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7 Best In-Ear Monitors for Musicians and Demanding Users (2024)

Last updated: 2 months ago
8 min read

The best pick for most users is TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red.

After testing 193 headphones, here are the best in-ear monitors for demanding users, musicians, and professionals.

We test and evaluate headphones using a standardized 9-point methodology. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Sonic9Score Price AUX shape Connection Mic & Controls More info
TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red Best for most people
TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero Red small image
4.0
Under $60
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
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RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X Best under $300
RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X small image
4.1
Under $240
I-shape
Wired – 3.5mm, 2.5mm, 4.4mm
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Shure SE846 Best high-end
Shure SE846 wired earbuds
n/a
Under $1100
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (Wireless adapter available)
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KZ AS16 Pro Value pick
KZ AS16 Pro
3.9
Under $60
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
Optional
Shure SE215 Best for musicians
Shure SE215 wired earbuds
n/a
Under $100
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (Wireless adapter available)
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CCA LYRA Best cheap
CCA LYRA
3.6
Under $20
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
Optional
KZ ZST Cheap for bass
KZ ZST
3.6
Under $20
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
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CONTENTS (show more)

    Recommendations on our list are evaluated based on 9 key factors (Sonic9Score).  But the main criteria we looked at to pick the top models are sound quality, comfort & fit, and value for money. Learn about our testing and ranking methodology here.

    If you are looking for classic in-ear headphones at different prices, here’s the rundown.

    Some people refer to “in-ear monitors” as IEMs; it’s an abbreviation. They’re also known as in-ear headphones, floor monitors, earpieces, and personal monitors, and they’re usually a part of professional monitor systems.

    These are wired; for wireless IEMs, see the top wireless earphones under $100 and the best ANC earbuds.

    Best In-Ear Monitors

    1. TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red

    dollar BEST IEMS FOR MOST PEOPLE
    TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero Red IEMs

    TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red are the top in-ear monitors for most people we’ve tested – TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red review.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 10mm & 7.8mm dynamic
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-20.000Hz
    Type: In-ear monitors | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: No | Impedance: 17.5 ohms | Weight: 0.9 ounces (26 grams) with cable | Cable lenght: 4.1 feet (1.25 meters) | Features: Bass+ adapter
    • Smooth & neutral tuning that goes with all music genres
    • Comfortable & stable fit for long listening sessions
    • Detachable cable & replaceable nozzle mesh extends durability
    • Good overall passive noise isolation
    • No option for cable with mic/controls support

    ZERO:RED offer impeccable audio tuning for under $60, sporting a very neutral tuning. They’re just slightly boosted in bass and lack a bit of treble energy. You can add a few dB using the included Bass+ adapter.

    These are a great example of affordable in-ears producing an amazing listening experience.

    Technical capabilities are pretty good. Although, don’t expect to hear tiny microdetails. They have 2 dynamic drivers, yet they only have 15 ohms of impedance (+10 ohms if you use the adapter).

    Hear the TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red A/B Sound Test:

    TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero:Red Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    They have beautiful red/black resin housing and a detachable cable with a 2-pin connector. The cord looks a bit thin and fragile, but since you can replace it, that isn’t that big of an issue.

    Overall, these are the best-value IEMs that will not leave you cold. Read our full review.

    For more options:

    2. RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X

    dollar MOST DETAILED IN-EAR MONITORS UNDER $300
    RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X IEMs and the case

    If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X are the best IEMs under $300 we’ve tested – RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X review.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired 3.5mm & 2.5mm & 4.4mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 14.2mm planar magnetic & piezoelectric driver
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-40.000Hz
    Type: In-ear monitors | Back design: Open-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: No | Impedance: 15 Ohm | Weight: | Cable lenght: 4.1 feet (1.25 meters) | Features: Interchangeable connectors, removable cable
    • Natural, controlled, and detailed sound
    • Easy to drive even from a smartphone or laptop
    • Replaceable cable with different connectors
    • Made from high-quality build materials
    • Comfortable & stable for everyday listening
    • Great passive noise isolation for an open-back design
    • Occasional sizzling treble (only on cymbal-intense tracks)
    • No built-in mic or controls in the cable

    If you’re looking for IEMs with meticulous detail and design, these earphones could be for you. Sure, they cost around $240, but their sound and design make them well worth buying.

    The HOOK x HBB have a slightly V-shaped audio signature with a very detailed presentation. That makes them an excellent choice for either casual or critical listening.

