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This article was originally published in issue #33
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If I were asked to name one piece of kit that has made a major impact on me as a professional vocalist, I would say that using an In-Ear Monitoring system (IEM) has transformed the way I perform in a live situation. Gone are the days of screaming to be heard over the on stage band volume and trying to get as much level out of the floor monitor you can before it starts to feed back - and that’s assuming that you have one in the first place!
Now, IEMs are not for everyone. Yes, there can be a sense of isolation and you may miss the odd heckle or two from the audience(!), but I’d happily trade that in order to be able to sing for two hours in a five piece Rock/pop band and come away with both my vocal chords and hearing intact.
The Shure PSM300 on review here is a complete IEM system and essentially an affordable version of the flagship PSM1000model, which is used on many stages around the world. This comprises a transmitter that is fed a signal from a (monitor) desk with whatever mix you would normally have in your foldback, a small wireless receiver, which traditionally clips on your belt and a pair of SE215 ‘isolating’ headphones.
The front of the PT3 transmitter unit is a relatively sparse affair, with an input level control, a power button, Group and Channel buttons for manual setup and IR sync window with associated button for a one-touch setup. In the centre is the large LCD display, which shows all audio, RF and system information. On the rear, there are two balanced TRS jack inputs with a line/aux switch to adjust the input sensitivity and two Loop outputs to send the same signal on to an additional PSM system or monitor speaker. There is a BNC connector to attach the antenna (or the extension cable if using the unit in a rack) and another switch to select either a stereo send to the receiver, or a dual mono signal (more on that later). Finally, a power input for attaching the included power supply.
The P3RAbodypack receiver that comes with the Premium pack (more on the various versions on offer later) is a metal cased unit with a small antenna, which attaches to a belt via a substantial clip for even the most energetic performers. On the top is a large volume knob, a headphone output on minijack and two LEDs - one to indicate receiving the RF signal and another to indicate battery status. On the front is an LED screen to show current settings and two navigation buttons. When in mono mode, these buttons adjust the mix between the two mono signals (ideal for personal control over band/vocal level if two or more band members are receiving the same signals using additional receivers). Two spring clips either side secure a hinged door behind which is a battery compartment that takes either two standard or rechargeable AA batteries, or the Shure SB900 rechargeable pack giving up to 5 or 7 hours respectively. An Exit and Enter button for menu navigation gives access to the two-band EQ and Volume Limit function, plus there is an IR window and scan button for auto setup.
The auto set-up procedure couldn’t be easier - with the transmitter OFF, you press the scan button on the receiver and this goes off looking for a frequency well away from any other units being used on the stage. Once done, you turn on the transmitter and face the IR windows on both the receiver and the transmitter and press the SYNC button. Within a few seconds, the two are locked and you’re off and running.
I used the PSM300 on a medium size stage with various other wireless systems present and it performed faultlessly. Check out our video to see it for yourself.
Pricewise, the PSM300 isn’t cheap, but you’re getting a well built and trouble free system here, with high end digital and analogue technology to handle RF signal issues and signal latency. The good news, if you want to keep costs down, is that the system is available in several versions, including a plastic cased one without headphones. That's also available with Shure's SE112 headphones and then you come to the Premium model, which I tested, which also comes with or without SE 215 headphones - in our case, with. They sounded excellent and come with ear buds of various shapes and sizes to provide the best isolation.
Unless you’ve had the misfortune to experience how distracting RF interference and signal dropouts can be whilst performing, then it’s always tough to convince a musician/vocalist to spend the right amount of money on a good IEM system. All I can say is, sadly, I have and would strongly advise on saving up your gig money for a system like this - I know I am!