Hearing yourself on stage and getting a good balanced mix is one of the great intangibles of playing live. Small gigs in intimate spaces rarely present a problem, but as soon as one is performing in medium to large venues, where reliance on clear onstage monitoring soon throws up discrepancies – sometimes big ones, with too much or too little volume, imbalanced levels and feedback – all of which can have an adverse effect on your/your band's performance. A solution to getting around all these inconsistencies is a personalised set of in-ear monitors, or IEMs. By no means a cheap option (ranging from £300 to £1,500), the benefits of investing in a pair are huge and for musicians that are as likely to be playing high-spec jazz clubs, medium-sized halls or big venues and stadiums, IEMs offer unrivalled audio consistency while also shielding the wearer from excessive volume levels.

A high-end pair of IEMs also provides audiophiles and music producers an immersive and accurate listening experience too. So when marketleading California-based company Ultimate Ears got in touch to offer Jazzwise the chance to test a pair of their IEMs, the first thing to do was visit The Custom IEM Company, the Hertfordshire-based 'ear-impressions' specialists who produce bespoke moulds for the likes of InEarz Audio, Ultimate Ears, ACS and Shure, among others. They carefully inject a purple silicone goo into each of your ears, which sets in a few minutes and is then used to create the custom-fitted shells for your IEMs. This method is actually on the way out, as when Jazzwise was there, the new scanning machine for taking purely digital ear-impressions had arrived but wasn't fully up and running. As it was the physical impressions were scanned and emailed across to Ultimate Ears' California HQ for the monitor shell to be 3D-printed, with the electronics hand-crafted and tested by the UE technicians.

With a wide-range of models available for singers, guitarists, producers and audiophiles, we selected the UE11s (£880) that UE state are for 'bass players, drummers and producers/DJs' – thus favouring a balanced output with a boosted bass response. It definitely takes a few attempts to perfect the corkscrewing action that's necessary to insert the tubelike protuberance into one's ear canal, but once in place the natural suction is remarkable: they fit like the proverbial glove. This and the sturdy cable enhance the feeling that these are built for the road. Tech-specs on the UE11s include four proprietary balanced armatures (tiny, intricately engineered speakers) with a sub-bass, bass, mid and treble combining into a threeway crossover that balances all ranges and engages the sub with impressive power when necessary. The dual bores within the ear-canal tube split the lows and highs so there's a very noticeable amount of separation and clarity to the resulting frequency blend. With a -26 decibel noise isolation cut, standing next to any particularly loud soundsources on stage (yes, a noisy drummer or over eager guitarist!) are easily kept at bay – while the full range capabilities of the UE11s with their frequency response from 5Hz to 22 kHz creates a huge, yet incredibly detailed sound.

ue pro sound tap

UE have also provided a neat way to connect your IEMs to the mixing desk via their Sound Tap personal DI monitoring box (pictured above). Powered by two nine-vault batteries the Sound Tap connects to the desk via either the supplied Speakon or quarter-inch jack cables, with a handy extension cable to plug your IEMs into as well, ensuring you're not too tied to the spot! There are a wide variety of wireless monitoring options available – some cheap, some very pricey – but the Sound Tap offers an affordable pro-level entry point to the world of using IEMs live. Tough yet sophisticated, Ultimate Ears IEMs are a great example of form and function in perfect harmony, offering an unparalleled sense of immersion right into the heart of the music in astonishing detail and depth.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.pro.ultimateears.com

Whether it’s bundling things into the boot or backseat of your car or braving the perils and perspiration of public transport, having high-grade cases and bags for your beloved gear is an absolute must. Hence bag specialists MONO have just about every instrument covered – with the two examples reviewed here part of extended bass, guitar, keyboard, cymbal and snare case ranges – they even do some nifty laptop cases and rucksacks too.

The Vertigo bass bag (pictured top) lives up to its name with the bass sliding snuggly into the case sideways with the case held upright. The instrument’s neck is then held reassuringly in position via MONO’s patented ‘Headlock’ – a black, plush-finished moulded support positioned halfway down the soft-lined interior. The innovative tractor-tyre style reinforced base on the bag’s bottom end, aptly dubbed ‘The Boot’, will absorb any shocks en route to your gig.

mono-producer

The Producer bag (above) is a similar blend of cool urban styling and robust practicality, with four exterior pockets big enough to take two floor pedals apiece, along with enough room inside for a 17-inch MacBook Pro, MIDI controller, headphones and, hey, even sheet music!