    Everything, from bass to treble, shows fantastic control, tight imaging, and a decently sized soundstage.

    Hear the RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X A/B Sound Test:

    RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    IEMs come with a braided, over-the-ear style cable that very sufficiently dampens microphonics. It has 2-pin connectors on one side, and 3 different AUX plugs on the other (unbalanced 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm & 4.4mm).

    On top of that, the HOOK-X are built exceptionally well, with full metal housing and an open-back grill showcasing the planar magnetic driver inside (they also use a piezoelectric driver). A truly high-end build quality.

    3. Shure SE846

    trophy BEST HIGH-END IN-EAR MONITORS
    Shure SE846

    In our opinion, Shure SE846 are the best high-end in-ear monitors.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 4 balanced armature drivers
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 15-20.000Hz
    Type: In-ear | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: No | Impedance: 9 Ohm | Weight: n/a | Cable lenght: 64 inch (1.6m) | Features: Detachable cable, optional wireless adapter
    • Outstanding sound quality
    • Great passive isolation (-37dB)
    • Secure, comfortable fit
    • Expensive

    If you are a serious musician looking for seriously impressive quad-driver IEMs, these could be perfect for you. An incredible set of features and quality packed into a tiny package, but it comes at a price.

    The go-to IEMs for many pros. Quad drivers, quality design, and superb sound.

    The latter justifies the price. Four exceptional drivers, a low-pass filter, and the choice to amend and customize the frequency response make these some of the best-sounding monitors you’re likely to hear.

    Firstly, a detachable cable enables connectivity options. The earphones have a -37 dB noise isolation capability for blocking out ambient noise.

    Furthermore, they offer a secure and comfortable fit and convenient carrying case for serious musicians.

    These are the standard-setting in-ears for many audiophiles. If you’re a serious musician and only high fidelity and clarity will do, go for the Shure SE846.

    4. KZ AS16 Pro

    dollar VALUE PICK UNDER $100
    KZ AS16 Pro IEMs

    KZ AS16 Pro are a great value pick for in-ear monitors under $100 – KZ AS16 Pro review.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 16 balanced armature drivers
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-40.000Hz
    Type: In-ear monitor | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Optional | Impedance: 18 Ohm | Weight: 0.52 oz (15 g) both buds | Cable lenght: 49.2 inch (125cm) | Features: Detachable cable, over-the-ear cable
    • Outstanding sound quality for the price
    • Comfortable & stable for mild exercise
    • Great passive noise isolation, suitable for commuting
    • Good build quality with detachable cables
    • Optional microphone and inline controls
    • Too bassy for some
    • Cables aren't of the best quality

    KZ AS16 Pro are an affordable IEM with mind-blowing audio quality that we had to include in the list.

    While 8 BA drivers in each earbud sound too much, it delivers. The audio quality is fantastic for under $60, picturing details you never thought possible at this price.

    Expect very controlled audio performance from top to bottom that sounds surprisingly natural, albeit dark, due to boosted bass and rolled-off treble.

    Check the KZ AS16 Pro A/B sound test:

    KZ AS16 Pro Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    The earbud’s casing is chunky but very comfortable. You can wear them all day without noticing any fatigue. And while they’re heavy, the over-the-ear cable helps distribute the weight.

    The cable is replaceable and uses 2-pin connectors. Unfortunately, you might hear some cable noise if you plan to wear them outdoors.

    5. Shure SE215

    Shure SE215 wired in-ear monitor

    Shure SE215 are the top IEMs for stage musicians under $100.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: n/a
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 22-17.500Hz
    Type: In-ear | Back design: Closed-back | Noise Cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Microphone only | Impedance: n/a | Weight: n/a | Cable length: n/a | Features: Detachable cable, optional wireless adapter
    • Good sound quality
    • Price-to-performance ratio
    • Detachable cable
    • Narrow soundstage

    Good in-ear monitors don’t have to be expensive. These Shure wired earbuds for less than $100 have some great features and sound.

    If you like your audio bassy, these IEMs could be for you. Some in-ear headphones lose this, but these have a boost in the low end to keep you hearing the low frequencies clearly.

    The quality of these IEMs is excellent, and the sound-isolating eartips block out a lot of ambient noise, meaning you can hear the mix as intended.

    They have gold-plated MMCX connectors and a snapping mechanism, so you can rotate them to your preference. These earphones also have 3 different sizes of ear tips.

