IEMs are rapidly gaining popularity for live musicians. This is due to their versatility and the hearing protection that they provide compared to stage monitors. They also allow performers to have more options in how they want their personal mix to sound.
And thanks to the rise of Chi-Fi Audio and affordable gear, IEMs are no longer exclusive to big-name artists. In this article, we will be talking about the best Universal IEM options for live guitarists. Our top pick is the Sennheiser IE40 Pro, Audiosense DT200, and QDC Neptune.
But of course, we have other models as well that cater to different music styles and different budgets. Keep on scrolling to learn more about these models.
Best IEMs For Guitar
Sennheiser IE40 Pro
Drivers: 1 DD
Cable: Removable (MMCX)
Sennheiser is a household name when it comes to professional audio. They are known for creating some of the most well-known headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600 series and Sennheiser HD800s. Their IEMs were also well received in the past and were among the best of their generation. Now, Sennheiser has revamped its IE series to cater to the needs of professionals.
The IE40 Pro serves as the entry-level model of Sennheiser’s new IEM lineup. Unlike older models in the IE series, the IE40 Pro now comes in an over the ear design with a shape similar to Custom IEMs and modern Universal IEMs. This makes them more ideal for stage performance since they look more discrete and are more comfortable to wear.
Being a professional IEM, the sound signature of the IE40 Pro is neutral. This gives it a lot of room for EQing to adapt to different monitoring styles. If you choose to remove elements such as vocals or increase certain frequencies such as the low end, the IE40 Pro will still sound great and not easily distort.
The bass is not muddy or boomy, and the highs are not sharp/fatiguing to listen to. And detail retrieval across the board is very good making it easy to detect if there is something wrong with your mix or your equipment.
In terms of its build quality, Sennheiser brings its signature rugged build quality to complement its professional sound. The cables are detachable and are replaceable with aftermarket MMCX cables. The stock cable is not braided and looks fairly plain and basic, but is enough to get the job done. Overall, if you are a guitarist and are looking for a reliable and well priced IEM, you can’t go wrong with the Sennheiser IE40 Pro.
KZ ZSN Pro X – Budget
Drivers: Hybrid (1 DD + 1 BA)
Cable: Removable (2-Pin 0.78 mm)
A lot of professional IEMs are on the more expensive side. And some musicians may not be willing to invest in IEMs. So for those who are not sure if they want to switch to IEMs or for those who are looking for a more budget-oriented alternative, the KZ ZSN Pro X is a great choice.
The ZSN Pro X is the successor of KZ’s widely popular ZSN and ZSN Pro. It may not look too different on the outside, but KZ has made several sound improvements that make the ZSN Pro better for stage monitoring.
The most notable improvement in this model is the more refined sound signature. Instead of going with the usual V-shape signature, it goes for a more neutral sound. This is most noticeable in the lows and the mids. The lows have been significantly toned down, and the mids are now more forward than the previous versions.
However, its sound signature still has some flaws. The notorious upper midrange and treble spikes are still present in this model. This makes the ZSN Pro X more fatiguing to listen to, especially if you have a lot of elements in the high frequencies on your mix.
Additionally, the high-end can sound a bit artificial at times. KZ does this to add character and to give the illusion of having better detail retrieval. However, it ends up making the overall sound thinner and lackluster. But that is to be expected, given its price point.
The build quality is pretty standard and is made of plastic. It is comparable to other budget IEMs so there is no surprise here. But the cable is removable which increases the lifespan of the IEMs. The stock cable also has a good quality so you do not need t immediately replace it.
Overall, it may have some flaws in its sound signature, but for its price, you get a pretty decent sounding IEM with reliable build quality and removable cables. If you do not have a lot to spend for IEMs, these are the ones that you should grab. If you are interested in learning more about the KZ ZSN Pro X, then make sure to check out our full review.
Drivers: 2 BA
Cable: Removable (MMCX)
Another great Chi-Fi model for guitar performers is the Audiosense DT200. Audiosense may not immediately ring a bell, which is understandable since they are a relatively new company. However, they have already proved themselves with the Audiosense T800, which has been well received by the audiophile community.
With the DT200, Audiosense aims to make a great value-oriented product for performers/professionals and music enthusiasts. For its asking price, you get a semi-custom resin shell that drastically improves comfort, gorgeous looking faceplates, and great sound quality.
It is only utilizing two Knowles balanced armature drivers. One driver is for the lows and the mids, while the other is for the highs. It may seem odd for an IEM at this price point to have two drivers, especially when the rest of the competition usually has at least three drivers.
But at this point, we know that driver count does not fully determine the sound quality. It depends on how well these drivers are utilized. And Audiosense proves that they only need two drivers to deliver a fantastic sounding and versatile IEM.
The DT200 has a flat sound signature with a natural and realistic sound reproduction. This makes the DT200 more accurate sounding since it isn’t boosting a specific frequency. It also makes it adapt well to EQ or any sound alternation you may want to do for your personal mix.
The only downside with this model is its midrange reproduction. It lacks the sparkle in the upper mids and can make instruments that belong in that frequency a bit dull sounding. However, it manages to maintain its accuracy, so this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
And aside from its great build, aesthetics, and sound quality, you also get lots of accessories with the DT200. You get a pelican style hard case, which is quite rare for Chi-Fi IEMs. This is a great addition since you get a reliable case to protect IEMs when you are on tour.
You also get lots of ear tips that can help you dial in your preferred sound. It will also help you get a proper fit for the best sound isolation.
