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Ambient or Classic Custom in Ear Monitors: Choosing the Right Customs for You.

So we often see Musicians posting online excited to be getting new Cutsom In Ear Monitors but often get a little stuck when choosing between choosing ambient or classic in-ear monitors (IEMs).

"Which is best for you? Is it worth the upgrade? Will the ambience damage my hearing?

How am I meant to know which is best?"

These are all great questions that are part of a common dilemma. We see Musicians often seeking advice on social media and the responses are always well-meaning, but more often than not are usually quick opinions that miss a few of the crucial factors that can significantly impact your on-stage experience, and also lack the context of how that might impact your hearing and performance.

So in this blog post, we aim to demystify the choice between ambient and classic in ear monitors based on our many gigs using our classic and ambient custom in ear monitors. As session players and engineers here in the UK, we aim to provide you with some real-world insights that go beyond opinion, spec sheets, brand preferences and budgets. So this advice applies to all manufacturers and all styles of ambient in ears!


What is 'Ambience' and what are Ambient Custom In Ear Monitors?

ACs custom in ear monitors at Dakin custom audio with a line 6 helix guitar processor on stage
Our ACS Custom Evolve Ambient IEMs on a gig with our Line6 Helix

Ambience is simply the noise you hear around you, and how loud it is. So classic custom In ear monitors, which offer full isolation, block out external noise at approximately 26dB. which is ALOT. The challenge with classic IEMs is that they can sometimes make performers feel disconnected from the stage. Ambient Custom In Ear Monitors are designed to strike a balance between isolating you from loud external sound and letting in what is necessary for a more immersive and natural on-stage experience. They typically reduce isolation by around 17dB, allowing musicians to stay connected to their surroundings while maintaining a degree of safety. In our experience, 17dB is the maximum ambience you would want to let in on a standard gig. We've tried lighter filters (-12dB) for example, but be wary as 12dB isn't very much at all and that doesn't offer enough control over the stage sound. It often resulted in us turning our beltpacks up louder than we normally would, so 17dB strikes a good balance! Here's a picture of our Evolve Ambients out in the wild on our Line6Helix on a wedding gig.

An Analogy We Can All Understand...

Let's explore the concept further with a relatable analogy. Consider your custom In Ear Monitor choice like selecting a car for those late-night drives to gigs.

Choosing Classic in ear monitors is like going for a nice, comfy, tranquil and quiet estate car, providing a peaceful, safe bubble for you to drive in and focus on the road and listen to your radio at a low volume, take a phone call on hands-free with a friend without lots of external distractions. You simply sit down,  close the door, and hear a little rumble of the road. The rest is under your control. Even if a loud motorbike screams past you at 100mph, you know it's there but sound-wise it's not going to distract you too much from what you're hearing!

Opting for ambient custom in ear monitors is then like driving a convertible with the roof down. While you are still maintaining a safe bubble to drive around in, the vibe is different, you can experience more of the surroundings and feel more connected to the road. However, this openness comes with compromises, as when that motorbike flies past, you have much less control over how loud that is! It may drown out your radio or cut off that phone call on hands-free for a second or two. Imagine then, rather than a motorbike, that loud noise is a rogue cymbal crash, guitar solo or spike of feedback from the main speakers, with ambient in ears as they are more open you have less control of how much that affects you and your mix, than with fully isolating classic in ear monitors.


Our 3 most important things to consider:

1. What Level of Control Do You Want?

Classic In Ear Monitors offer complete control, allowing musicians to block out external noise and shape their mix according to personal preferences. In contrast, ambient in ear monitors use the room, drum kit, and backline as a baseline, influencing the overall mix and providing a more immersive on-stage vibe.

2. What This Means for Your Mix

With classic custom In Ear Monitors, musicians can experiment and add various elements to their mix, adjusting levels as needed. Ambient customs require building on the surrounding sounds, filling in what might be missing to create a balanced mix. However, this approach comes with certain compromises, as external factors can affect the clarity of your in ear mix.

3. What Is Your Typical Stage Setup Like?

Consider your typical stage environment. Classic IEMs may allow for a bit of everything in your mix, even in a loud setting with guitar amps and bass cabs. With ambient IEMs, there's a risk of reaching a point where external sounds become too loud, potentially impacting your overall performance. But is there a middle ground?

4. What Is the ‘Sweet Spot’?

64Audio A18t Custom In Ear Monitors at Dakin Custom Audio
Our personal 64Audio A18ts with APEX M20 Modules.

64Audio's APEX technology provides a sweet spot by setting the level of reduction at 20dB, striking a balance between ambient and fully isolating. This Air Pressure Relief system allows for a more spacious and natural-sounding mix, offering a connection to the stage without compromising on control. These are our A18ts which we've been gigging this year with the M20 APEX module and they work really well in all situations we've put them through this summer!


To truly appreciate the differences between ambient and classic IEMs, it's essential to try both and decide which suits your preferences and performance needs. At DCA, we regularly conduct demos, engaging with musicians to find the best fit for their personal situation. Whether you lean towards a controlled mix, enjoy the vibe of your surroundings, or seek a sweet spot with a bit of both, the choice ultimately depends on your unique preferences and requirements. Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't hesitate to reach out with any questions or to schedule a demo. Stay tuned for more information on ambient custom in ear monitors on this blog and also stay up to date with all things custom in ear monitors by subscribing to our Youtube channel too via the link below.

Thanks for reading - Miles (Founder DCA)

Still need help?

We're here to help! We've gigged our custom in ear monitors enough here in the UK now that we do understand where they work... and more fundamentally where they don't! So if you're still. a little unsure and want some impartial advice on which might work best for you, feel free to reach out!

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