    They’re pretty lightweight and don’t sit too heavy in the ears, so you can cope with a whole concert wearing them.

    The original model is wired, but you can purchase an adapter that gives 30 feet of wireless connectivity. Unfortunately, the adapter isn’t working that well, so stick with wires.

    6. CCA LYRA

    dollar BEST IN-EAR MONITORS UNDER $20
    CCA LYRA earbuds

    For entry-level audiophiles, the CCA LYRA are the best cheap in-ear monitors we’ve tested- CCA LYRA review.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 10mm dynamic
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-40.000Hz
    Type: In-ear | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Optional | Impedance: 28 Ohm | Weight: 0.2 oz (5.5 g) per earbud | Cable lenght: 47.2 inch (120cm) | Surround sound: No | Features: Detachable cable
    • Superb sound quality (for the price)
    • Excellent stability due to over-the-ear cable
    • Detachable cable
    • Minimal microphonics
    • Good comfort …
    • … but not for all ears due to strange design
    • Slightly cheap-feeling cable

    These earphones are your best choice for great sound quality for below $20.

    Cheap yet impressively clean and neutral-sounding IEM that wipes away the competition twice or triple the price.

    The 10mm dynamic driver produces a slightly boosted bass that retains good control and dynamics. For only $20, you get impressive clarity and detail, although the presentation isn’t the airiest.

    Hear the CCA LYRA A/B sound test:

    CCA LYRA Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    The LYRAs have a peculiar see-through design that contours a human ear. However, not all will find them comfortable for long listening sessions.

    At least you don’t have to worry about stability, which is superb thanks to over-the-ear cables. The latter are replaceable and use 2-pin connectors.

    7. CCA Trio

    dollar BEST CHEAP IN-EAR MONITORS FOR BASS
    CCA Trio side view

    If you prefer a bassy yet natural sound, the CCA Trio are the best cheap IEMs for bass we’ve tested – CCA Trio review.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 3x 8mm dynamic driver
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-40.000Hz
    Type: In-ear monitor | Back design: Semi-open | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Optional | Impedance: 15-20 ohms | Sensitivity: 101-103dB | Weight: 0.35 ounces (10 grams) per IEM | Cable lenght: 47.2 inches (1.2 meters) | Features: 4 filter switches, detachable cable
    • Natural sound quality for the budget price
    • Wide soundstage & pretty accurate imaging
    • Made with quality materials & come with decent cable
    • Good passive noise isolation despite semi-open design
    • Adjustable tuning switches help personalize the response
    • Quite heavy due to metal plate & 3 dynamic drivers
    • Tuning switches press on earlobe, causing some discomfort
    • A bit too bassy for serious audio purists

    If you’re on a tight budget and want a bang for the buck, the CCA Trio in-ear monitors might surprise you with their quality.

    Hear the CCA Trio A/B sound test:

    CCA Trio Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    For the price, the audio is fantastic. IEMs pack three dynamic drivers inside each earbud to produce a punchy and natural sound. Thanks to the semi-open design, the soundstage is impressively wide, accompanied by accurate imaging.

    Tuning filters or switches are these IEM’s most interesting feature. By switching them, you can lower or boost individual frequency ranges (bass, midrange, and treble) and get a sound that better suits your taste.

    Moreover, they come with a detachable 2-pin cable with a 3.5mm L-shaped plug. The cable goes over the ears, which helps distribute the Trio’s weight. Since they’re partially made of metal, they’re noticeably heavy.

    Honorable Mentions

    1MORE Quad Driver

    1MORE Quad Driver on a pouch

    Solid quad-driver IEMs that are a bit older today. But still a solid choice. They have a beautiful aluminum finish and plenty of accessories. With 4 drivers produce a detailed and natural sound, but they’re not perfect. More in the review.

    1MORE Quad Driver Review

    FiiO F9

    Fiio F9 earbuds

    Slightly V-shaped IEM that offers great clarity on top of impeccable comfort for long listening sessions.

    Check F9 price

    MEE Audio Pinnacle P1

    MEE Audio Pinnacle P1

    Tough wired earbuds made of zinc alloy housing, paired with removable MMCX cables for extra durability.

    You must pair them with appropriate foam tips to get the best sound. That softens and opens their audio simultaneously, providing you with impressively dynamic performance.

