IEMs VS Headphones and Speakers

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RobC
Posts: 1429
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 30 Aug 2022

So, once again, I'm here confused, since I was told that I'm 100% wrong about IEMs.

People say that IEMs have worse dynamics than Headphones, or Speakers.
Well, I guess that since IEMs need less power, noise floor can become a problem. This can be solved with lowering gain, but that drops the dynamic range as well. The headphone amp I will be using, will still be able to provide 100 dB dynamic range in the worst case. Otherwise it might even nail way more than the recommended best case for human hearing, aka. 116 dB, noise and distortion free.
So, going by that, I'm at the point that I guess I was WRONG that IEMs can't compete when it comes to dynamic range.

(BTW, I'm using triple driver, BA IEMs and they did an excellent job with them. There's literally nothing I can complain about. And I have 17 years of experience as a musician (both analytical and critical listening), and 20 with sound editing. Majorly on Headphones and IEMs.)

Stereo, or rather binaural separation. Seriously, who can argue that IEMs, wouldn't be the best at having the widest possible sound?

Stereo depth and sound stage. I guess the experience is more fun with open back headphones (though I think, there are open back IEMs, too now), and obviously the best with speakers. However, if you know music and how the depth sounds with closed back headphones and IEMs, then what's your excuse, not being able to set it up properly? Why couldn't you make it translate back and forth?

Clarity and detail. I heard people saying that IEMs suck with that. What? There are no room noises, no room acoustics, no filtering, tops the closed (and isolated) area in the ear canal can affect the sound, and maybe things like tinnitus and blood pressure noises bother you until you listen to silence - the smallest sounds will make your "ears" bypass those. Literally nothing can compete with IEMs there.

Natural filtering happening when you turn your head for example. With good IEMs, never-ever does this happen. It's always in place. You freely can get up and turn away, and hear the same, always. With speakers, you have to sit in a perfect position. In case of headphones, as soon as you turn, the sound tonality changes, but if you look forward, you can likewise get up, walk away, without any problems. It is a misconception though, that every time you put on headphones, it would sound different - it does when you do measurements, but you as a human being, won't perceive the difference.

As for comfort? Speakers win, yes - especially if you don't like washing your ears. : D Closed back headphones might get boomy, or worse, they often cut the sub quite a bit. IEMs, well, it's not for everyone. I don't notice mine being in my ears, they don't hurt, and I only used silicone tips so far. No custom, nor those Comply Foam tips, just the stock ones. But you certainly have options.

Frequency response. Many headphones need to clamp pretty badly on your head, so you get a proper bass response. I don't know if it makes any difference for them, but almost all of them have a single driver for each ear. Multi-drivers might be problematic, due to pinnae filtering. Heck, with speakers, yes, there are full range ones, but the more common ones with separate tweeter and woofer ~ it makes me wonder if you sacrifice between clearer highs or lows. One producer said, always have the tweeter facing your ears. With multi-driver BA IEMs, it's all near perfect, from what I've experienced.
That said! It doesn't matter all that much. Don't forget, your "ears" adapt to the sound quickly, and even out the frequency response. However, with less bassy headphones, it can be a motivation killer, or it was for me, that when you put it on, it sounded so.. cold, initially.

Feeling vs. hearing the bass. It's nothing new that you feel it with speakers, or rather a sub woofer; and feeling nothing much with IEMs. Perhaps some headphones can give you a bit of that sensation on your ears. IEMs have the cleanest sounding bass, though. Again, depends if you have good ones. And headphones can be pretty clean sounding, too. Which one is better? A matter of taste.

Getting close to drawing conclusions, I will say though, that yes, the speaker and sub woofer system will give you the sense of room sound and acoustics, it makes use of body resonances and filtering, etc. so, everything that helps us hear, feel, and sense/localize sound the most natural possible way. It is true stereo with cross-talk.
Headphones compromise a little of everything, and really are a mixed bag - but that sounded too biased, so maybe an open back headphone could be the ultimate hybrid experience?
IEMs are a fully binaural approach, that may be seen as the sterile sound - unless we look at open back ones (I don't know much about those).

