Best in-ear monitors 2023: IEMs for stage and studio

Pair of Audio-Technica in-ear monitors sat on a case
(Image credit: Future)

Every musician that's performed live has been in a situation where they can't hear themselves properly on stage. Usually it's something we all just put up with - but, with a pair of the best in-ear monitors (also known as IEMs), you no longer have to be at the mercy of the sound engineer. These personal monitoring systems enable you to take control of your own mix, protect your ears and play to a click live, all while providing the best possible quality of monitoring. Your performance will be all the better for it and your audience will benefit too.

In-ear monitors aren't just for live use either. IEMs can also be of use in other scenarios, such as the recording studio or rehearsal room. They can outdo standard over-ear or on-ear studio headphones by eliminating the discomfort often felt as a result of ill-fitting cans squashing your ears into your skull.

So, whether you're rehearsing with your bandmates, practicing on your own, recording epic vocals at home, or you're gearing up for your next gig, the best IEMs are an ideal solution for monitoring in any situation.

If you'd like to read more about the best in-ear monitors, then head to our buying advice at the bottom of this guide. If you'd rather just get straight to our product recommendations, then keep scrolling.

Best in-ear monitors: Our top picks

With such a disparity in price between entry-level and high-end in-ears, you'll know for yourself where your choices are likely to lie. That aside, there are a couple of models we'd recommend for reasons not relating to cost. The Audio Technica ATH-E70 (opens in new tab), for example, are a superb set of in-ear monitors for anyone looking to improve on the default sets many wireless kits ship with. Swap them out for a set of the ATH-E70s and you'll notice a considerable improvement in the performance of your rig.

We're also heavily enamoured with the Shure SE846 (opens in new tab). Ignoring the bland appearance, these are the only set we tested that made music we thought we knew inside out reveal new secrets levels of detail. The sound quality was out of the world; invest in a pair of these and you might never need another set of earphones again.

All that being said, if budget really is your biggest concern, the Mackie MP-220s (opens in new tab) are fantastically affordable dual-driver earphones that deliver great audio and a snug fit, for not too much cash. Or, for an even more budget option, the Shure SE215 Pros (opens in new tab) are reliable single driver IEMs that you can usually find for under $100/£100. 

Best in-ear monitors: Product guide

Best in-ear monitors: Shure SE846 Pro

(Image credit: Shure)
These in-ears are like a wolf in sheep's clothing

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: Six
Impedance: 16 Ohm
Sensitivity: 110 dB
Frequency range: 15 – 20,000 Hz
Earbuds: Many!

Reasons to buy

+
Audio to make the hairs on your neck stand up
+
Precise reproduction
+
We just love those nozzles

Reasons to avoid

-
Why does luxury have to look so generic?

The problem that comes with reviewing in-ear monitors is that so many of them look the same. All across the price spectrum, you'll find generic 'clear plastic housing with various electrical gubbins' type arrangements. But, as we found out when we tested the Shure SE846 Pro, not all IEM headphones are created equal. 

Basically, these blew us away. In terms of sound reproduction, you can see why the audiophile crowd gravitate towards them. A neat touch is the inclusion of a set of three 'nozzles', which can be interchanged to tailor the listening experience. But, importantly, they also offer up to 37dB of sound attenuation making them ideal for noisy stages and studios. You could conceivably not notice the apocalypse if you had these on and, with sound this good, the apocalypse can wait quite frankly.

Read the full Shure SE846 Pro review

Best in-ear monitors: Audio Technica ATH-E70

(Image credit: Future)
Three-driver setup offers the perfect step up

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: Three
Impedance: 39 Ohm
Sensitivity: 109 dB
Frequency range: 20 – 19,000 Hz
Earbuds: Foam and silicone included

Reasons to buy

+
Punch above their weight sonically
+
Memory cable loops are a nice touch
+
Comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
This level of quality costs

If you've spent out on a decent wireless system but found the included earphones are somewhat lacking, then don't fret; they are the easiest part to replace. And, as a step up, you'll want to look for something which improves the overall sound and ambient noise isolation.

The Audio Technica ATH-E70 are just the ticket when it comes to choosing the best in-ear monitors for middling budgets. Sitting pretty in the midrange, these earphones feature three drivers which provided us a balanced, accurate soundstage during testing. As a step up from the entry-level, there is an increase in the cost but - if you've used basic 'phones for a while you'll certainly notice a difference in performance.

