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7 Best In-Ear Monitors for Musicians and Demanding Users (2023)

Last updated: 2 months ago
7 min read

The best in-ear monitors for an average demanding user are Shure SE215.

See more of the best in-ear monitors for musicians, studio professionals, and regular users.

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Rating Price AUX shape Connection Mic & Controls More info
Shure SE215 Best under $100
Shure SE215 wired earbuds
4.5
Under $100
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (Wireless adapter available)
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RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X Best under $300
RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X small image
4.4
Under $240
I-shape
Wired – 3.5mm, 2.5mm, 4.4mm
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Shure SE846 Best high-end
Shure SE846 wired earbuds
4.4
Under $1100
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (Wireless adapter available)
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KZ AS16 Pro Amazing value
KZ AS16 Pro
4.2
Under $60
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
Optional
HIFIMAN RE-400 Under $50 alternative
HiFiMan RE-400
3.8
Under $30
J-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (fixed cable)
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CCA LYRA Best cheap
CCA LYRA
4.3
Under $20
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
Optional
KZ ZST Cheap alternative
KZ ZST
4.4
Under $20
L-shape
Wired – 3.5mm (removable cable)
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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, personal monitors, and they’re usually a part of professional monitor systems.

CONTENTS (show more)

    What Are In-Ear Monitors?

    In-ear monitors are equivalent to studio monitor headphones but with a different 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 very popular with live musicians 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 monitor headphones 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 monitors (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 stage setting, firstly, 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 sound engineer may do this instead.

    By having custom in-ear monitors mixed separately, each member of a band can hear what they want. This aids their performance. Wireless systems for in-ear monitors also allow more freedom around the stage.

    In-ear monitors also keep the stage sound levels down. This means that you no longer need to use big, bulky stage monitors. This is good for your hearing.

    The echo can be a problem with in-ear monitor headphones and live performances. Echo cancellation is the answer. It works by monitoring the sound being played into the microphones and then comparing it to the sound originating from the far end. It can cancel out the sound it finds in both. This sound can only be coming from the far end. This sort of technology works on your smartphones, too.

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

    Pros and Cons of In-Ear Monitors

    In-ear earphones and monitors have upsides and downsides.

    Most successful live musicians and bands use IEMs. However, it’s important to point out that not everyone can and that their use isn’t always suitable.

    PROS:

    • IEMs 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 stage noise is lower as a result of not having stage 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 for your IEMs to work

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

    Best In-ear Monitors and Headphones With Monitor Features

    1. Shure SE215

    dollar BEST IN-EAR MONITORS UNDER $100
    Shure SE215 wired in-ear monitor

    Best in-ear monitors under $100.

    In-ear monitors don’t have to be expensive. These popular Shure earbuds under $100 have some great features and sound.

    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

    If you like your sound 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 can give a 30 feet wireless range. Unfortunately, the adapter isn’t working that well, so stick with wires.

    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

    Best in-ear monitors under $300.

    If you’re looking for in-ear monitors 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.

    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

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

    RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    The HOOK x HBB have a slightly V-shaped sound 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.

    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).

    3. Shure SE846

    trophy BEST HIGH-END IN-EAR MONITORS
    Shure SE846

    Best high-end in-ear monitors.

    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.

    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

    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. And the earphones have a -37 dB noise isolation capability for blocking out ambient stage 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 AMAZING VALUE FOR UNDER $100
    KZ AS16 Pro IEMs

    Best in-ear monitors under $60.

    KZ AS16 Pro are an affordable IEM with mind-blowing sound quality.

    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

    Check the KZ AS16 Pro A/B sound test:

    KZ AS16 Pro Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    While 8 BA drivers in each earbud sound too much, it definitely delivers. The sound 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.

    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 2pin connectors. Unfortunately, you might hear some cable noise if you plan to wear them outdoors.

    For similar models, check the best earbuds under $50.

