After I wrote about using in-ear headphones for Monitoring Your Bass, Daniel East of Future Sonics got in touch with me. A Future Sonics user had pointed him at my post, and Dan suggested that I audition their Atrio professional earphones. I’ll write up the complete “amp-free” set up in the next post (completing the Bass Amp Set Ups posts), but first let’s talk about what I found when I tried out the Atrio in-ear monitors. There really are a range of options in the headphone world:
- Supra-aural – like you get on planes, that sit on the ears. They don’t shut out sound, and can be overheard – think early loud personal stereos
- Circum-aural – which sit over and around the ears. These are the recording studio industry standard. They shut out some of the external sound, and don’t leak (‘spill’) too much sound, which is obviously important when recording with microphones. They are generally quite large and a bit of a fashion statement outside of the studio, not in a good way I hasten to add.
- In-ear monitors - Which sit in the ear canal (sometimes called IEMs or canal phones). With the right design, these also reduce external noise and also have limited spill.
Future Sonics have been going for over twenty years and pioneered that latter type of earphones in professional use. Their atrio earphones are definitely not to be confused with the kind of earbuds you might get with your MP3 player. These are an all-together different class of earphone. In choosing in-ear monitors for bass, these three factors are top of my list:
- Sound – bass places unique demands on earphones. You want to be able to hear your playing accurately, and when monitoring you want to be able to pick out the other players and singers.
- Comfort – it is no good having a great sound if the earphones aren’t comfortable. Irritation is going to interfere with your playing, and stop you being at your best.
- Isolation – one of the advantages of using in-ear monitoring is reduced volume. For louder bands and venues, I play with ear plugs. If you are regularly standing next to a loud kit, you want to keep the noise down. Well designed in-ear monitors should keep excess sound out, so that you hear what you want to hear, not what happens to be loud and next to you!
So, on to the Future Sonics Atrio professional earphones (to give them their full title). They feature Future Sonics mg5pro™ dynamic drivers, with a 18Hz-20KHz frequency response. Frequency response figures don’t tell you that much about the sound quality these days, especially when they are quoted without a dB range. Factors like distortion, the overall frequency response curve and resonances are major factors in the sound, and usually not quoted. The only real way to find out is to plug in, and it does say “believe your ears” on the box…
The phones have a 3.5mm (1/8″) stereo jack plug, which is pretty standard these days, certainly on in-ear monitoring kit. 3.5 to 7mm (1/4″) adaptors are pretty easy to come by if you have studio kit or an older set up, I seem to have accumulated a handful of them over the years. First up, I gave them a try on my iPod. I was immediately struck by the clarity of the sound and the depth of the bass. Very pleasing to listen too, but a sound that is accurate rather than flattering. A very good start. Next up, plugging in to the MOTU kit in the studio and listening to the master recording of a recent track. Very nice, the detail really stands out, and the bass holds up well even at low volumes. A very big tick in the box on the sound front then.
The kit that comes with the phones is impressive. A neat carry pouch with a zipper, and plenty of space for the comprehensive range of fittings, which includes three sizes of double flange silicon sleeves and two sizes of foam ones. A cleaning tool is included as well.
You can choose the sleeves that work best for you. I’ve been using the atrio set for practice. It is nice to still be able to hear the rumble of a low B string, without disturbing my fellow residents or risking my hearing with high volumes. A nice design touch is that the phones can be worn either with the cables hanging down, or the other way up with cables tucked behind the ears. The former being traditional for standard listening, the later for stage use, where you want to tuck the cables out of sight. So, a very big tick on the comfort front too.
You can go a step further and order SofterWear™ Custom fit sleeves. This will require a visit to your local friendly audiologist to get a set of ear impressions done, but the result is custom fitting phones at a price within the reach of a semi-pro. I’m definitely going to investigate going down this path (an affordable step towards the original ear monitors). The ambient noise rejection is quoted at 26 dB. That’s enough to reduce a very loud band down to a reasonable volume, making for sensible (and sustainable) sound levels when monitoring. The design is nice in that there is minimal noise from physical movement – a problem I have had with other phones, where the cables brushing against clothes caused unpleasant sounds in the ears. So, finally a big tick on the isolation front too then.
These seem like the perfect earphones for my amp-less set up. I’m very glad to have discovered Future Sonics. The atrio model is available in either black or blue, with red and beige available soon (ordering page here or dealer list here), so you can choose a pair to blend in or stand out according to your taste.