Audio, Reviews

Monitor spoken voice with Bubblebee Sidekick In-Ear monitors

Bubblebee’s Sidekick In-Ear Monitors are IFB devices, which are essential parts in a monitoring and cueing system as used by TV, filmmaking, video production and radio broadcast people. They are great monitors for voice recordists too.

Sidekicks are designed to be part of the intercom circuit used by a TV producer or director and are, by definition, usually connected through a radio receiver. Lacking such a wireless transmitter, I tested the Sidekicks with an Apogee Element 24. I received the two different models Bubblebee sells, the Sidekick Mono and the Sidekick Stereo.

These tiny in-ear monitors come in a small plastic carry box and include a tie clip, silicon ear tips that serve to either block ambient noise for about 90%, block some ambient (I’d say up to about half) and block no noise at all, meaning you are fully aware of your surroundings.

You also get extra tiny little things on a stick, called “filters”, to put on the outside of the drivers. The drivers themselves are smaller than a mini jack and are suspended from a stiff but very thin wire. Nevertheless, it’s easy to put them in your ear canal, where they are supposed to sit for 20 hours or so without causing fatigue – obviously also depending on how loud you set your transmitter. I tried holding them in for six hours and even then I couldn’t feel them.

The stiff wire-driver combination can be taken apart from the equally thin flexible wire that has a mini-jack at the other end. This allows for a quick and inexpensive exchange of a broken monitor with a new one, for example.

You can choose to have the wire that you wear around the back of your neck with a clear or light brown sheath (the image above shows the clear wire, which makes you look like James Bond). Both wires are reinforced with Kevlar so you don’t need to be careful in order not to break anything. Because they’re ultra-thin, you can conceal the whole thing so it becomes invisible when you’re wearing it correctly.

Both models have the same frequency response, with a curve that shows heavy focus on speech, i.e. a boost that starts at about 200Hz peaking at 3000Hz and then again but somewhat lower at 6000Hz. Beyond these two limits, the response declines, which means they’d sound thin if you’d use them to listen to music – but that’s not what these are intended to be used for, anyway. It’s also part of the reason that they can be worn all day long without fatigue — much bass wears you down quickly.

Using them for voice monitoring – even without the IFB part of the equation – is quite a pleasure. The Sidekick also has an unexpected benefit when you’re using it as a boom pole operator, for example. Boom pole operators usually wear headphones to monitor what they’re recording, but on the set, they need to communicate with the director – and often also with other people. I found out that the Sidekick In-Ear monitors are tiny enough to wear under the headphone pads so that a sound recordist can keep monitoring while simultaneously listening to instructions and communications with/between others.

The fact that the Sidekicks are optimised for spoken voice and sit quite deep in your ear canal makes it surprisingly easy to discern what’s being said over the IFB channel from the content that you’re recording.

The Bubblebee Sidekick In-Ear Monitor Mono retails for about €200. The Stereo model goes over the counter for about €300.