ASI Audio

ASI AUDIO 3DME

ASI AUDIO 3DME

From Live Sound International/Pro Sound Web:

Checking out a new and unique in-ear monitor system.
by Michael Lawrence
Live Sound International 

The ASI Audio 3DME is a new in-ear monitor system that uses microphones embedded in the earpieces to bring ambient sound into the mix as a discrete signal. By adjusting the beltpack controls, the wearer can mix the ambient signal into their existing IEM mix from the console. This is a significant departure from the common solution of using ambient microphones placed onstage and added to the mix into the IEMs via the monitor console.

Since the 3DME system’s mics arelocated at the wearer’s ears, the binaural imaging experience is “correct” in a way that static ambient mics can never
achieve – face the drum set, and the drum set sounds like it’s in front of you.
Turn your head away, and the drum set sounds like it’s off to the side. Basically, the 3DME system re-introduces the natural localization effects that are otherwise lost to the isolation of IEMs.

Another significant feature is the inclusion of a limiter which allows limiting the pack’s output to a calibrated level in dBA, a godsend when working with artists who are dealing with hearing loss or preventing it in the first place. In testing the system, my questions were twofold. First, from a technical standpoint, does it work? Second, from an artistic standpoint, does this constitute an improvement in terms of an artist’s comfort on stage?

SETTING UP
Inside the carrying case is a pair of 3DME IEMs along with three sizes of universal-fit foam tips. (The system does support custom molds as well.) There’s a bodypack with built-in lithium ion battery, and the various power and signal cables required to get everything rolling, as well as a shirt clip for the IEM cable, cleaning tool for the earpieces, and an Android tablet used to host the ASI Audio app that programs the system.

After charging the pack, I connected it to the Android tablet with the included
USB cable, and launched the ASI Audio app. From here, I was able to configure
the default ambient mic level and the SPL limiter threshold. There’s also a 7-band
graphic equalizer, and it’s important to note that any or all of these settings can be stereo-linked or applied different between Left and Right, which is an important and often-overlooked distinction when dealing with unilateral (one-sided or uneven) hearing loss, common in musicians.

The app has a “Seal Test” function, which plays a series of test tones to check for proper LF response, and there’s also CROS options (Contralateral Routing of
Signals) which is a common approach in hearing aids for people with uneven
hearing loss – taking sound from one ear and routing it to the other. Given the prevalence of hearing loss among working musicians, this is a powerful toolset for anyone looking after an artist who’s struggling in that sense (and also, perhaps a logical choice given that the technology behind 3DME was created by a licensed audiologist, Dr. Michael Santucci).

Originally, I was a little dismayed that the pack needed to be physically connected to the tablet to adjust these features, but then I realized that the only adjustment that is likely to be changed after initial setup is the ambient mic level, which can be adjusted via buttons on the pack itself, which I can say makes sense after working with the system a bit.

AMBIENT TECHNOLOGY
First, I wanted to try the ambient technology on its own. I inserted the ear-pieces with the “squish, roll, and press” routine familiar to anyone who’s worn “foamie” earplugs.” I will admit that I said “wow” when I turned the pack on. I heard an honest, unblemished version of the ambient sound in the room, without any of the HF hiss or LF rumble that we are used to expecting from ambient mics.

I played some music via the nearfield monitors on my desk, and it really felt like I was sitting and listening to the music without earplugs in – it didn’t sound like an “ambient mic.” It’s really an interesting sensation and I could definitely see, with the right set of custom tips, that you could forget you’re wearing the things.

They can be an extremely helpful tool for any musician playing in a live environment who wants to protect their hearing while still remain immersed - I’m
thinking of all the loud rock club stages I’ve been on – these meet the goal of “accurate and transparent, only quieter” far better than any passive “musician’s
earplugs” I’ve tried. It also opens up tantalizing possibilities for people who
need to listen critically at show levels for long periods of time while protecting
their hearing.
The beltpack has a 1/8-inch input jack to connect to the output of a standard IEM pack via the included jumper. The 3DME pack is inserted between the artist’s regular IEM Rx pack and the earpieces, facilitating the mixing of the ambient signal and also the voltage limiting.

MUSICAL VALUE
I brought the system to a rehearsal with one of the artists I work with regularly. The lead guitarist is an experienced musician with discerning ears who spent many years performing in the heyday of stage wedges, so I figured his perspective on
the system would be enlightening.

I helped him get fitted with the system and then, since the only significant ambient sound in the rehearsal space is the drums (guitars all taken direct), I muted all the drum mics in his IEM mix (but left a touch of the drum “room” reverb, as our rehearsal space is quite acoustically dry).

After showing him how to operate the ambience level controls on the pack, the band started their rehearsal. Once the music got rolling, he immediately was more animated in his playing. He started wandering around the space while playing his guitar, turning his head and exploring the acoustic environment of the space in a way that isn’t possible with a traditional IEM mix. After a few songs, he came over to me and said “Can I buy this? I don’t ever want to play without it again.”

When I sent a post-rehearsal email asking him to share his impressions on the system, he responded, “ASI Audio has brought IEMs to a new and, for me, unexpected level. The typical feeling I had using well-insulated IEMs of being isolated from the “real music” is completely gone. The ambient sound we used to hear before IEMs is back again, and controllable! This is the next step in the evolution of live sound. They are nothing short of phenomenal. They brought joy
back into my playing.”

Although the included universal-fit eartips are comfortable, I would encourage those wearing the system frequently or often to get custom impressions made.
Now, a few suggestions for improvement. IEMs in this price range should include
a removeable replaceable cable given the abuse artists subject their IEMs to on
stage.

In addition, the microphone elements have a specified max SPL of 135 dB, which can easily be exceeded by a loud drummer with a drum fill subwoofer at full tilt. We did notice them starting to get overwhelmed when we stood near the drum riser, a location which my SPL logs revealed was achieving Peak C levels nearing 140 dB.

While this is likely not an issue for a majority of users, another 6 dB or so of headroom would be welcome for the specific use-case of loud drummers – and a darn good illustration of why products like 3DME will hopefully continue to raise industry awareness about hearing protection, sound exposure, and related issues.

Those who mix monitors know that the definition of a “good” monitor mix varies greatly depending on who’s asking. Our lead vocalist wants as little bleed and ambient sound in her mix as possible, and our drummer greatly prefers the “big, fat” console-processed drum sound in his IEMs over the ambient acoustic kit sounds. Musicians with similar preferences don’t stand to benefit as much from the ambient features of the 3DME system, although the SPL limiter is an important capability that in some circumstances might warrant the investment on its own.

In that sense, I view the 3DME system is a unique and powerful solution for an artist struggling with hearing loss, as well as a great option for musicians looking for a more immersive, connected experience than can be achieved using the traditional ambient mic solutions. 

Michael Lawrence is an independent front
of house engineer and system tech, and he’s
also the technical editor of various pro audio
publications. Read more from Michael and
reach him at precisionaudioservices.com.

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