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Carvin EM900 In-ear Monitor Review

May 11, 2012 4:41 PM, Reviewer: John McJunkin

A system with impressive fidelity and lots of value.

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The system can operate in mono or stereo, pleasing picky musicians or speakers who want a stereophonic high-fidelity experience. In monophonic mode, the user can balance between the two input channels to achieve a “more me” mode, balancing for instance their own vocal with a complete mix-minus of the band. This strikes me as a pretty sophisticated feature for a system of this price. As many as 16 different transmitter frequencies can be used simultaneously, facilitating up to 16 distinct monitor mixes on stage at any given time. Of course, there is no limit to how many receivers can be set to receive each transmitter’s signal.

The overall frequency response of the system is 30Hz-15kHz, which, while it does not cover the entire audible spectrum of 20Hz-20kHz, is certainly sufficient. No earbuds in the world can reproduce 30Hz in a meaningful way, and for monitoring purposes 15kHz is a perfectly acceptable upper limit. The receiver has a limiter available, and I’m very pleased that it can be switched off at the whim of the user. I have used systems twice this price that don’t have that capacity. The RF section of the system employs a phase-locked loop that largely eliminates static and does not require a squelch knob (or the expertise to adjust one). Nine hundred sixty discreet frequencies are available, and in an obvious cost-cutting measure, there is absolutely no automation of frequency seeking whatsoever; it’s left to the engineer. But in my estimation, it’s a feature that makes sense to eliminate to arrive at such a low price. And considering the number of frequencies available, it’s not difficult to find one that’s open and unused over the 638-662MHz range. The backlit LCD displays on both transmitter and receiver are more than adequate and easy to read. I very much like the low battery indicator in the receiver’s display.

I monitored a pretty broad array of music and speech with this system, and I was truly impressed with the fidelity. The noise floor was low, and there was little distortion at nominal levels. Of course, nearing maximum SPL for the system, some distortion was present, but reducing level even just a bit largely eliminated it. The low end is truly impressive, and despite the slight brashness of the high end, I was able to sculpt the signal a bit with EQ and arrive at a clean, clear signal that truly sounded good.

I will go out on a limb and say that the Carvin EM900 is far and away the best value I’ve ever seen in an IEM system. Unless higher degrees of sophistication are absolutely necessary or unique RF specifications are required, I strongly recommend considering this system. This is the best bang for the buck I’ve ever seen in an IEM.

Product Summary

Pros: Inexpensive, surprisingly good quality, capacity for “more me” mixing

Cons: Transmitter knobs too close together

Applications: Any common IEM application, typically stage performance

Price: $399 (receiver, bodypack, earbuds)


System Specs:

Frequency response: 30Hz-15kHz (-3dB)

Frequency band: 638-662MHz

S/N ratio: 80dB (A-weighted)

Image frequency rejection: 80dB

Channel separation: 35dB

Input level switch: 0dB/-10dB XLR - 1/4in. inputs

AC input: 100-240V (switch-mode supply)

Receiver power: 2 AA batteries

Battery life: 12 hours (approx.)

Net weight: EM900 base: 3.2lbs. (1.45kg); EM901 receiver: 0.45lbs. (0.2kg)

Dimensions (HxWxD): EM900 base: 1.75”x8.35”x 9” (10.30” deep w/antenna & AC cord); EM901 receiver: 4.5”x2.75”x1”(without belt clip)

EM902 earphone specs:

Frequency response: 10Hz-20kHz

Transducer type: Dynamic

Impedance: 16Ω

Sensitivity @ 1kHz: 114dB/mW

Distortion: <0.3%

Weight: 11oz.

John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast-production services.

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