Audio Review: Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient

An in-ear monitor that provides a versatile solution to an old problem and adds a few tricks of its own. 6/03/2009 8:00 AM Eastern

Audio Review: Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient

Jun 3, 2009 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra

An in-ear monitor that provides a versatile solution to an old problem and adds a few tricks of its own.

Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient

Personal monitors are great, but unfortunately, they isolate the performer from the audience and other band members. This is due to the fact that—when properly implemented—earpieces prevent the majority of ambient sound from reaching the ear. Sensaphonics offers a unique solution in its 3D Active Ambient in-ear monitor (IEM) system. Unlike any other personal monitors, each of the 3D’s custom-molded earpieces has a built-in miniature condenser microphone. Controls on the belt pack facilitate mixing an electronic input (such as that from a mixing console) with ambient sound from the mics.

I tested the 3DHW-1 system for hardwired applications, which includes the 3D-L belt-pack mixer and a single-driver earpiece. (Also available is the 3DAA version for interfacing with standard wireless IEM receivers.) Underneath the 3D-L’s door is a 9V battery compartment, two switches, and a rotary trimmer pot. One switch calibrates the pack for single- or dual-driver earpieces.

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I was able to take the system beyond its main intention by using it as a mixing tool at FOH. For years, I’ve been playing all sorts of games while mixing live music in an effort to conserve my hearing. I’d mix a song or two with open ears, then mix a few songs with a plug in one ear, then switch ears for a few songs, then back. I’ve tried custom molds fitted with attenuators, but they changed the sound of my mix. I started mixing with the 3D Active Ambient system, and as I grew to trust it, I began mixing shows with both earpieces in for extended periods of time. When I pulled the earpieces out, my mix sounded pretty much the same, only louder. Using the 3D system was not exactly the same as having no plugs, but it’s close enough to mix with the confidence that what you are hearing through the earpieces is consistent with what the audience is hearing, except at a lower level. There is one caveat in this application: Make sure that you don’t get carried away with the SPL of the PA—it’s easy to mix through the 3DHW and lose sight of the fact that the audience is hearing the PA louder.

The 3D Active Ambient system from Sensaphonics can change your work life as a musician or as an engineer in a positive way. When performing, it’s possible to overcome the feeling of isolation, and when using the system in a sound-reinforcement application, I can mix with the system without second-guessing it. I don’t have ear fatigue at the end of the day, and I suspect I may even be sleeping a bit better on show nights as a result. I highly recommend the 3D Active Ambient IEM system to anyone who needs to turn down the volume of the world.

The tour manager and FOH mixer for Blue Öyster Cult, Steve La Cerra is also the sound-reinforcement editor for Mix magazine.


  • Company: Sensaphonics
  • Product: 3D Active Ambient
  • Pros: Creates a natural blend of stage ambience and monitor feed in an earpiece-type listening environment.
  • Cons: Requires custom ear-impression fitting, not included in price.
  • Applications: Personal monitoring for stage performers; isolated mixing reference for house engineers in high-SPL situations.
  • Price: $2,300 (3DHW-1, as tested); $2,800 (3DHW-2); $2,000 (3DAA-1); $2,500 (3DAA-2)


  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-16kHz
  • Max SPL @ 500Hz: 124dB, single-driver earpiece; 130dB, dual-driver earpiece
  • Limiter Type: Slow average responding, frequency selective, linked left-right; dual independent for monitor and ambient signals
  • Battery Type: 9VDC Alkaline
  • Battery Life: 6 hours (conservative)

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