Deciding to incorporate in-ear monitors (IEMs) into a live rig is a big step for a musician. It says you’ve gone past the point of relying on dodgy old monitor wedges that have seen better days and want to improve the standard of your sound, playing and performance. Being able to hear, directly, what your audience can hear can only improve your playing after all. No more guessing if your tone is right. No more hoping your trusty axe has stayed in tune. If it’s accuracy and clarity you need, IEMs will provide the solution. Thankfully, there's no need to empty your bank account when investing in quality IEMs - as this guide to the best budget in-ear monitors proves.
A decent set of IEMs can cost a pretty penny. At the top end of the scale you could easily spend thousands on a pro-grade set. These are, after all, a specialist tool designed with a number of key things in mind. While you can certainly use them in the same way you’d use a normal set of studio headphones, IEMs are built with a different aim in mind.
Although you can spend big money on IEMs, a pair of the best budget in-ear monitors is likely to be all you'll ever need when it comes to in-ear monitoring. If you're picky about your on-stage sound then it makes sense to spend a little more, but for the vast majority of IEM users, a couple hundred bucks will give you everything you need to take your live shows to the next level.
Using expensive IEMs gives us the fear when using them in pubs, clubs or any slightly more 'rowdy' environments, and it's for that reason that we'd rather use a pair of the best budget in-ear monitors when gigging.
We've included some in-depth buying advice at the end of this guide, so if you'd like to read more about the best budget in-ear monitors then click the link. If you'd rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling.
Best budget in-ear monitors: our top picks
Setting a price limit of $400 gave us serious scope to include a broad selection of in-ear monitors. On testing, we found a number of factors to be important. Namely, more drivers really do equal better sound, and ambient noise reduction is essential when using for performance purposes.
Overall, we found the Shure SE215 Pro (opens in new tab) to be the best budget in-ear monitors, pound for pound. Shure has really nailed the balance between price and performance and the SE215 set performed superbly throughout.
Best budget in-ear monitors: Product guide
As one of the biggest names in pro-audio, you can expect Shure to produce great quality IEMs. The Shure SE215 proves this to be the case, with superb sound reproduction and exceptional ambient noise reduction.
They look and sound the part, without a doubt. We also liked the detachable cable which adds a level of durability to them, and reduces the risk of them being pulled out of your ears mid-performance.
We found that while they don't exactly offer the widest or most impressive tonal range, they still provided us with a satisfying, meaty-sounding representation of what was going on on-stage. For under $/£100, consider us impressed.
Read the full Shure SE215 Pro review
Sitting at the top end of our imposed budget in-ear monitors restriction, the Audio Technica ATH-E70 offer a tantalising taste of what happens when you start to lay down serious cash on monitoring. The sound reproduction is a good few steps above everything else on show today, ensuring everything from sub bass to shimmering treble sounds exceptional.
We found these AT's to be exceptionally comfortable with both the foam and silicone earbuds - with the foam ends helping to form a decent-enough seal to act as stage-friendly noise cancelling. Although they may appear to be a little too expensive to expose to the boisterousness of live shows, take care of these IEMs and they'll take care of you.
If you’ve tried IEMs in the past and are looking to take a step up the food chain, these could be just the ticket.
Read the full Audio-Technica ATH E70 review
The drivers in any set of earphones are arguably the most important component. It’s the drivers that push the sound to your ears, so the higher the better usually. In an ideal world, you’d look for drivers controlling – independently – the bass, middle and treble frequencies so each is reproduced perfectly.
As a good intermediate, however, the Mackie MP-220, with dual drivers, offer a great example of how this simple component can add tons to the overall performance level. We found them to be well built, and overall couldn’t help but be impressed by the value they offer.
Read the full Mackie MP220 review
While the Shure SE215 Pro we showed earlier in the list are superb budget IEMs, the Shure SE425 warrant inclusion simply because of the superb quality on offer.
The SE425 adds in an extra driver to increase (and enhance) reproduction of a wider range of frequencies, and blocks out up to 37 dB of external noise, making them ideal for use on a noisy stage. In practice, that extra driver makes a heck of a difference, cleaning up and boosting bass and treble frequencies masterfully.
The SE425's are undoubtedly a great set of in-ears, but after some long-term use we found that the cables are susceptible to being pinched, damaged and cutting out. Not the end of the world, as Shure does sell replacement cables - but frustrating nonetheless.
If your budget runs to it, the Shure SE425 set makes for a great piece of kit.
With many guitarists nowadays looking towards digital tools like amp sims and processors, IEMs can deliver a pure, unfiltered tone to help guide them in a stage environment. These Fender IEMs do just that.
