Meeting Review, February 28, 2006
First to present was Michael Santucci, an audiologist whose practice includes a large client base in the music community. Michael is the founder and president of Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation, Inc., a Chicago-based company specializing in custom-fitted earphones and earplugs. He is also vice chairman of the AES Technical Committee on Hearing and Hearing Loss Prevention.
Santucci presented on the topic of hearing safety, noting danger to hearing health presented by onstage monitoring, which is of obvious concern to musicians and sound engineers. He contrasted the use of floor wedge speakers with personal, or in-ear monitors (IEMs). The primary advantage of IEM systems revolves around the ability to control sound levels, especially when an isolating earphone is employed. Isolating designs (as opposed to earbuds) can reduce ambient noise by as much as -26 dB across all frequencies. This allows users to hear desired sounds (the monitor mix) more easily, greatly reducing the need for high monitor volumes.
Santucci cautioned that the use of IEMs in and of themselves do not reduce the risk of hearing damage. In fact, left to their own devices, most musicians will listen at their accustomed volume level out of habit, despite the isolation factor. It was stressed that musicians and engineers should
see their audiologist annually to monitor their hearing, and that listening levels and exposure times should be monitored. Finally, the efficacy of IEMs was shown through several case studies of musicians Santucci has treated over the years, showing the stability of their hearing after adoption and proper use of in-ear monitors.
The second speaker was Ian Kuhn, who spoke on the topic of "Mixing for IEMS." Ian has been monitor engineer for the Dave Matthews Band for the past eight years. During that time, Ian has helped the band members make the transition from floor wedges to IEMs. He described his experiences in detail, including technical and creative differences between floor wedges and IEMs. Ian detailed the slow adoption of IEMs over time, the issues he faced in keeping the band happy, and how various problems were addressed. Issues arising from isolation were addressed through audience mics and a communications system among band members. This section drew a long question-and-answer discussion from the members.
The evening's final speaker was Bob Schulein of RBS Consultants, who presented on the topic of controlled addition of ambience into the IEM mix. Schulein is a past president of the AES and currently serves as the chairman of the AES Technical Committee on Hearing and Hearing Loss Prevention. Controlled ambience was shown as a solution to most performance issues in IEM use. Psychological considerations and problems of localization are addressed through the use of special microphones embedded within customized earpieces. The signal from these mics is passed to a body-pack, where it is added to the monitor mix at the desired level and sent to the ears with zero latency, allowing the user to hear as much or as little ambient signal as desired. Schulein's design addresses issues of ambient level, the need for limiting, and of course appropriate dynamic range and frequency response, all of which have been barriers to previous attempts to design an ambient IEM system.
The evening concluded with a demonstration of the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient IEM System in surround sound, using universal-fit earphones. The majority of attendees stayed late to experience the prototype ambient IEM system, which Sensaphonics will bring to market later this spring. All three presenters stayed to answer questions and entertain discussion with the membership.