Read the full Audio Technica ATH-E70 review

Best in-ear monitors: Sennheiser IE 40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)
Some of the best affordable IEMs out there

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: One
Impedance: 28 Ohm
Frequency response: 20 - 18,000 Hz

Reasons to buy

+
Comfortable fit
+
Detachable lead

Reasons to avoid

-
Rather short lead

Sonically, the IE 40 Pro sounds reasonably natural, with good articulation in the high frequencies and a full but not overpowering low end. They are quite bright in the top end at higher volumes, but this isn’t a deal killer. 

Also rather positive is the comfort and fit. With a medium-sized in-ear module and quickly replaceable tips, we quickly achieved a decent fit - important for when we wore them for long stretches. In fact, we’d say these are some of the most comfortable off-the-shelf in-ear monitors we’ve tried; impressive given the modest price tag. Shame about the rather short lead (1.3m) and lack of lead extender. 

The IE 40 Pro in-ear monitors deliver decent sonics without costing silly money and suit live use as well as general playback duties. 

Read the full Sennheiser IE 40 Pro review

Best in-ear monitors: Mackie MP-220

(Image credit: Future)
Affordable dual-driver earphones show their strength

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: Two
Impedance: 8 Ohm
Sensitivity: 104 dB
Frequency range: 20 – 20,000 Hz
Earbuds: Foam, silicone, double flange

Reasons to buy

+
Sound separation is good for the price
+
Sturdy build
+
Great overall value

Reasons to avoid

-
Once you've tried two drivers you'll want more!

When choosing a set of in-ear monitors, the number of drivers is a significant metric to consider. Budget models tend to offer only one, leaving the burden of reproducing every bass, mid and treble frequency to one single driver. Explore a bit higher up the range and you'll see why separating these out is important.

The Mackie MP-220 is a great example. By employing two drivers - one for highs, one for lows - we found that the sound quality had been improved immensely over other budget options. A snug fit in our ears from the earbuds provided good isolation too, making these an ideal first 'proper' set of IEMs for any budding performer.

Read the full Mackie MP220 review

Best in-ear monitors: Shure SE215 Pro

(Image credit: Shure)
Affordable options from the in-ear monitoring kingpins

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: One
Impedance: 20 Ohm
Sensitivity: 107 dB
Frequency range: 22 – 17,500 Hz
Earbuds: Foam and silicone included

Reasons to buy

+
Detachable cable
+
Decent bass
+
Great value option

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the broadest tonal palette

Shure is known as a real heavyweight in the world of sound recording and production, so we were expecting great things from the Shure SE215 in-ear monitors. Thankfully, our pick for the best budget in-ear monitors delivered. 

Shure claims the SE215s block out around 90 percent of ambient noise, which makes them ideal for most musical applications. The thickened detachable cable also indicates a degree of ruggedness to them, although we did pick up some slight magnetic interference when they came into contact with our hands.

They're not high end - only one driver is employed here - however as an entry to the world of IEMs? We found the balance of sound quality, build quality and price to be very respectable. And, as a bonus, they are phenomenal when just used to listen to Spotify or the like. Overkill? Not at all...

Read the full Shure SE215 Pro review

Best in-ear monitors: Sennheiser EW IEM G4 Twin

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

6. Sennheiser EW IEM G4 Twin

Classy wireless kit for the professionals

Specifications

Connectivity: Wireless
Transmission method: FM, stereo
Channels: 61
Inputs: two XLR/jack combo

Reasons to buy

+
High quality audio
+
Long range capable
+
Easy to sync

Reasons to avoid

-
Included earphones themselves aren't top quality

Working musicians need to look a little higher up the chain when it comes to choosing the best wireless in-ear monitoring system for them. When your livelihood depends on providing a quality performance, night after night, then you need to be sure the gear you're using can cope. We found that the EW IEM G4 Twin from Sennheiser was the perfect fit for us. 

The reputation behind Sennheiser offered us great assurance during our testing, and we were not disappointed. As one of the biggest names in audio transmission, Sennheiser can be trusted when it comes to its monitoring line-up. The G4 system is reliable, high quality and offers useful features like a 330 feet transmission range and easy synchronisation between transmitter and receiver via infrared.

Best in-ear monitors: InEar ProPhile-8

(Image credit: InEar)

7. InEar ProPhile-8

High-end IEMs with a touch of class

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired
Drivers: Eight
Impedance: 34 Ohm
Sensitivity: 120 dB
Frequency range: 10 – 20,000 Hz
Earbuds: Foam and silicone included

Reasons to buy

+
Unbelievable sound
+
Great for reference work

Reasons to avoid

-
Sound this good will cost you

At the other end of the price spectrum sit the InEar ProPhile-8. These, as you'd expect for the price, are a completely different kettle of fish, designed for the touring musician rather than the home studio enthusiast. 

