The most affordable in-ear monitor system for worship bands

With the rising popularity of using a click and tracks in worship, in-ear monitoring has become a required piece of equipment for worship bands. Without in-ear monitoring, your congregation will hear the click track coming through floor wedges. Some of our congregations need help with rhythm and clapping on time, but hearing a click and cues during worship will only confuse them.

There are a variety of ways to set up in-ear monitoring for worship bands. The three most popular ways include the following.

  1. Using a multi-channel headphone amp with headphone extension cables.
  2. Using personal digital mixers networked together with a CAT 5 cable.
  3. Using wireless in-ear systems.

A couple of months ago I helped launch a church plant. Over the past few weeks, we have become drastically more efficient at assembling our production gear every Sunday in a high school auditorium. Along the way, I have discovered some inefficiencies in our setup that needed improvement.

One of the most frustrating aspects of our setup was the Behringer P16 personal monitor mixers. My team and I quickly learned that while in theory, these are an excellent solution for worship band monitoring, they are not ideal for a setup and tear-down church. I would argue they are not a great solution for any church needing in-ear monitors for their band.

There are three reasons why I do not recommend personal digital mixers.

First, they are expensive pieces of hardware that only add to stage clutter. Personal digital mixers require extra cabling, power supplies, and they must be placed somewhere on stage. They look horrendous, especially when mounted on a microphone stand.

Second, it is much easier for musicians to control their monitor mixes on their smartphone using apps that come standard with most newer digital mixers. Digital ecosystems are always way more flexible than dealing with a mixer that consists of actual hardware. Using personal digital mixers requires getting a label maker and labeling the correct channels on each mixer. If for some reason a channel assignment changes, you have to remove the old label and make a new one. This is incredibly inefficient.

The third reason I do not recommend the P16 for churches is the cost. Each mixer costs $400. Most church bands have 5-6 people, so the cost of setup is going to be over $2000. I’m not a fan of paying thousands of dollars for ugly and inefficient ways of creating personal mixes on stage.

If your church has a Behringer X32 or comparable digital board, it may seem tempting to buy into the digital personal mixer ecosystem. Don’t do it. It was a mistake for our church to purchase four of these digital mixers. Here’s my $241.68 solution to this problem.

Above I mentioned the first way of building an in-ear monitor system using a multi-channel headphone amp and headphone extension cables. This method also happens to be the cheapest way to set up in-ear monitoring.

At our church, we use the Midas M32 digital console with a Behringer S32 snake that sits right next to our drummer in a road case. I and other vocalists share a wireless in-ear system. We have one Sennheiser transmitter that sends separate mono signals to our receivers.

While I wish we could have afforded wireless for our whole band, instead we were using the P16 digital mixers for our drummer, keyboardist, and any other instrumentalists who would join us. But as you already know, these mixers were an eye-sore and only caused headaches.

I decided it was best to get rid of the personal mixers and replace them with the headphone amp setup. I’m glad I did, and so are my musicians.

Since we have a rack-mounted S32 snake on stage, that means we have 16 return channels from our digital board. Two of those channels were used for our main PA speakers, and two are used for our two wireless monitor packs. That means we have 12 free channels waiting to deliver our musicians their individual mixes.

I headed over to Amazon and purchased the Behringer HA8000 V2. This headphone amp would fit perfectly above our digital snake, and it can take up to 8 inputs from the 12 available returns on the S32. In other words, this headphone amp would give us the ability to provide up to eight unique monitor mixers on stage via headphone extension cables.

I also purchased an eight channel, five foot, XLR female to ¼” TRS snake to connect the outputs on our S32 digital snake to the inputs on the HA8000 headphone amplifier.

Finally, I purchased a bunch of inexpensive 25’ and 50’ headphone extension cables so that we could reach all of our musicians from the headphone amp.

You can find links to all the gear I mentioned here in my Worship Toolkit. This document contains all of my favorite worship ministry tools, and I’ve compiled it all in one place for you to browse and shop for these items yourself. Click the button below, complete the form, and I’ll send you instant access to the toolkit.

Now here is what our in-ear monitor setup process entails for our drummer, keyboardists, and other musicians using the headphone amp. Step one, find the headphone extension cable long enough to reach you and plug it into your channel on the headphone amp. Step two, plug your in-ear headphones into the extension cable. Step three, open up the M32Q app and adjust your monitor mix wirelessly with the supercomputer you carry in your pocket. Pretty easy right?

I know this setup will not work for all churches. The primary hurdle for many may be having a digital snake on stage with eight available returns. If you only have one or two auxilary sends because you still have an analog board, you can still use a headphone amp, but you will be limited to 1 or two unique mixes for your musicians. Digital consoles like the X32 and their accessory digital snakes have become affordable in the past few years. If your band is serious about upgrading to in-ears, you must consider purchasing one of these consoles.

Sometimes the best solutions are not the most expensive. Would it be ideal to have everyone on wireless packs? Sure, but few churches have the funds for this. Honestly, wireless packs can be a pain because you have to worry about batteries and signal interference. I like that if ever the time comes when a wireless pack fails on me or if I run out of fresh batteries, I could get an extra monitor channel up and running with the headphone amp in no time.

What does the in-ear monitor system look like at your church? Do you use personal digital mixers? Do you use a headphone amp! Let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments!