I then tried the flanged, soft rubber pieces with much more comfort and satisfaction. After a quick lick (a little unsanitary, yes, but experienced users know just how well this works) I got the monitors deeply seated, with nary a bit of discomfort or leakage, an impressive amount of bass and the best performance yet.
Studio, live, broadcast
Three sizes of compressible foam or hard silicon or soft silicon earpieces; 1-meter black cable; eighth-inch stereo mini-plug; 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response, 32 ohms, 112 dB @ 1 mW and 26 dB of ambient isolation
Future Sonics | 877-FSI-EARS | www.FutureSonics.comCompared to the older, single-driver Shure E1 pair that I had on hand, the Atrios had slightly smoother highs, more accurate dynamic response and healthier bass, with much deeper extension. The Shures were slightly more efficient, about three dB louder in informal testing.
Although designated for specific left or right use, the Atrios used as marked didn't conform to the ear too closely. In fact they seemed to fit best with the wire hanging below the ear. I got a neater look, with less protrusion, after I installed them backwards, switching left and right. For on-camera use, the monitors extend visibly outside the ear a bit. Not such a problem with custom fits or a “flesh” coloring, except the pair for review was navy blue (black is also available) and too visible for some applications.
In the studio, I had a drummer do a few songs in “surround the ear” headphones and then the Atrios. His first comment was, “Wow, these have a lot of bass.” He was also fond of the isolation, which allowed him to hear his drums via the microphones, but not via leakage. Our click track was deftly handled; it was clearly “followable” at reasonable levels with zero leakage into nearby mics.
I also had a vocalist try the Atrios with positive success. He first commented on how nice it was that these wouldn't fall off (like headphones) and then expressed how much he liked the clarity and deep bass response. Our only problem was the occasional loosening of the fit during vocal notes that had the singer widely opening his mouth. I have found this to be a problem on stage, where a sudden increase in leakage can be very distracting. Custom ear molds are often the best solution for such vocal applications, and Future Sonics offers its SofterWear custom fit sleeves for $149 (plus a fitting fee with an audiologist, approx. $125).
The Atrio Ear Monitors sound great and will definitely satisfy any quality and performance expectations. Even though their mounting scheme requires some effort, I did achieve a very good fit and expect most users to do the same. These may not compare to Future Sonics custom MG4 ($798), but the Atrio Series will easily meet typical needs on stage or in the studio … especially for this price.