All of which is protected in MONO’s military grade materials that include steel riveted handles, high-density padding and waterproof outer shell. A little bigger than some gear bags, the Producer’s foam-padded shoulder strap ensures balanced weight distribution even when it’s stuffed full and, just like the Vertigo bass bag, is extremely comfortable on the shoulders. This is stylish gear with a serious practical edge.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.monocreators.com

superbrightsYou know when a product is generating serious word of mouth buzz – across a wide range of musicians – that it has to have a little extra something to make such hardened pros as Dave Swift, bassist with Jools Holland, Paul Turner of Jamiroquai and highly respected jazz fusionist Janek Gwizdala all profess their love for Dunlop’s Super Bright bass strings. So we decided to check them out too and put a couple of sets of their stainless steel and nickel plated strings through their paces on both five and four string electric basses.

As seems to be the case with other sets we’ve tried recently, players are demanding a more flexible feel under the fingers without compromising with lighter gauges, in search of a more defined tone to really cut through the mix. And with the Super Brights, Dunlop seem to have ticked both these boxes, not least as the Light set we tried – running 40, 60, 80, 100, 120 from G to low-B strings – really had a wonderfully consistent tonal response from top to bottom, feeling particularly malleable on the business end of the bass – i.e. down at the bottom end. My preference is for nickel-plated strings as, for me, steel always adds unwanted drag on my fingers – yet these steels also performed brilliantly, being highly responsive and just as bright as their nickel counterparts.

Dunlop market these as perfect for slap bass, which they most certainly are, but it’s also testimony to the richness of the Super Bright’s midrange response that makes them perfect for pretty much every style of playing – ensuring you’ll always be heard loud and clear.


– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.jimdunlop.com


Fusion’s
trumpet playing chief designer began her career designing backpacks and rucksacks for fell walkers and mountaineers, so this is a company that knows a thing or two about HiTec materials and keeping precious instruments out of harm’s way. Their Premium series bags are virtually bombproof. Made out of tough PVC-free water resistant rip-stop material, they come with lightweight solid moulded base panels to give even more extra protection. Within the easy access double zippered main compartment are not only the dividing protective sections for three trumpets - with an extra padded sleeve, but also a removable accessory panel that comes with pockets and pouches for mutes and mouthpieces that has been designed to be hung from a music stand.

Three tiered zippered pockets make up the right hand side of the bag, the lowest of which has two internal pockets, together with a carabineer key clasp. The middle pocket sports an internal triple mouthpiece pouch, while the top pocket houses the elasticated waterproof cover. The left hand side panel carries the well padded, heavy duty back harness, with two zippered phone pouches and separate pocketed hip wings that when not in use are stashed in a zippered compartment faced by an ‘airflow’ covered panel. Set above this is a tough nylon webbed grab handle.

To the top of the bag is a double velcroed adjustable grab handle and a useful slip concealed address label, while to either end of the top panel are heavy duty nylon clasps that can be attached to an adjustable webbed shoulder strap with floating shoulder pad. The rigid base of the bag is finished with four solid nylon feet. This Premium is a bag for all seasons, and we would happily take it on the road. But it is sadly too large for cabin luggage and because of the lack of ‘lockability’, we wouldn’t want to risk putting it in the hold.

– David Gallant

For more info go to www.fusion-bags.com

 

You can’t help but admire Jody Espina of Jody Jazz: his total commitment to developing and refining the design of the metal mouthpiece to achieve the ultimate in sound quality and projection borders on the fanatical. And judging by the roster of stellar players that now blow through the JJ mouthpiece, there’s no question that all those hours of soul searching and R&D have been worth the midnight oil.

We took delivery of a DV mouthpiece for our Selmer Alto and were immediately struck by the unusual packaging – this mouthpiece is presented in a velour pouch in a lightweight wooden cylindrical box/canister, with its string/button tie!

The mouthpiece itself is akin to a piece of select sculpture – the unit has quality written all over it. We reckon the sculptor Henry Moore would have been pleased with this beauty – and in 24kt gold plate too. In fact, the whole development of the unit has been built around the concept of Golden Section Proportions (interestingly a visual art term). Espina was looking to create the perfect chamber/bore/facing combination, which would result in the best possible playing experience.

Free blowing it certainly is. In fact it’s totally effortless. There’s a consistency of sound all through the register and the tone is much darker and more sweet and smooth than a standard metal mouthpiece (ie: our Brancher). To our ear, the JJ didn’t seem to have as much punch in the middle as our Brancher, but it more than makes up for this in the ‘sotto voce’ with a beautifully controlled sound – and there’s not a hint of the shrillness usually associated with metal. OK, it doesn’t come cheap. But then, neither do silk sheets! The mouthpiece comes with a Rico ‘H’ ligature and shaped cap.

For more info go to www.jodyjazz.com

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