The transition from floor wedges to in-ear monitors (IEMs) is a significant change, especially for musicians with a long history of using floor wedges. On the positive side, having your monitors in your ears means freedom of movement on stage, making for a more dynamic performance. In addition, the isolation from unwanted stage sound makes it easier to hear the monitor mix more clearly at lower, safer volume settings, according to an announcement from Sensaphonics.
In theory, that should mean that properly fitted in-ears will save your hearing. Yet we regularly hear about musicians whose hearing deteriorates due to overexposure to loud sound. Old-school rockers tend to think of this as an occupational hazard – and it is. But it’s also entirely preventable.
Dave Amato is living proof.
When REO Speedwagon decided to make the change to in-ears in the late ‘90s, it was a bumpy ride for Amato. While he loved the “freedom of movement and the comfort of Sensaphonics soft silicone IEMs,” he disliked the isolation of having both earpieces inserted. Like many musicians, the very isolation that makes IEMs so useful can create a sensation of “hearing inside my head,” which can make them feel disconnected from their bandmates and audience.
“This was over 20 years ago,” said Amato. “I got into the habit of always listening with one ear in, one ear out onstage, mostly so I could always hear my amp rig. In fact, I used to chop off the right earpiece since I never used it. I did that for years! But it was giving me tinnitus and making my hearing lopsided, especially with the drums blasting on my right side. I’m not going to lie; it was kind of scary.”
He conferred with Dr Michael Santucci of Sensaphonics, who made it clear that Amato’s “one in, one out” approach was a problem, not a solution. He explained that our hearing is designed to work in stereo, providing clarity and directional information from two ears working together.
Taking one earpiece out actually creates two hearing issues, putting both ears at risk. Most obviously, the open ear is exposed to uncontrolled sound levels on stage, putting it at risk of overexposure – especially on a loud stage. In addition, the other ear, with an isolating IEM inserted but working alone, now sounds softer. In fact, it takes an additional 6 dB of gain for that single earpiece to be perceived as loud as it sounds with both IEMs inserted. Which, ironically, causes the user to turn it up!
So removing one IEM actually puts both ears at increased risk.
“Dr Santucci made it very clear to me that I had to change and start wearing both earpieces if I wanted to save my hearing,” said Amato. “But fortunately, he had a new product that made that possible, the 3D Active Ambient. It changed my life.”
The 3D Active Ambient system uses microphones embedded in the earpieces, allowing the artist to add stage ambience to their monitor mix – at their preferred level – with both isolating earpieces inserted.
“I actually first heard about them from Tom Gimble, who was the keyboard player for Aerosmith at the time,” Amato said. “He said Steven Tyler had them and just loved them. So when Michael suggested I try them, I was ready. And once I did, I was all in. And I haven’t looked back.”
When REO Speedwagon hit the road post-Covid, Amato made an appointment for a hearing test at Sensaphonics when the band played Chicago.
“I always try to stop in when we’re in town, but this was my first test since 2018. I didn’t know what to expect,” Amato said. “Afterwards, Dr Santucci looked at me and said, ‘Dave, it’s absolutely unchanged from three years ago. The audiograms basically match.’ That means I’m living proof you can rock hard without hurting your hearing. I give Dr Santucci and Sensaphonics full credit for that.”
REO Speedwagon continues to tour, and the entire band and crew are fully vaccinated. “I don’t judge others, but this is what works for us,” said Amato. “We had a couple crew guys get Covid on our second leg this summer, so we’re pretty strict. No backstage visits, which we miss. But now we get to play real gigs, and that’s what it takes to keep this traveling circus on the road. The Speedwagon rolls on!”
For more information on Sensaphonics and the 3DME Custom Tour IEM System with Active Ambient technology, please visit: https://www.sensaphonics.com/products/3dme-custom-tour-iem-system.