Ghetto In-Ear Monitor System




Can't afford a nice IEM system? Me neither!

When recording with my band awhile ago, I realized how much I loved being able to hear myself clearly through the headphones. I went off to purchase an In-ear monitor system for live shows, and was awe-struck when I saw the prices. I gave up on it immediately: maybe to revisit when we get some more money. I can't remember how or when this idea came to me. but I think it's pretty innovative for the resources we had around.

Step 1: "Parts"!

Here's your list of "parts":

1. An FM transmitter (I went with BELKIN because it got really good reviews)

An FM transmitter is a little device which(simply) let's you listen to your audio source(Personal CD player, MP3 player, etc.) Over a stereo. These are low powered and don't have the greatest range. I would suggest the Belkin Tunecast II FM Transmitter Mod to boost your output power.

2. a personal FM receiver(With headphones!)

Basically, a small FM radio with a headphone jack people used to use before CDs and iPods were invented.

This doesn't need to be brand new. Just functional, and have a headphone output.

(TIP: If you want to seem really cool and professional; get a rectangle one that you can put in your back pocket. This way people won't know you don't have a professional IEM system!)

3. Headphones, 1/8 to 1/4 adapter(optional, depends on conditions)

Step 2: What Do You Want to Hear?

Once you have all your components, it's time to figure out how you want it to be setup.

How you're going to set your system up depends on what you want to hear in your monitors.
If you're a drummer, maybe you want a click-track, and the bass and/or rhythm guitar.
If you're a guitarist, maybe you want to hear the drummer and bassist. It's all up to you.
I'm a singer, so I like to hear the entire mix, and especially myself.

It all depends on what you want, and what your live setup looks like.

In my band, all our instruments get routed through one mixer, so I just plug into the headphone output in our mixer.

Step 3: Setup!

Once you know what you want to hear and how you need to route everything, setup is simple:

Plug your FM transmitter into the output of what you need to monitor(Mixer output, Metronome, etc.)
You may need a 1/8 to 1/4 adapter for this step.

Once you turn on both devices you're going to need to tune them.

I suggest putting on something steady (a song on your MP3 player, a click-track, anything continuous) and scrolling through frequencies. Every place will have it's own "best" frequency, the one that has no interference and minimal static.

Once you find your frequency, you're good to go!

If your transmitter has a memory function, I suggest using it. It helps when you travel to a place you've already been to to just hit a few buttons instead of scrolling through channels again.

Well, that's it!
I hope this helps you!




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    49 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Unless you intend to perform in your car, I would highly recommend buying a "Whole House" FM Transmitter instead of the ones designed for your car. The car transmitters only get about 10 feet of range, while the ones designed for homes can easily extend about 200 feet at the weakest setting. I found a 0.2W one for about $30. You can get a 0.5W for about $60, and you'll be able to hear yourself a mile away.

    The other advantages: it will use a regular electrical outlet instead of a car adapter, and it will generally be higher quality and look more like an actual musician's gear.


    3 years ago on Step 3

    Good idea! I was talking with my bass player about a wireless IEM system and had thought using 2 bluetooth tx/rx devices would work from our mixer to his headphone amp, but this would not give enough signal to drive the headset, the headphone amp would need to be in his pocket, and it's not battery powered. This seems like a very good solution to the issue, I'l let him know! Thanks!

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Step 3

    The other problem with bluetooth, is that most commercial devices have too much latency for use with precision activities (such as performing music with a group). You'll always hear your band-mates slightly after they have already played something.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm really not sure if you're still following this. I hope that you are. First of all, awesome idea, I had the same idea myself, since I don't need to be able to listen to other instruments in my band, but only a constant beat from the metronome. I also thought of a bluetooth system that would let me do the  same thing, it would probably be better quality, although a little more complicated to set up. I read the comment about the range, yet I'd appreciate if you have any new thoughts about it. One thing still bothers me though, what about sync? do all audio sound exactly at the same time on all headphones? what about the range on this issue? does it "unsync" if you move away from the transmitter, or when you start going out of range? since It's a metronome I'm gonna hook up, I'm still not sure

    11 replies

     Hm...You know...I never really thought about sync. I'm the only one in the band that uses it, so I'm not sure how it sounds on other's. It seems to work fine with just mine. The quality isn't very good, but it's enough for what I need, which is basically the drums, and guitar, but most importantly, my voice. EQing can be a huge help. Keep instruments in their "best range". I usually cut off all treble and most mid from the bass drum. All low-end on the hi hat and crashes. The guitars I keep mostly in the mid-range, and I keep my voice on whatever it's set at to come out the speakers (I want to hear it as accurately as possible)

    I've never thought about expanding on it, since we've been in the studio(and between drummers) for so long. But maybe it's about time!

    I never thought of bluetooth, and I'm not really smart in that area. Ideas on how the system would work?


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    This would only work if the ear monitor feed does NOT contain live instruments (ie, metronome only, or pre-recorded music that isn't being heard by the audience). The latency would be too much for live instruments, and it would throw you off constantly because you're hearing instruments slightly later than they're actually being played. Even 50ms is enough to distract some people and make them suddenly useless at their instrument.

    Well, it would basically be the exact same thing, but instead of having an FM transmitter, it be a regular usb bluetooth dongle (usually about $20) hooked to any laptop, or  desktop pc, and then the band would use bluetooth wireless headphones (I found a cheap pair on the web for $16), or just regular universal cellphone handsfree sets. You could connect the headphones or auxiliary jacks of the mixer directly into the pc mic jack. I'm really not sure about setting up the system, but I did find a white paper explaining how to hook up more than one reciever to the same bluetooth source. It is possible, although an issue would be bandwidth, yet one should be able to fix it by hooking another bluetooth hub to the same pc. White paper doesn't cover the sync part either, although I found somewhere that bluetooth range would be up to 10m, (30ft). So we're talking about somewhere around $100 which is fairly cheaper than the $400 per musician with the in ears, of course, you have to have a pc with usb ports.

