Unlike traditional headphones or earphones that operate outside of the ear canal, a micro earpiece is a device that fits directly into a person’s ear canal and uses vibration to directly engage the eardrum rather than emitting a sound. Micro earpieces can serve a number of functions, so many names have been associated with the devices, including canalphones. In audio professions, "in-ear monitor" is the preferred term.
The units are ideal for surveillance and other situations that require stealth because of their small size coupled with placement inside the ear canal. No one can see the miniature earpiece, and the unit does not emit a sound. For these reasons, the terms "tactical earpiece" and "surveillance earpiece" also accurately describe the device.
One may find many uses for micro earpieces, some nobler than others. Speech-makers and interviewers, for example, sometimes utilize a micro earpiece so that others can feed them pertinent information. Their capacity for discretion, however, means the devices also have been linked to devious activities, such as cheating.
Micro earpieces seal off the ear opening, making them effective noise reducers. They may sometimes be used as simple earplugs for people who wish to block out ambient noise. People also often use micro earpieces in conjunction with cellular phones or portable music players.
A micro earpiece sometimes employs a wire leading to another device. They also may utilize a wireless design in combination with some type of receiver, such as a radio frequency receiver. The receiver transmits sound to the micro earpiece and permits hands-free operation.
Because of the possibility for hands-free operation, live performers commonly utilize micro earpieces for monitoring their onstage performances. Traditionally, playing on stage involved the use of many speakers placed on the floor and pointed toward individual musicians so they could hear what they played. Micro earpieces have become more popular than methods of the past because they offer clear audio, provide more precise monitoring, and reduce clutter on stage.
Although micro earpieces come in many colors, they are frequently flesh-colored, providing a lower level of visibility. Commonly, manufacturers place rubber or foam heads on the end of an earpiece to add comfort and provide a better fit for the ear canal. Manufacturers sometimes create custom micro earpieces to provide heightened comfort for the user. Manufacturers can make a cast or mold of an ear passageway to design a custom-fit earpiece that fits perfectly in the wearer's ear canal.