As a live bass player and location recording engineer, being able to hear what I'm trying to record or play along with has always been an issue. An added complication is that after 30 years of doing this stuff, my ears aren't as tough as they used to be. Harsh and overly loud reproduction can aggravate my tinnitus. So, about 10 years ago I started looking into using in ear monitors. At that time, I had a limited budget, so I was using universal fit monitor and went through quite a few models from Westone, Ultimate Ear, Etymotic Research, etc. I used single driver, dual driver and one triple driver. All of them were balanced armature designs. None of them really pleased me that well, although the Westone UM2s did a pretty decent job. Like the others, the sound was somewhat forward in the high mids and it could get fatiguing pretty quickly.
About 4 or 5 years ago, I got a used pair of Future Sonics FS1s. These are single dynamic driver universal fit ears. All of Future Sonics IEMs are single dynamic driver designs. Immediately, I was struck by the warmth of the sound and the depth of the bass. They lasted for a couple of tours with my band until one of the ends snapped off and back out came the UM2s. I looked into the offerings they had current and the FS Atrios were the latest design. I got a pair of those and they were a fairly substantial improvement, especially in the low end. One of the things I appreciate about the FS "sound" is that the low end is deep, clear and true. They don't simply resonate at one pitch with a lot of low mid, upper bass cloudiness, giving the sense of bass without being able to resolve pitch. Every note is distinct and present. Eventually, I got the SofterWear custom molded sleeves to go with the Atrios and that was another big step up. I had gotten some custom molds for the UM2s that worked out OK, but the FS quality of molding was a big step up.
Finally, this winter I decided to go all in and order the MG6Pros. I had lost my custom ear plugs and they had a great package deal with plugs and MG6Pros. However, I made a fatal mistake in the process and that was to get my ear impressions when I had a cold. I had had a cold for so long that it was my new normal. When the MG6Pros arrived, the fit was a little off. However, I was really busy (gigging, recording and my last year of law school all at once. Plus, my wife and I found out we were pregnant. Let's just say there were a few things going on), so I missed the 1 month fit guarantee where you can get new impressions and get the molds redone. So, David Gray worked with me to adjust the molds over the next few months and that improved things considerably. The MG6Pros have a 13mm driver and an adjustable vent that changes the bass response. Let me just say that if you love bass, there simply is no other in ear monitor that you should look at. This is the alpha and omega of amazing bass response. The test song I use for judging low end (and a lot of other reproductive attributes) is Visa Från Järna, by Inga Swearingen. It's a melding of jazz and Swedish folk music. The acoustic bass has an entrance where he walks down to the bottom of the instrument note by note. Using the MG6Pros, you can clearly hear not only the fullness of the low end, but the fullness of the fundamental, all of them very evenly (except the bottom one, which I think is a shortcoming of the recording, as I hear this problem regardless of playback transducer). Kick drums, drum machines, air conditioning noise, breath against mics, all that stuff is right there. The rest of the frequency range is also equally well represented. Because it's a single driver, I have found that wearing these monitors is a lot less fatiguing than the balanced armature styles I have tried. So, at the end of all of this, I have found that I have some stunning in ears for live performance and recording with a lingering problem of the fit. Future Sonics has done a great job at adjusting the fit to the point where they work very well indeed, but there is a comfort factor that is not quite there and I find that I have to adjust them to my ears through out the evening.
For NAMM this summer, they ran a 20% off special, so I decided to bite. The MG5Pros are the newest model and they are meant to bridge the gap between Atrios with SofterWear sleeves and the MG6Pros. The specs show bass response to 20Hz instead of 18Hz and they are several db less sensitive (a plus in my book, as using the MG6Pros with things like my iPhone or MacBook Pro headphone outs were troublesome as I had to keep the output at the lowest possible setting and heard a lot of noise artifacts from the headphone amps). So, without any congestion or sinus or ear swelling, off I went to my local audiologist and got some new impressions. Less than 2 weeks later, they showed up. Right away, I could tell that the fit was a whole new story. Now I could feel even pressure throughout the whole contact area, in the canal and out, which creates a floating feeling in wearing it, and the seal is perfect. David Gray has offered to see if they can make the MG6Pros conform a little better to the new impressions. It won't be free, but I think it will be worth it.
How do they sound? Well the high end is still very clear and present. It's a smooth high end that reveals everything that is in the recording or source (both these and the MG6Pros have revealed things in mixes I had no idea where there. That's probably the nature of IEMs, but the FS models do it in a way that was striking to me, especially in the low end). They definitely pass the Visa Från Järna test. The bass doesn't sound quite as deep and open as the MG6Pros, but in some ways they might be better balanced. I had done some rough mixing with the MG6Pros and found that they don't translate all that well. I have a feeling these will translate great. My suspicion is that these will become my A pair and the MG6Pros will be the backups. In deciding on ratings for these, I couldn't figure out how to rate them in bang for the buck. They are expensive, although cheaper than their big brothers. But there are pricier IEMs and I'm not sure that I would want what a lot of them offer: more highs and high mids. I love the fact that these IEMs are not sonically fatiguing at all. This past weekend I had 2 4 hour gigs bass playing and all day tracking sessions on location for a marimba band. I was using a variety of headphones, etc. and the least fatiguing was the FS IEMs. If IEMs are really what you need, then I don't see how spending more money could improve the quality. I thought about giving them an 8 for this rating just because it is a fair amount of money, but then it just seemed that in the grand scheme of things, getting such great sound for this price is a heck of a deal. I gave sound quality a rating of 9 because they aren't as accurate as a great pair of studio monitors or my Senn HD600s in terms of mixing, but that's not the primary purpose of these monitors. In terms of accurate bass reproduction, I'd give them a 15. As a bass player, there are very few other ways I'd rather listen to my bass, and most involve very large, very expensive, and very heavy, subwoofers (think Meyer 650).
I highly recommend these IEMs. The construction is solid (even the Atrios have fixed the breakage problems of the FS1s. I still use them regularly and they seem very robust), the sound is amazing and the service is really good. David, Deborah, Marty and the rest of the FS company really are dedicated to getting things right. They work with a lot of music stars and when it comes to people like me, who definitely aren't, we get the same enthusiastic, expert customer service.