A total of eight internal drivers provide what we could hear to be the peak of balanced, powerful sound, while ambient noise absorption levels of around 26 dB ensured us superb on-and-off-stage isolation. 

What stood out for us with the ProPhile-8 set  was the frankly incredible transmission range. Everything, from the deepest sub bass through to the chimiest synth notes resonate with ease. So good, you might not want to take them off.

Best in-ear monitors: LD MEI100 G2

(Image credit: LD)

8. LD MEI100 G2

This starter wireless in-ear monitor kit gives you wings

Specifications

Connectivity: Wireless
Transmission method: FM, stereo
Channels: 96
Inputs: two

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Decent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
You'll want to upgrade the earphones

If wireless is the way for you to go, then we think that the LD MEI100 G2 is a great way to get started. This kit, which includes a transmitter, receiver and set of basic headphones, offers up to 96 UHF channels, with a decent dynamic range and frequency response. 

Up to eight hour running time is possible via two AA batteries, while a total of five receivers can link up with the central transmitter. During testing, we definitely didn't feel like we were achieving high class audio reproduction, but as a way to get to grips with wireless systems this one is worth a look.

Best in-ear monitors: Buying advice

Pair of in-ear monitors on a white surface

(Image credit: Getty)

Do I need wireless in-ear monitors?

Do I need wireless in-ear monitors?

Male singer holds wearing a red shirt with in-ear monitors in his ears

(Image credit: Getty/electravk)

Why do you need in-ear monitors?

A benefit of using IEMs is that you don't have to play as loudly on stage; often, particularly with drummers, musicians find themselves inadvertently competing with each other in order to hear themselves. This isn't an issue with IEMs, so you can employ a much defter touch without fear of those nuances being drowned out. Singers will also benefit by being able to much more precisely hear the notes they're hitting (or otherwise)...

At the top end of the price range, you'll find the headphone element of the system with all kinds of interesting tech involved. As with any headphones, the drivers are the parts that convert the electrical signal into something you can hear. Budget options may feature one or two drivers, but at the pro-level you'll find monitors with up to eight drivers. This offers benefits like extended frequency brackets or wider dynamic ranges, but you'll pay for the privilege.

Custom foam earbuds, taken from a mould made of the individual's own ear canal, are another option. This has superior noise-blocking properties, but ears can change over time so you may find this isn't a life-long solution and you may need to upgrade sooner than you think. Some musicians have also spoken of feeling a tad left out of the fun with this approach – if the noise-blocking stops you hearing the applause and noise of the crowd, what's the point, and did the gig even happen?

Three pairs of in-ears stacked on some guitar cables

(Image credit: Future)

How we test in-ear monitors

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There are several factors we look at when testing in-ear monitors (IEMs), the most important being quality, comfort and isolation. This is similar to how we test regular studio headphones, but as IEMs are most often used on stage, isolation is perhaps a more notable consideration – you want to hear your own performance without being drowned out by the rest of the band playing around you. Obviously when testing IEMs, it's not always practical to set up an entire band onstage, but we do test isolation claims by using the IEMs in a variety of situations, both in the studio and on stage.

While IEMs are aimed at live musicians, they can also be used in the studio and some producers prefer their design over more traditional on-ear headphones that can be less comfortable. Isolation is still important here but perhaps more so is comfort. Do the IEMs sit well in your ears? Are they almost 'invisible' when wearing them as some regular studio cans can feel?

Sound quality is, of course, paramount and the more expensive models will offer more drivers and therefore better frequency response specs. We test IEMs against a range of well-known recorded music standards, and against other reference sets of in-ear monitors to test their sound. It's also important that they deliver this quality at lower volume levels as you don't want to have to crank up the output – part of the reason for choosing IEMs in the first place is to save your ears. Isolation will again play a big part here as you won't have to push the volume as hard if you are not getting so much external interference. 

Finally, design quality and price are considerations plus, of course, wireless performance (unless they are wired!) in terms of operating distance, number of channels and stability and the associated battery lifetime compared to quoted statistics.

Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.

Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 12 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Guitar World Total Guitar and Dawsons Music. Chris loves getting nerdy about everything from guitar and bass gear, to synths, microphones and music production hardware.

With contributions from