Feelings about in-ear monitors vary among guitarists, but with more touring bands relying on off-stage amps or digital amp substitutions like the Fractal Audio Effects Axe-FX or Kemper Profiler, professional players often find themselves hearing the onstage proceedings through a high-tech set of ear buds.
The advantages are that in-ears are generally more accurate than wedges; you can take your personalized monitor mix anywhere on stage, and when you use a set specifically molded to your ear, they serve the secondary purpose of protecting your hearing against excessive stage volume (cough, drummers). A number of manufacturers make various in-ear models at assorted price points. Alclair, out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, offers everything from a budget Curve Universal Fit version to the mid-level Tour Triple Driver Custom In-Ear Monitors reviewed here ($499 street), and four models above it.
The Tour model’s specs include two woofers, one tweeter, a two-way crossover, and -26dB noise reduction. “Custom” means the monitors are specifically molded to your ears. I went to a local Alclair rep’s house where he filled my ears with putty that hardened to form an impression from which Alclair could create a mold to make my monitors. Custom also meant I could choose from a variety of colors for the buds and cables—I chose purple for the in-ears (in honor of the recently deceased Prince) and clear for the cables. A few weeks later they arrived in the mail, complete with a hard-shell Pelican case, a cleaning tool, a moisture absorber, and a 1/4" adapter.
I imagine I will eventually get used to which bud goes in which ear, but it is hard to tell at a glance, although dots on the cable indicate right and left. Ultimately, because they are custom fit, each side would only go in the correct ear, so there was no getting it wrong. Not being on tour with a major act, I tested the monitors with my computer, playing along to tracks with an amp modeling plug-in—a scenario not so different than what many guitarists actually experience on current tours. Alclair advertises the product as delivering “solid and tight low-end, and mids and highs that cut-through a mix,” which seemed pretty accurate. As with any ear buds, I had to push the monitors firmly into my ear canal to hear the bass.
Though all the frequencies were there, I was surprised at first that they were not the same kind of full sound I heard through my Sony MDR-7506 monitoring headphones. I discovered why when I simulated a live situation by cranking my KRK studio monitors to mimic a venue’s main speakers, while using the Alclairs to monitor the “band” mix. As would be the case with a megawatt house P.A., the KRK’s were somewhat audible despite the attenuation of the in-ears. Fortunately, the in-ear sound was focused in a way that did, in fact, cut through the external sounds, without ever seeming harsh. What remained after the Alclairs attenuated the volume coming from the KRKs was largely low end. This bottom pleasantly filled out the sound of the in-ear monitors, the external and internal frequencies combining to create a mix that made playing a pleasure.
For those in the market for in-ear monitors, Alclair offers a professional product that, while not cheap, costs two to three times less than some comparable custom in-ears. Hearing yourself clearly is vital to performing well, and a pair of Alclair Tour Triple Driver Custom In-Ear Monitors could go a long way towards helping you achieve that goal.
KUDOS Full range, accurate monitoring. Custom fit. Ear protection.
CONCERNS Takes a little getting used to.