    5. HiFiMan RE-400

    dollar BEST ALTERNATIVE FOR UNDER $50
    HiFiMan RE-400

    An alternative in-ear model under $50.

    Another option for an affordable set of in-ear monitors is the HiFiMan RE-400. These have a decent bass response and exceptionally natural midrange for the money.

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 8.5mm
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 15-22.000Hz
    Type: In-ear | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Optional | Impedance: 32 Ohm | Weight: 0.47 oz (13.5g) | Cable lenght: 52 inches (1.33m) | Features: /
    • Neutral sound signature
    • Good soundstage
    • Cable isn't very durable

    The RE-400’s are known to sound very neutral, with just a hint of bass boost for added warmness and smooth, rolled-off treble. While that can make them a bit boring, their accurate sound signature makes them truly unique at their price.

    Nonetheless, with some foam ear tips and playing with EQ, you can make these earbuds truly shine. They have a lovely, natural midrange that captures all the fine nuances in vocals.

    There are multiple tips to allow you to choose the right size for you.

    Titanium diaphragm, neodymium magnet, and copper cables are designed to stop the ‘stethoscope’ effect of hearing your heartbeat.

    For in-ear monitors with superbly natural midrange on a budget, go for the HiFiMan RE-400.

    6. CCA LYRA

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

    Best cheap in-ear monitors.

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

    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

    Hear the CCA LYRA A/B sound test:

    CCA LYRA Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

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

    Earbuds are slightly boosted in the bass but retain good control and dynamics of the low end. For only $20, you get impressive clarity and detail, although the presentation isn’t the airiest.

    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 2pin connectors.

    7. KZ ZST

    dollar BEST DIRT-CHEAP IN-EAR MONITORS
    KZ ZST in-ear monitor

    The best cheap in-ear monitors for musicians.

    If you’re on a really tight budget and want something cheap but decent, the KZ ZST monitors might surprise you with their quality.

    KZ ZST review

    Connection icon Connection: Wired – 3.5mm
    Driver size icon Driver size: 10mm
    Frequency range icon Frequency range: 20-20.000Hz
    Type: In-ear | Back design: Closed-back | Noise cancelling: No | Mic & Controls: Yes (Optional) | Weight: 0.85 oz (24g) | Impedance: 16 Ohm | Cable length: 47.2 inch (1.2m) | Features: Detachable cable, 1 Dynamic + 1 BA
    • Amazing value
    • Great sound
    • Removable cable
    • Comfortable fit
    • All-plastic construction

    For the price, the sound is fantastic. It’s tough to get such clarity at such an affordable price tag.

    The frequency response is great, the bass doesn’t go missing and has a nice punch, while highs are detailed without harshness. It’s a fun V-shaped signature that’s hard to find in even more expensive headphones.

    The KZ ZST in-ear headphones are actually pretty decent in spite of their low price.

    The detachable cable is a big bonus for a set of ear buds this affordable. 3 pairs of silicone ear tips help you find a comfortable fit though memory foam tips are better.

    The Hybrid Balance Armature drivers could be mistaken for more expensive IEMs. And, you wear these behind the ear, like Shure, so they stay comfy for hours.

    Honorable Mentions

    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

    RHA MA750 (Gen. 2)

    RHA MA750 Gen. 2 earbuds

    Extremely durable IEMs with stainless steel construction that houses big dynamic drivers.

    Earbuds are known to produce a very hefty bass response, which most people like.

    Check MA750 (Gen. 2) 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 sound at the same time, providing you with impressively dynamic performance.

    Check Pinnacle P1 price

    MEE Audio M6 PRO

    MEE Audio M6 PRO 2. generation wired earbuds

    The MEE Audio M6 PRO have decent features without breaking the bank.

    If you need an affordable option with good sound quality, go for the MEE Audio M6 PRO.

    Check M6 PRO price

    More earbud guides:

    Best noise cancelling earbuds
    Best cheap earbuds

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