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In-Ear Monitors and Isolation Earphones

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the difference between In-Ear Monitors and Isolation Earphones?

There is no difference really. Both are designed to do two things: deliver sound (usually music) directly into the ear canal, and block external sounds from entering the ear canal. By reducing the  amount of ambient noise that can get into your ears, these earphones let you hear your music at much lower volumes than you can with ordinary headphones or speakers. When an earphone is used as a monitor by a sound engineer in a studio or on stage by a performer, the device is referred to as an in-ear monitor. When that same earphone is used by an airplane passenger to listen to her music in the noisy cabin of the plane, it is called an isolation earphone.


What is a canal phone?

Listening devices come in a variety of types: Muffs and headphones, called supra-aural devices, cover the outer ear and use small speakers to deliver sound into the opening of the ear canal. Canal phones, more commonly called earphones, ("canal" phones just sounds yucky to some people) do not cover the ear, but use tiny little devices called drivers to deliver the sound from inside the ear canal. By actually inserting the drivers into the ear canal you can get the device very close to the ear drum, thereby reducing the opportunity for distortion to get in the way of the pure sound you are seeking.


What is the difference between single and dual drivers?

A single driver must do all the work of delivering the full range of frequencies and no device can do it all perfectly. Think about a stereo speaker: nearly all have at least two separate speakers inside, one for the high notes and another for the bass notes. In a similar manner, dual driver earphones offer greater accuracy across the full audible spectrum, at a much wider range of volume settings, than is possible with a single driver. If you want really loud music without distortion, you need dual drivers. Otherwise good quality single drivers will do quite nicely.


What is the difference between balanced armature and dynamic drivers?

Balanced armature drivers are tuned at the factory to produce a particular quality of sound across the whole spectrum. Usually these devices are tuned to provide as flat a response as possible, meaning that you hear the music accurately and if you want more emphasis in the bass, treble or midranges, you must adjust the source to provide that emphasis.

Dynamic drivers are designed to try and emulate the normal hearing response curve of the ear. This means they emphasize some frequency ranges and de-emphasize others, trying to mimic what you would hear if you were listening to sound without a listening device, as from an ordinary speaker in a room. For example, human hearing tends to emphasize sounds around 3 kHz because that is typically the resonant frequency of the ear canal and the surrounding structures. Canal phones do not let the ear resonate because most of that structure is bypassed, so dynamic drivers are virtually all made so that they produce a louder sound around the 3 kHz frequency to simulate what you would "normally" hear. This is important because quality recordings are also tuned to this reality, by reducing the volume in this same range...Okay, enough. I can see your eyes beginning to glaze over from here.

Suffice it to say that both balanced armature and dynamic drivers have their supporters. Both are capable of producing sound of a stunning quality. In the case of isolation earphones, you tend to get what you pay for, but even at the lowest prices which can start below $100, these phones all deliver terrific sound.

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