In-ear Monitors Cutting Out: Troubleshooting, Fixing & Prevention Guide

(Last Updated On: October 15, 2020)
Singer encountered IEM system failure during performance.

I remember one time when I was with a five-piece band, my band used to play our shows wearing those in-ear monitors (IEMs). We also seemed to have some issues with the wireless model we had been using, like cutting out issues. Well, it will help to bear in mind several basic concepts when setting up your wireless mics with your IEMs. If you do not bear these concepts in mind, you may have some issues with your IEMs. 

Of course, many musicians and sound engineers have already switched to in-ear monitoring because this setup affords them a practical advantage. The in-ear monitoring setup, of course, comes with two components: the transmitter that transmits mixed signals wirelessly via radio, and the receiver.

Basic Steps to Solve IEM Cutting-out Problems

The use of IEMs, of course, comes with some issues. One such problem is the cutting-out issues you would usually experience when using the IEM setup. So, if you want to do away with this cutting-out issue, you can check out the following primary steps to solve these IEM cutting-out problems:

1) Inspect the Sound Ports for Any Debris or Wax.

The usual source of the cutting-out problem is the buildup of wax or debris in the sound ports. This debris or wax clogs the ports and leads to cutting-out problems. Thus, you can use the recommended IEM cleaning tool to do away with the wax gently. You can also follow the cleaning guide to prevent damage to the sound ports. 

The building up of wax usually occurs along the male portion of the cable end. Try to disconnect the left cable. You’ll find that there is usually a buildup of thin oil substance on the male part of the cable end. You can also disconnect the right cable to ensure that no buildup of wax or debris exists there. 

This coating of thin oil is barely noticeable, and the only way to notice it is by running your fingertip on the metal and see if there is a reflective patch.

2) You Should Check the Flow of Signals. 

Another possible source of the cutting-out issue is the signal flow interruption. So, before setting up your IEMs on a specific frequency, you should know your local DTV broadcast frequencies. Don’t have the mics or IEMs too close to the DTV broadcast frequencies. The local DTV broadcast frequencies are too powerful, and they can take up to 6 MHz. Set up your mics and IEMs at least several MHz apart. 

You should also ensure that your receiver antennas are at least several feet apart from each other. If you are using the supplied whips, position them apart as possible. You should also maintain the line-of-sight between the transmitters and the receivers. So, it will help to have your receiver antennas at least 8-10 feet above the ground.

3) Inspect the Cable Connectors

Improperly installed cable connectors may be the culprit behind the cutting-out problem with IEMs. If the connectors are not installed securely to your left and right IEMs, a cutting-out problem may occur. It will be helpful too to read the instructions on cable installation in the User Manual to figure out the correct way for installing and removing the cables.

Things to Know to Avoid IEM Cutting-out Issues

Cutting-out Issues or Problems with IEMs may be due to several factors. So, to avoid or do away with such issues, you need to be cognizant of the following tips and essential concepts when setting up IEMs:

1) Check for Bad Condition Cable

If you are experiencing a cutting-out issue when using your IEMs, you need to engage in some troubleshooting. It will help to plug into another music source to figure out if both monitors work. You can do this by detaching the in-ears from the cables. 

Be careful when disconnecting the cable. It will be useful to take hold of the socket near the earphone. Then, pull out and avoid pulling on the cable. Then, switch cable connections and try to re-attach. 

You should ensure that the right and left dot indicators face the earphone parts that go into your ears. Afterward, plug in the in-ears to the music source and test how they would sound. 

If you hear no sound from the working monitor, then it might be a case of a bad cable. In such a case, you must replace the cables with new ones. If the cables are working and you have figured out that the in-ears are the culprits, you should have them repaired.

2) Clogging and Distance between Mic and Ear Frequencies

You can’t have your mics and ears on frequencies that are too close. You need to set them on frequencies that are at least 400 kHz apart or more. It will help to remember that it is not a “set-and-forget” setup when it comes to frequency settings. Even if your audio system setup is stationary, the radio ambiance can change unexpectedly. As mentioned above, you should separate the IEMs from your mics by several MHz.

3) Be Cognizant of Your Local TV Broadcast Frequencies

It will help if you properly coordinate your wireless frequency setups by avoiding your local DTV channels’ frequencies. Moreover, it will be useful to ensure that the receivers and transmitters’ frequencies are mutually compatible. 

To overcome the potent television interference, you should avoid using the local DTV channels. You can avoid the DTV frequencies by knowing these frequencies. Local frequencies are generated within 50 to 60 miles and depending on the TV transmitter’s coverage area.

Moreover, it will help to know that indoor setups come at a lower risk than outdoor setups. The reason is that structures can attenuate the TV signals. So, it will be useful to choose a safe frequency for your wireless setup. 

It will help if you use channels that are programmed or allotted to wireless systems. You can determine these appropriate channels by checking on the manufacturer’s website. You can also use the built-in Scan function of the receiver.

4) Incorrect Antenna Setup

One of the most misunderstood aspects of the IEMs setup is the receiver antenna. If you made a mistake, for example, in the selection of antenna, its placement, or cabling, it can cause dead spots and short-range or low signal strength on the receiver’s side that may cause frequent dropouts. 

So, the antennas must be positioned in the correct location to maximize the system’s reliability and performance. It will help to space your antennas apart by one-quarter wavelength or about 5 inches at around 600 MHz. Moreover, you should angle the receiver antennas in a broad V configuration for better pickup once the transmitter moves around.  

It will also help to keep the antennas as close as possible to the transmitters and allow for a line-of-sight position. Moreover, antennas may be band-specific. Thus, it will be useful to avoid using another system’s antenna without checking its frequencies at the onset.

5) Frequency Coordination and Condition

There are various active frequencies and channels on the stage. So, a wise setup should coordinate the different frequencies so that no interference will occur. It will be good to calculate the frequencies you are utilizing by using the software provided by the manufacturers of your IEMs. If you properly coordinate the frequencies, you can avoid RF problems provided your equipment is functioning according to specifications.  

Conclusion

In-ear Monitors or IEMs have been around for only a short time. In fact, the IEMs only came in the later years of the 80s. Moreover, it had only become affordable 15 years ago. So, this technology still has a lot of potential innovations and developments in the coming years. 

Of course, artists and performers gain better freedom of movement with the use of IEMs. Besides, sans the cutting-out issues, they get to enhance their live performance on stage during tours. Because of these advantages, the in-ear monitors have quickly become indispensable equipment for onstage performances.

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