Gear Reviews

Sennheiser's FA 500 Custom IEMs Provide The Perfect Fit

In the not too distant past, the big monitoring debate concerning live performance was generally around wedges versus IEMs (in-ear monitors). For many performers, particularly in the rock world, wedges were not only a tried and tested monitoring solution, but were almost part of the stage dressing, providing many a showboating guitarist or vocalist an extra pedestal from which to demonstrate their widdly-diddly chops. Of course, they are far more than just simple props, and for many they offer more of a ‘live’, perhaps less clinical feel when onstage.

However, particularly in the 21st century, the popularity of IEMs amongst performers has skyrocketed. As audio technology has advanced and grown ever more sophisticated, the capabilities of in-ears have followed suit. The detail and quality that can now be found in these pocket-sized packages has not only prompted many a wedge user to make the switch, but also established the format as the go-to monitoring solution for most artists.

So – and again, not to diminish the qualities of monitor wedges in any way whatsoever – the debate today is really IEMs: universal versus custom.

Which brings us on to the Sennheiser FA 500 Custom IEMs, made in conjunction with Fischer Amps.

Put simply, the debate just mentioned isn’t really a debate. Yes, there is a notable difference in price, but if we’re talking quality of product, for regular live performers a set of custom IEMs can be invaluable. And Sennheiser’s FA 500 Customs are just about as good as it gets. Here’s why…

The Process

For those who have never had an impression taken of their inner ear, the process can be likened to having your head slowly submerged in a vat of silly putty. In a good way. It’s a painless, rather relaxing procedure in which a syringe of neon coloured gel is pumped into each ear to create a mould of the ear canal. This is what the monitor is based around.

For the purposes of this review, I had the pleasure of having my impressions taken by the excellent Gisele Flower, founder of Aid2Hearing and ear care specialist to the stars. And I just so happened to be having my impressions taken alongside one such star in the form of chart-topping artist and former Love Island contestant Wes Nelson.

Firstly, there’s the initial cleaning of the ear, which I would recommend everyone has done at least once in their life, even if you’re not having moulds taken. The difference this can make to your hearing is not to be understated – it’s completely pain free and left me feeling as though I had just removed a set of invisible ear plugs.

Once the ears have been given a thorough MOT, it’s then time for the moulds to be taken, at which point Flower talked us through why custom in-ears are so beneficial.

I’m super energetic so I get hot and sweaty, so getting some fitted in-ears is going to change everything for me. Wes Nelson

“You’re benefiting from cutting out all the background noise, so as well as not having to compete with all that noise, you’re also getting the health benefits of ear protection,” she explained. “I’ve noticed more and more people are getting custom-made IEMs from the beginning, as soon as their career starts. When I first started, it felt like it was just the established artists who could afford it, but that has changed. Now, as soon as someone gets a deal, I’m getting a phone call saying they need custom in-ears. With generics, they don’t fit as tight, so there’s movement. As you sweat and move, they come loose, so they leak and then you have all that noise coming in from the stage. That’s a lot of noise exposure, but also the artist is then not feeling as confident in their performance and not hearing their feed properly.”

Nelson, who at the time of our meeting was about to begin his first string of live dates outside of a TV studio, also chatted to me about why he was opting for the FA 500 Customs.

“I’ve performed live on The X Factor and done some other TV performances, but it’s always been with generics,” he said. “They don’t stay in, and I move around a lot. I’m super energetic so I get hot and sweaty, so getting some fitted in-ears is going to change everything for me. And I need that confidence; I need to be able to hear what I’m doing. To get these fitted properly and know I just have to focus on performing and singing makes me feel a lot more comfortable.”

The Performance

While the merits of custom IEMs in general are undeniable, what about the FA 500 Customs themselves? Unsurprisingly, for a piece of kit comprised of such high-end components, they deliver astoundingly on every front.

Combining Sennheiser’s TrueResponse technology with Fischer Amps’ custom-made acrylic housings, they really are built from the ground up for each individual user to deliver a monitoring solution that is as powerful as it is natural and detailed. This is due to the implementation of a single unimpeded sound source, providing far greater subtlety and accuracy to the multi-way systems that can be found in many loudspeakers and universal IEMs.

The first thing that struck me when popping these into my ears out of the box was the comfort. Having had mould impressions taken in the past for ear plugs and other in-ear products from other brands, these are by far the most comfortable I have experienced. Over several hours at a time, I never felt the need to take them out or reposition them. They sit perfectly snug without causing any discomfort, even when moving around at pace and at high temperatures. This means no unwanted noise leaking in mid-way through a performance, and total freedom for the performer.

Then, of course, there is the audio quality. With true phase linearity provided via the single 7mm TrueResponse transducer covering the entire frequency range, the detail and intricacy of audio reproduction is outstanding. Even when driven to very high volumes, there is virtually no distortion to speak of. This, in addition to hallmarking the quality of the technology and components on offer, is also an absolutely essential asset for performers and monitor engineers alike.

As a nice little extra, they are available in a variety of different colour finishes at no extra cost, while Fischer Amps can also add personalised designs and logos on request.

In summary, if you’re looking to move on from wedges or universal IEMs, you cannot go wrong with a set of these.