    Would the fact that I run Ableton Live off my laptop, and out the laptop's headphone output, and into the mixer? Would I hear the sound from the monitors back through the laptop?

    Wait, explain that connection a little better... mmm anything you have running "in loop" would generate feedback. What I'm saying is that if your laptop's headphone out goes into the mixer, and then the mixer goes back into the laptop through the mic jack, to be turned wireless then yes, you WILL get a feedback, and a very huge one, I've done similar things and trust me, it's a total deff-ener. Althoug there's no need for that, you could just go mixer to laptop's mic jack, and then wireless through bluetooth, since anything sounding on your laptop should be being sent wireless already, even whatever ableton live reproduces.


    The most complicated part is that we have one mixer that mixes all our drummer's mics together, then the main output from that goes to our good mixer. That way the drums only take up one channel on an 8 channel mixer.

    Other than that:

    The tricky part is that the laptops input is from the FX send.
    That way when we want to play with a track in Ableton, we just turn the FX output on the tracks we want to get run into the laptop, and turn their main output down (eliminating feedback).

    When we get bored, we tend to loop stuff, then chop it up.

    It's a lot of fun.
    You can basically build a whole new song from improv.

    Cool! seems like you guys are all set. So now that I get what you're saying, I guess you should be able to listen to ableton live back from the mixer, since you should be able to listen to everything that goes through your laptop. What I finally did was order this: it's a semi pro FM transmitter, it claims to have a range of up to 200ft, I'm guessing it'll give me enough bandwidth for my own home made in ear monitors, let's just hope for the best on that sync issue. It's a kit though, so I got my soldering stuff ready. I'll be sure to update when I get the final results on that

    Hey man, how's it going? Just bringing back the response I promised on the whole FM transmitter kit thing. As you said before, it's terrible with the lows, seems like bass frequencies are much too saturated for this system. The rest of the band members where ok. Sync is perfect, even in the range boundry, so I guess it's a good thing to use just for voices, or a basic click track, which is what I initially intended, although you do have to re-set the trasmitting frequency every time you get to a new gig, so it's not trully reliable.

    As you can hear, some of our music can get very intricate, and sometimes I have a hard time hearing myself over Duncan's drumming, and my synthesizer tones tend to cut through the normal monitors.

    I've tried bluetooth and analog -- analog is the only way this will work for live performances for under $100. The problem with bluetooth is it has to do ad/da conversion, which requires processing power to do quickly. The bluetooth transmitter/receiver I used produced more than 500 ms delay, which is way too much.

    If anybody finds a bluetooth transmitter/receiver set that can perform with less than 10 ms latencies, I would love to know about it.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Anyone have any suggestions for a good FM Transmitter that goes to 88.0 and below? I bought a JETech based on reviews, but it only goes to 88.1. My portable radio goes to 87.5. By the way, I'm using Plugfones so that I can still wear earplugs with this setup.


    7 years ago on Step 3

    Hey! that's a good idea over there! I was thinking of walkie talkies for home made IEM's but I think yours is better. could you post a video of you using it? I'd like to see them in action.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 3

    Another cheap way that I use in a pinch in church or on stage
    (Little bleed of other stuff but..) buy a cheap stereo field recorder
    (like zoom or edirol r09 the edirol is a bit more and the zoom works
    well). This is only for your own isolation and near field sound of the
    overall stage or FOH sound. It is like hearing your instrument monitor
    mix at a low volume or high volume and placing a mic onstage to hear the
    rest but all inclusive with the recorder not needing a bleed mic for
    the stage and onstage conversations.

    NOTE: use the
    power cable to keep constant power to the recorder (no batteries and set
    auto power to off so it does not shut off in middle of show).

    Connect the small headphone jack from recorder to the wireless
    transmitter (whatever Belkin or dedicated unit like shure, Carvin,

    2. Hook up the in ear monitors to the body pack or receiver (whatever)

    Put recorder in arm mode (and stereo recording) but do not record. Just
    leave it in standby mode to monitor the input levels like you do before

    4. Adjust volumes and gain stages on recorder and ear
    volume (higher gain on recorder output and use the auto gain reduction
    on recorder for limiter...VERY IMPORTANT as it works somewhat of a
    limiter for ear damage). Adjust your body pack volume from there

    Viola! Now you can hear the stage if you position the recorder on stage
    or get an audio extension chord and place the recorder by FOH speakers.
    For example: I use a behringer B205D hotspot monitor just low enough
    for the guys to hear me on stage next to me. Then since the recorder has
    a stereo mix listening to everything on stage it picks up everything
    including sneezes..LOL but what you hear onstage or FOH is what you get IN STEREO!

    I explained it right and it works for you guys. It is inexpensive and
    gives you an isolated image of whatever location and best sound mix on
    stage or FOH. (Front of house speakers).

    One other
    option is everything above plus a cheap 3 channel mixer. Do away with
    your behringer monitor (or whatever floor monitor) run instrument (mono
    or stereo into 1 or two channels 2 for stereo like keyboards) then make
    sure your mixer has a ok preamp for a microphone. Put the mic on a stand
    and adjust the overall other stage sound on the mic channel and run the
    mix like above out of the RCA jack (tape out or whatever). Now you have
    two mixes independant. One for the stage vocal mike and one for your
    dedicated mix!Jerry (Keyboard player)