I received this email from a reader this week:
I'm trying to determine what kind of monitors I should use with my MacBook Pro and MainStage. Do I need powered monitors? I have an apogee quartet and a UAD Apollo twin to choose from for interfaces.
There’s a lot of great options for MainStage users onstage, but there’s basically two directions to go: in ear monitors or speakers. Here’s some quick thoughts that might help you choose:
The case for in ear monitors
In ear monitors offer a level of control that’s not possible with a traditional speaker, and allow you to run at much lower volumes which saves your hearing. They don’t add any stage volume, which will make you popular with the sound engineer and other musicians. There’s also the possibility of panning left and right, allowing you to really dial in the sound of your mix.
What I don’t like about in ear monitors:
In ear monitors can close you off from the rest of the band, and can even lead to hearing damage if you’re not careful about your levels. Also, you’ll need to add a little mixer onstage for you to control levels if you go with in ear monitors, which adds around $80-$100 to the final cost.
If you go with in ear monitors, I recommend:
If you go with in ear monitors, I recommend getting a molded set (full disclosure: I’m endorsed by Westone, and I love them, but there are lots of great options out there). Molds can be expensive, but when you put it against the cost of a quality speaker it’s not terribly unaffordable. If you can’t afford a mold, I recommend a universal fit model like this one.
The case for speakers
Speaker monitors are an easy way to get your sound up and running quickly, and it’s as easy as plugging in an instrument cable to get yourself set up. The big plus to speakers is you can usually always hear yourself onstage, and you’re 100% in control of your monitors. Also, there’s nothing better than the sound of your synths and pianos pumping through a powerful speaker!
What I don’t like about speakers:
They’re heavy, they’re loud, they add lots of onstage volume, and it’s hard to get a good balance between you and the other instruments without being too loud. Also, to get a good speaker you’re looking at dropping about the same as a great pair of in ear monitors.
If you go with speaker monitors, I recommend:
There are a huge array of great sounding onstage monitors that could more than get the job done, but here are my favorites:
1st choice: EV ZLX Series Powered Monitors
2nd choice: JBL Eon 615 Power Monitor
3rd choice: BehringerB15 Eurolive Loudspeaker
One last note: don’t buy studio monitors and use them onstage- studio monitors are not designed to handle the rigors of stage use, and I’ve ruined several good pairs of studio monitors doing this! To figure out which one of the above works best for you, head to your local guitar center and take a listen.