I have not been paid for or received compensation of any kind for this review; it is unsolicited and completely of my own volition as a performing artist.
Product reviews of items you “can not live without” should not take this long to post. But life is busy, and the desire to do justice to a truly exceptional product demands more than just a passing comment. While the months since June faded the details and timelines, passion for my Alien Ears in-ear-monitors (IEMs) has not.
I’ve always wanted a pair of custom molded IEMs – going on the first time they appeared in the 90’s on TV. The thought of having complete stage-noise isolation, all the while enjoying a perfect headphone mix, is just about the greatest listening and therefore performing experience a musician could enjoy. But high costs made custom IEMs an elitist’s luxury, and a working-musician’s fantasy.
I first bought generic-fit IEMs in 2001 – a decent pair of Shures. I even experimented with MAudios through the years. But in all cases, generic-fits are a pain to shove into the ear canal, uncomfortable, and have a nasty habit of popping out in the most inopportune times. Let’s face it, losing monitoring at any point while performing is an inopportune time.
What’s a guy to do?
Enter Alien Ears out of Clearwater, FL.
First off, let me say I’ve researched every company that produces custom IEMs. And when I say “researched,” I mean I’ve looked at their materials and parts, sought out customer reviews and compared experiences, and contacted management on an individual basis; the only thing I haven’t done is a complete listening experience, only because custom IEMs require just that: a custom fit to your ear to work properly.
Suffice it to say, I went with Alien Ears.
1.) Their customer service is #1. I got to talk to Andre Belloise, GM, right off the bat. He took my numerous (and probably obnoxious) emails and phone calls during the months leading up to my purchase, even when I had to delay my order. No money in hand, he still treated me as if I’d bought 10 sets. His wife, Yolanda, was equally patient; their techs were knowledgable and sought to help out even when the boss was away.
2.) Their product is excellent. In fact they use the same exact plastics and drivers as companies that charge 3-4 times as much. I love what Andre says: “When people ask us how we can charge so little, we ask how other companies can charge so much.” But with a smaller staff, smaller overhead, and “volunteer” endorsements, they don’t pass frivolous expenditures on to their customers – just great IEMs.
3.) Their turnaround time and followthrough care is fabulous. I had some delays in production as I decided against having an audiologist create my molds, thus using their free impressions kit and instructions. It took me 3 times to get it right (as they insist each impression passes strict quality-control testing). They knew I needed my IEMs for an upcoming tour, and I had them in the mail within a week (as opposed to their normal 4-week turnaround). Pretty outstanding.
I went with their FR-C3 Full Range Triples for $395.00 with detachable cables (for easy replacement); each pair of Alien Ears comes with a zippered pouch and cleaning tool. (I even had them put my “ch:” logo on the inside). For those with smaller budgets, or less demanding audio needs, they offer single and dual driver models starting at just $189.00; their hi-end would be the quads ($650.00). But the triples seemed my best option, both budget wise and for what I was looking for in sound definition. That’s a driver for the hi’s, one for the mid’s, and one for the low’s – namely because I’m a guitarist and a vocalist. Drummers and bassists should opt for the dual low’s and single hi’s if going with the triples.
And the sound is awesome.
The first time slipping them takes a little finagling. They actually “twist” into your ear. But once you get it down, it’s a motion easily memorized. And for good reason: they never “accidentally” come out. Because they’re a negative of your own ear, they’re as comfortable as anything you’ll ever wear. I couldn’t wait to try them out when they arrived, so I decided to watch a movie on my MacBook Pro in bed. Twisted them in, plugged into the 1/8″ mini-plug jack, and turned up the volume.
Incredible tone, frequency response, and clarity. The seal formed against your head actually increases the bass response, which is pretty astounding considering how small the drivers are. Within minutes I had completely forgotten they were in!
On stage they perform the same way. I’m guessing I experience a -30db cut of stage volume, and providing I have a good sound engineer or access to an Aviom personal mixer, it feels like I’m sitting in the studio. And I have yet to unseat them while performing; with the amount I sweat, that’s pretty impressive.
They’re not only my preferred stage monitors – utterly replacing all floor wedges (and reducing stage noise of my FOH engineers) – but they’re my listening headphones of choice, going with me on every flight, and every trip into the office.
So when you’re ready, leave the overpriced, over marketed “big names” to their high-overhead operations, and give Andre a call (727-346-6483 – email@example.com). Tell him I sent you. ch:
UPDATE – 4:15pm EST: Thanks to my friend Dave Bode for asking me what I don’t like about them. My only real negative is that, when singing, if I open my mouth too wide, the seal will break; the extreme shape of my ear will actually budge the IEM slightly. Granted, it’s only temporary, and not that noticeable. The instructions even guide you through an “open mouth” function while the impressions are forming; this certainly helps, but I don’t think any IEM takes care of the singing-budge completely; no material except flesh can move like that.