My choice? If I can nail a problem free "sterile" sound reproduction with IEMs, and hell, give some natural openness back with open-back ones, then my preference are clearly IEMs, when it comes to work. In fact, there's not much reason to try the best open back headphones for me, if the open-back IEMs are well-made. Speakers are the most enjoyable, but things get a bit colored for my tastes.

All in all, if there's some misconception, please clear it up.

I'm especially curious, what do people mean by speakers having better dynamics? Unless it comes to also sensing the sound with your body. That I understand, but it's not necessarily something I can't live/work-properly without. It has its benefits and drawbacks.

In my opinion, IEMs, Headphones, and Speakers, are all workable solutions. At the end of the day, why wouldn't it be just a matter of preference?

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selig
RE Developer
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Joined: 15 Jan 2015
Location: The NorthWoods, CT, USA

Post 30 Aug 2022

I’ve never heard that about ‘dynamics’, probably because ‘dynamics’ is not a spec. Maybe they mean “dynamic range”, but who knows what they actually meant.

As long as you’re using custom fitted IEMs you’re probably fine. There are engineers that swear by them as an option (but never as the ONLY way to mix, IIRC).
Selig Audio, LLC

RobC
Posts: 1429
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 31 Aug 2022

selig wrote:
30 Aug 2022
I’ve never heard that about ‘dynamics’, probably because ‘dynamics’ is not a spec. Maybe they mean “dynamic range”, but who knows what they actually meant.

As long as you’re using custom fitted IEMs you’re probably fine. There are engineers that swear by them as an option (but never as the ONLY way to mix, IIRC).
I think, yes, it probably was dynamic range. Speaking of which, the headphone amp I will be using, will be able to cover more than 116 dB, crystal clear dynamic range, even with (quality) IEMs. Now it just has to arrive. : ) Can't wait to turn everything up to 100% and then design fully dynamic sounds (so in theory, "quiet" sounds, where you really need to turn the volume knob up). Luckily, on Windows, ASIO drivers block out every other sound. Of course, if there's some accidental power outage, or some click noise, then yeah, that might cost me some permanent Hz / dB drops. I wonder if there are some tools to stay safe when the system is extremely amplified.

The custom fit ~ depends... I've heard horror stories, where it made the sound worse. There's also this new Comply Foam tip. The only complaint I have with silicon tips, is the initial blood circulation noises. So yeah, maybe the foam, or custom fit it will be.

That video was very useful! It proved that even depth translates from IEMs to speakers, so it's more than workable; and reassured me that wideness indeed sounds best on IEMs. It seems that, while the engineer prefers speakers, the IEMs are perfect substitutes. And he said he does joy-listening on IEMs at home, too.
Of course, I myself will always double check on speakers, headphones, phone speakers, everything. But it's not a must if somebody is really confident.
It seems that he works either on IEMs, or speakers; and then continues mixing to multi-channels speaker systems.

To be fair! A couple of years ago, headphone, and especially IEM amplification wasn't as good as it is today (from what I've seen). Technology is changing, and fast at that. And thank god, IEMs are slowly getting recognized, too.

Of course, there always will be people that blindly say (and I mean that they can't make a single valid point - so pretty much none of what I listed in the OP) speaker>headphone>IEM. Which essentially is.. incorrect.

Thanks again, all is finally clear now!

thedude
Posts: 100
Joined: 08 May 2021

Post 31 Aug 2022

you can always use something like goodhertz can opener to simulate the cross feed of monitors for your headphones. I use it al the time and I am pretty happy.

RobC
Posts: 1429
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 01 Sep 2022

thedude wrote:
31 Aug 2022
you can always use something like goodhertz can opener to simulate the cross feed of monitors for your headphones. I use it al the time and I am pretty happy.
Heh, that's a creative device-name! : )

I have speakers, but prefer the raw sound of IEMs. Although even on them I do things like narrowing the stereo image, or listening in mono - to double check compatibility even before I check on actual speakers and alike.

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