With a long and eclectic solo career, guitarist Adrian Belew is well known for his willingness to embrace technology for the sake of art. A recent addition to his arsenal is the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient IEM System, which uses an earphone-mounted binaural microphone system to capture stage sound and add it to the monitor mix.
“The thing I love about the 3D is that you can introduce as much of the ambient sound as you want,” Belew notes. “I played around with it in my home studio and then again at rehearsals, and it worked beautifully. I dialed up the volume just enough that I could hear my amp coming off the stage. It really works so much better than regular in-ears; it sounds much more like what I’m used to hearing. I couldn’t be happier.”
Having acoustic access to his on-stage amp sound puts Belew in a very natural listening space, an important consideration for someone renowned for his manipulation of tone along with extraordinary technique. The value of that ability became very clear on his first touring experience with the Sensaphonics 3D, last autumn’s “Two of a Perfect Trio” tour, which featured the Adrian Belew Power Trio along with Tony Levin’s three-man band, Stick Men.
“As a guitarist, what can you not like about it? I can have as much or as little guitar, or as much or as little of the band as I like,” he says. “With the 3D, I hear everything perfectly. I’m really excited about it.”
Belew is a long-time user of custom IEMs, which he originally adopted for the benefits of isolation. “First of all, I find that in-ears truly make you sing a lot better. Even though I’ve never had pitch problems singing, the big issue you encounter in a rock band is trying to sing over top of the band,” he explains. “It’s just hard on your voice, and it’ll wear it out if you’re not careful. With in-ears, you don’t have to push so hard. That’s really important if you play a lot – which I do. This last tour had runs of seven shows in a row without a night off, and this is the only way to get through it without my voice going out on me.”
Another factor driving Belew’s use of in-ear monitors is hearing protection. “On this last tour, I had two drummers onstage with me during the encore set, when we played some King Crimson songs. Things like cymbals and snare drums are just so loud, and I’m very concerned about that stuff,” he notes. “With the 3D, I can hear everything they play perfectly, but I don’t have to hear it loud. It was just right.”