The IEM Nines are thoroughly comfortable. We found that while using them, we didn't experience any noticeable ear fatigue, pain or anything else untoward. If you like to hear a little bit of the stage around your in-ears, then these are a strong choice. On the flipside, if you're all about isolation, then these may not be the ticket.
The Fender Nine IEMs come from a brand any guitarist will be familiar with, and provide decent levels of noise reduction and a fairly broad frequency response. They’re not going to compete with more established IEM brands like Shure, but for a shade under $100 the Fender Nines are worth a shout.
Read the full Fender IEM 9 review
One of the main issues when using passive – i.e. not powered – earphones, headphones or monitors is a lack of bass response. The Etymotic ER3XR series promises to combat that. You see, the ‘ER’ in the name stands for ‘extended response’, referring to a widened bass reproduction. While that serves a clear purpose when listening to music or other regular sources, it also means you don’t just hear a jar full of wasps when playing at higher volumes.
Of course, their passive nature also has the benefit that they don’t require an external power source of any kind, and we also liked the included accessory kit containing various different ear plug sizes and – praise be – a clip to hold the monitors steady on your shirt.
The isolation isn't quite as good as some of the other options on this list, but we found using them to be quite an enjoyable experience all the same. If you like to hear the ambient noise of the stage, then these could be a great choice.
We love a bit of innovation here, and the Westone AM Pro 10 deliver on that count. Where the other budget IEMs on this list block out noise in order to allow full focus on sound reproduction, the AM10s let in a certain amount of ambient noise, but filter it so it doesn’t impact the overall sound. The benefit here is that you can still hear what’s happening around you, but without compromising on the sound you’re receiving from the desk. Best of all worlds? Perhaps.
We liked the AM10s – handcrafted in Colorado Springs – on a number of levels, not least the great sound and general ruggedness.
Best budget in-ear monitors: Buying advice
How do in-ear monitors work?
Essentially, they serve the purpose of allowing you to take a direct audio feed from a specific source. They differ, however, from ‘regular’ headphones like those you’d use to watch a movie or stream songs, in that they aren’t tuned to enhance their sound output. What you hear in a set of in-ear monitors is your source audio in its purest form. This is a small but crucial difference for a musician. As, for example, a guitarist or bass player, you need to be able to hear how your instrument sounds to an audience. Relying on on-stage monitors can be troublesome as the sound is competing with other sounds like amplifiers, drummers and vocals. IEMs solve this by both providing a direct audio feed from the mixing desk, and also blocking out ambient noise.
What are the benefits of in-ear monitors?
Why you can trust MusicRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
You can hear exactly, for better or worse, what your audience can hear and you can hear it perfectly. This also has the knock-on bonus of meaning you don’t have to play as loudly as you would have done ordinarily. Drummers, for example, can be a lot defter and more nuanced with their touch as they are no longer competing with the other instruments to be heard. Singers, too, will benefit from being able to hear what the audience can hear, not what the singer themselves hears in their head.
How much should you spend on budget in-ear monitors?
We’ve kept the limit for budget in-ear monitors in this guide to $400. While this is clearly a decent amount of cash in anyone’s books, it does allow us to point out some of the improvements you can expect as you travel up the price ladder – but we also include a couple of options that won’t cost you more than £/$100.
Realistically, if you're after a decent, no-frills degree of in-ear monitoring then there's really no need to spend more than about £/$150 on a pair of in-ears. It's astonishing the kind of features you can get for that amount of money, and when directly compared with more expensive in-ears, the differences are almost impossible to decipher.
In a live-gig situation, all you need to hear is what's going on around you - in relatively high fidelity - and a pair of budget IEMs under £/$150 will provide just that.
It’s also important to view IEMs as a tool, or as an investment in your playing career. They’re not going to make your playing improve, but they do encourage a more professional approach to live performance.
Which brands make the best budget in-ear monitors?
You'll do no wrong with any of the budget IEM brands featured in the guide. Shure is top of tree, with plenty of experience in this world. That's why the SE215 Pros have held the top spot in this guide for a very long time. They just work.
You might consider some of the brands in this guide surprising too - Fender isn't a name you would link with in-ear monitoring, but their vast range of price-spanning IEMs really are very good.
Also proving it pays to investigate beyond the mainstream brands are the Etymotic Research ER3XRs in this guide. They're designed to produce an accurate image of your audio, without breaking the bank, and they absolutely deliver on that promise.
Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.
Related buyer's guides
- Best budget studio headphones: performance on a smaller budget
- The best studio monitors for musicians and producers
- Produce for less with the best budget studio monitors
- The best iPads for musicians and producers
- The best PA speakers for bands and buskers
- The best laptops for music production
- The best consoles for live mixing: gig-ready live mixing boards