Overall, if you are looking for a well-built IEM with a semi-custom design with great sound quality, make sure to audition the Audiosense DT200. If you are interested in learning more about the Audiosense DT200, then make sure to check out our full review.
Drivers: 1 BA
Cable: Removable (QDC 2-Pin)
Another well-loved IEM by the audiophile community and by performers is the QDC Neptune. It is a single BA driver IEM with gorgeous aesthetics that manages to punch way above its price point.
Just like the DT200, the QDC Neptune has a semi-custom shell made with resin. This makes the IEMs achieve a better fit and better isolation.
Its single driver configuration is well implemented and easily beats most multi-driver competitors in the same price range. It has a complete sound signature that can adapt to any situation.
The QDC Neptune is leaning towards a more neutral sound signature. The Neptune emphasizes on having an accurate sound, which makes most instruments, especially guitar, sound natural.
This IEM does not have too much slam and power to the bass frequencies. This is expected, considering it only has one BA driver. However, this is great for guitar players since the sound ends up being clearer since there is no low-end rumble that muddies up the sound.
Highs are well emphasized but have a smooth characteristic. They won’t be too piercing but are enough to reveal elements in the upper frequencies.
The mids have good positioning and detail. It may not sound as good as more expensive multi BA offerings, but it is good enough for monitoring guitar.
Overall, the QDC Neptune is one of the best examples of a well built and well-tuned IEM. It has the looks and the sound quality to fit anyone looking for a professional IEM.
Ultimate Ears UE900S
Drivers: 4 BA
Cable: Removable (MMCX)
Another well regarded IEM is the Ultimate Ears UE900s. This model is one of the oldest on this list. It was first released in 2014 and has since then been discontinued by the Ultimate Ears. However, it can still be purchased in music stores, eBay, and Amazon.
It was originally priced at 400-500 USD but can now be purchased at a significantly lower price point. This makes it a great value IEM since you get many accessories, and it is still very competitive with modern 200-300 USD IEMs.
What makes this model special is its natural and detailed sound, making it perfect for guitar monitoring. Despite having a V-shaped sound signature, the reproduction of the mids and highs are still well-executed, and the overall sound is balanced.
The sound isolation is also very good, which is surprising considering it doesn’t have a semi-custom shell design. And the soundstage is above average. It is wider than a lot of IEMs, which makes the sound very engaging.
There are, however, some issues with this IEM. One of the main criticisms that this IEM has is its low-end reproduction. The sub-bass isn’t very strong, which is odd given its quad driver design. This can be problematic when you are trying to listen to the kick drum. However, the mid-bass is well detailed and is enough to hear certain elements such as the bass guitar.
The overall sound of the bass can be compared to open-back headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660s. The bass is there, and you can feel it, but it is not very prominent in the mix. And depending on your sound preferences and the type of music that you play, this may or may not be a deal-breaker.
Another criticism that this IEM has is the build quality and included accessories. Ultimate Ears are well-known for the build quality of their CIEMs. However, this model had some quality control issues during its initial run. The shells of some units easily fell apart. And there were also some units that had issues in their MMCX connectors.
Our unit hasn’t seen any issues, but it is not known if this issue was ever resolved. The other issue is that the cables’ quality isn’t as good as the ones seen on modern offerings. It includes two braided cables, but both are pretty lackluster and may fall apart with constant use. We highly recommend purchasing after-market cables from brands such as OE Audio, Effect Audio, and KBear.
Overall, if you don’t mind getting an older model, the UE900s is one of the best sounding IEMs for guitar playing in its price range.
What to Look for in an IEM for Guitar
Almost any IEM or headphones can be used for monitoring. However, to get the best results, you should opt for a flat sounding or a neutral sounding IEM. This means that certain frequencies, such as the ones from the bass region, should not be emphasized. The sound must always be as accurate as possible and must be able to hand EQ without distorting.
Another important factor in choosing an IEM for guitar/stage performances is comfort. You will most likely be wearing these IEMs for a long period of time, depending on the length of your setlist. So IEMs mustn’t start hurting in the middle of your gig.
Ideally, using Custom Fit IEMs (CIEMs) will give the best result. However, universal-fit IEMs (UIEMs) can still give good results. Some models on this list, such as the Audiosense DT200 and QDC Neptune, feature a semi-custom design.
They still utilize ear tips, but the overall shape is similar to a CIEM. This means that fit and comfort will be dramatically increased.
Also, make sure to use ear tips that fit your ears and are made with your preferred material. The three common types of ear tips are silicone, foam, and hybrid.
Silicone ear tips are durable and are generally comfortable for most people. Foam ear tips mold to your ear shape but easily breaks. Hybrid ear tips combine the durability of silicone with the flexibility of foam.
Another factor that you should consider is the build quality and reliability of your IEMs. You will be using your IEMs in every gig that you perform. That is why they must survive any situation and not just suddenly fall apart.
Make sure that the shells are made of high-quality materials. Most modern IEMs are made of resin or aluminum. These have been proven to be quite sturdy and can survive most accidents.
Also, make sure that the sockets for the removable cable have no known issues. Most models with issues in the removable cable sockets are well documented in various websites and forums.
But if your IEMs ever get damaged due to an accident, it is still possible to save them. As long as the drivers are still intact, most balanced armature driver IEMs can be saved using a reshelling service. This can also be a good opportunity to reshell your IEMs to a custom-fit IEM (CIEM).
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s