    Check Pinnacle P1 price

    How We Test

    We objectively test headphones by measuring frequency response for the sound category and score them on 9 key categories to evaluate their overall performance.

    Frequency response chart
    Frequency response charts give a general idea of how in-ear monitors sound.

    We also listen to them personally and describe the sound. We combine measurement data and our hands-on experience to get a comprehensive and holistic overview of their performance. Read all about tests of other categories: our testing and scoring methodology.

    How did we choose the models?

    As mentioned above, we primarily focused on 3 decision points: sound quality, comfort & fit, and value for money.

    So, all recommended IEMs perform well and sound far better than their competition at the same price. We chose from 193 headphones we tested and others we tried but haven’t fully tested yet. We also included options at different price points so users at every budget can find a good pick.

    What Are In-Ear Monitors?

    In-ear monitors are equivalent to studio monitor headphones but with an in-ear design. They sit in the ear canal instead of the outside of the ear (like over and on-ear headphones).

    KZ ZST in-ear monitor

    They are popular with live performers who can monitor their singing by listening to themselves while keeping the ability to move. Over-ear headphones are big and conspicuous. You can also use them either in recording or in a casual environment.

    In-ear monitors have a lot of benefits for musicians. The engineer sends a monitor mix to each musician. You can hear the levels you need to keep you playing at your top potential. For example, you may wish to hear more of the drummer to keep your timing perfect.

    In the non-professional market, you see a lot of wireless in-ear headphones (also known as wireless earbuds). These are designed for more casual, daily use and focus on convenience.

    Some people opt for balanced armature monitors. These use a balanced armature driver, which can be tuned to specific frequencies, give more detailed sound, and can even act as a form of hearing protection.

    How Do In-Ear Monitors Work?

    In a theater setting, a mixer sends a feed to a wireless receiver. The receiver usually sits on a belt and connects to your in-ear monitors so that you can hear the sound.

    A monitor engineer in big productions does the monitor mix. However, on live shows, the live audio engineer may do this instead.

    In-ear monitor systems have different earphones mixed separately so each member of a band can hear what they want. Wireless systems for in-ear monitors also allow more freedom around the stage.

    They also keep the set sound levels down. This means that you no longer need to use big, bulky monitors.

    The echo can be a problem with in-ear monitor headphones and live performances. Echo cancellation is the answer. It works by monitoring the audio being played into the microphones and then comparing it to the audio originating from the far end. It can cancel out the distortion it finds in both.

    You can learn more about how to use in-ear monitors on stage here.

    Pros and Cons of In-Ear Monitors

    Most successful live musicians and bands use IEMs. However, not everyone can, and their use isn’t always suitable.

    PROS:

    • They allow you to get a personalized monitor mix
    • In-ear headphones are much more flexible than over-ear headphones
    • You don’t have to stay near a stage monitor, so you can walk around freely
    • The noise is lower as a result of not having monitors
    • Due to sound isolation, music is being sent straight to your ear canals, meaning a clearer sound
    • In-ear earphones are more stable than classic earbuds

    CONS:

    • You may not be able to hear crowd reactions as well
    • The whole setup can be expensive
    • You need a monitor mix to be done by an engineer or a live engineer
    • You need more equipment, such as transmitters and receivers for them to work

    For most performers and big tours, in-ear monitors are the way to go. For small club gigs, they might be an expensive overkill.

    More in-ear guides:

    1 Comment
    1. I’ve had a lot of issues with my Shure 846’s.
      If you like headphones that catch and tangle on everything then get these. There is no situation where the wire over ear ends of these won’t tangle on other wires. You can put them down for literally 1 second and they will find wires to tangle with.
      The initial cable the guiding wire that holds the headphone cable over your ear broke through the shielding and tried to stab me and I had to change wire. Unfortunately the adjustable tips that go in your ears can easily unscrew themselves and be literally lost, even though they give you a tool to screw them in, the metal tips will unscrew from the plastic housing randomly.
      The clear plastic shells they come in are insufficiently strong and if you intend to swap cables from 3.5mm to balanced often the shells will break.
      I have had to repair, by soldering the tiny tiny wires onto the connector several times, because the shell these drivers are in is not the side that the connector is glued to. So when, and it is when, the shell comes in half by itself, you will find the drivers in one half and the connector in the other half and the tiny wires broken.
      I don’t know if the version 2 are better, but I think a lot of the issues stem from the weak plastic shells on these.

      Reply

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