First Look at the Ultimate Ears Sound Tap
One of the best parts about writing in the music tech space is helping musicians find the tools that will make their lives easier and their sound better. I’ve had the pleasure of guiding countless bands around the world through building in-ear monitor rigs on a budget. It’s never just as easy as buying the buds. Wireless and installed monitoring systems are expensive, headphone amps are hard to hook up consistently from stage to stage, and DIY solutions require someone in your band who intimately understands signal path.
So you can imagine my excitement when I got the call from Ultimate Ears inviting me to take a first look at the new Sound Tap personal monitoring DI box. They said they had a box that could take advantage of the stage monitors already in place and give musicians control without changing anything for the sound engineer. They said it was simple. Consistent. Encased in steel. Sign me up.
The Ultimate Ears Sound Tap plugs in between the house mixer and the wedge stage monitors, letting you tap the signal for your in-ear monitors without changing anything for the house. The wedge keeps getting the signal and you take control of the volume on your IEM headphones. The real beauty is that it works everywhere. Clubs we know. Clubs we don’t know. Outside. Inside. In your friend’s garage. It’s an easy way to power and control your in-ear monitors with minimal extra gear, no learning curve, and without bothering the engineer. So let’s walk through a gig to find out more about how the UE Sound Tap works in the real world.
When we look at the unit, it has 2 inputs, 2 outputs, 2 knobs, and a 3.5mm IEM jack. The inputs take the signal in from the mixer. The outputs send the original monitor mix to the wedge. One knob sets the input gain, and the other sets your IEM headphone volume. Pretty straightforward.
So what do we need to do to get set up? Every gig already starts with a handshake for the sound engineer. When they ask you what you need for ins and outs on stage, tell them that you’ll be using in-ear monitors and that you’ll be dropping this cool little box right next to the stage monitor. They can mix for that monitor just like they always would, but you’ll have control over the volume for your IEMs and protection against abhorrent feedback.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the house sound at all. The house might be running powered or unpowered monitors connected by Speakon, XLR, or ¼” cable, and the Ultimate Ears Sound Tap will pass clean, transparent signal to the house wedge while you enjoy your in-ears.
Setting up is straightforward, and the Ultimate Ears Sound Tap comes with all the cables you need. Take the cable leading to the monitor into your monitor DI, then find the matching cable in your kit and complete the connection to the wedge. Then connect your IEM headphone cable and you’ll be all hooked up.
The large knob controls the input trim, and when you’re checking sound you’ll want to adjust it so the LED is consistently green. Then use the closer knob to set your in-ear monitor volume. Now, what do you do about the mix? Well, what were you going to do about the mix before? Have a conversation. Talk to the sound engineer about what you like, what you sound like, and how nice the stage is.
The only change you’ve made is that you’ve taken control of your access to in-ear monitoring. That’s the power and inspiration in Sound Tap. You have maximum flexibility and control while remaining minimally invasive, so everyone is happy and you’re ready to wow the crowd.
The Ultimate Ears engineers clearly spent a lot of time on stages before settling on the final feature set for Sound Tap, and there’s a lot that this simple little box can do. Let’s rattle through a few of the other cool features and benefits that piqued my interest.
You can daisy chain units. If you want to run more than one set of IEMs off the same monitor mix, just connect one Sound Tap to another, and keep going until you hit the wedge and everyone has what they need.
Because the Ultimate Ears Sound Tap works anywhere, it can easily slip into your rehearsal space. It’s important to practice the way you perform, and it’s nothing to strap the box into whatever mixer and PA combo you’re running in the garage. Oh, and if everyone is using IEM headphones, you can drop the PA entirely and give the neighbors a bit of a rest.
Sound Tap features a unique protective circuit that cuts off the signal when feedback or loud noise comes down the monitor line, potentially saving your hearing when the guitar player steps too close to their amplifier.
New gear like the Ultimate Ears Sound Tap is really exciting for me as a musician because it opens up entirely new avenues for dreaming and scheming. How would this make my life better? How would this make my rig easier? And when the answer is that it’s the simplest way yet to get a quality in-ear monitoring experience on every stage, while improving the sonic experience for both the band and the audience, and costs a literal fraction of a traditional wireless transceiver, that’s when you know you’ve got something special.