InYourEar Custom-Fit IEM Modification Service
Can you really turn the ear buds you already own into custom-fitted in-ear monitors?
by Phil O'Keefe
Earphones. In-ear headphones. Ear buds. Whatever you want to call In-ear monitors, or IEMs, most musicians, and even many music fans are familiar with seeing the custom-fit molded models in use by all the top-tier artists. In the past, they have required custom fitting by an audiologist, who would take a mold of each of your ears to be used to make monitors that conformed to their unique individual shape. Since no two ears are exactly alike, this insures a tighter fit with a much better seal, leading to improved bass performance, increased isolation from outside sounds, and much less likelihood of discomfort or of the buds falling out. Of course the downside to custom-fitted IEMs is that in addition to the cost of whatever drivers they use, they also require a visit to an audiologist for the custom fitting, and that adds significantly to their cost. At the present time, about $300 is the entry-level price for such IEMs, and they go up significantly from there. What if I told you about a service that offered some of the advantages of IEMs without requiring you to go to someone for the custom fitting? What if I told you that the cost is much less too? Intrigued? So was I, so I gave the InYourEar service a try, and here's what I found out.
- InYourEar isn't a monitor or earphone manufacturer, but a service that modifies your existing ear buds. The process is fairly straightforward. You fill out an order form and mail it in along with whatever earphones you'd like to have modified.
- Payment can be made through Paypal, credit card or personal check, but if you opt to pay with a check it will need to clear the bank first before your modified IEMs will be sent back to you.
- Options that are available include user-selectable color options, as well as your choice of cable configuration, with straight-down and over-ear placement of the earbud wires being offered. Since the ear buds I sent in for modification are red and black, I requested similar "swirled" colors, with a bit more red for the right ear and more black on the left to make them easier to visually identify.
- It took less than a week from the point I sent in the ear buds until they were returned to me. Most of that time involved the shipping, which was fairly fast because we're both located in California, so yours might take a bit longer, but the actual modification time was really fast - the earphones were only there for a day or so before being shipped back out.
- Here's a couple of photos of the earbuds as they appeared when I got them back. As you can see, the moldable material has been added around the housing of each ear bud and is ready to be shaped to fit the ears of the end user.
- Once you get the modified earphones back from InYourEar, they're ready for you to mold to the shape of your own concha cavum, the inner part of your pinna (outer ear) in the area closest to the ear canal. This is done by heating the moldable thermoplastic material with a hair dryer until it is soft and pliable.
- Using a pair of needle nose pliers to hold the ear bud and moldable material while you heat it with the hair drier can help keep your fingers from getting burned during the process. You can kind of tell when the material is getting soft because the appearance of it becomes glossier and wetter looking once it is.
- Once it's heated enough to be softened (which only takes a few minutes), you check to make sure it's not too hot to touch and then insert the ear bud into your ear and press the material to mold and conform it to the shape of your ear. Once you have the shape to your liking, pressing in on the ear bud itself and holding it for a few minutes helps to insure a tight seal that will be maintained as the product hardens and sets.
- You should leave the ear buds inserted for a good five minutes or more after molding them to shape to allow them to finish setting up and re-harden.
- Here's a couple of photos of the earphones after molding them to my ears.
- Pressing and holding the ear buds in as the material hardens also helps with the bass response. If you decide that you're unhappy with the fit, you can re-heat and reshape the material multiple times until you're satisfied that they fit and seal well and are comfortable and conform to the contours of your individual ears.
- A sheet with fully illustrated instructions is included when your earphones are returned to you. Many users will find watching the demo video (below) helpful too, but the process is fairly straightforward and easy to do.
- Also included with the returned earphones is a cool carrying case.
- The actual part that gets inserted into your external acoustic meatus (the ear canal) remains the same as it has always been. Unlike audiologist-molded IEMs, that part of the fit is non-customized and remains reliant on the fit and feel of whatever ear tips your earphones came with.
- There was some change in audio performance, with a noticeable increase in bass. This is most likely due to the improved seal and isolation from the modification. In my case, this was actually beneficial since the buds I sent in are a bit on the bright side, but if you have overly boomy earphones, you may not be as happy with the change.
- Some caution in storage is required. Don't leave the modified earphones sitting in a hot location, such as in your car on a hot day or the thermoplastic could melt.
The sound quality itself of whatever ear buds you submit for modification remains basically unchanged, although I did notice a significant increase in the quality of the seal that resulted in improved and increased bass response from a pair of ear buds that were previously somewhat bass-light. The better the buds you send in for modification, the better the sound quality of the final product is going to be because they are otherwise completely unchanged. Because of the improved fit and seal, the isolation is increased compared to unmodified ear buds. This makes it easier to monitor what you're doing onstage at lower (safer) levels while still being able to hear yourself clearly. Where the improvement really stands out is in fit and comfort. The inserts custom-shaped by you to conform to your own ears, which means not only are they more comfortable to wear for longer periods, they also tend to stay in place much better than the unmodified ear buds that simply insert into your ear canal.
While many people will appreciate the improvements that are offered on stage, there are also potential studio applications too. Engineers who want to check mixes on ear buds will appreciate the improved isolation and the ability to shut out distractions from others who may be in the room (band members who love to chat in the control room while the engineer is trying to mix, I'm looking in your direction…), and the improved isolation is also beneficial when trying to edit or mix with your laptop while on a noisy subway, tour bus or airliner.
So is this worth the asking price? I certainly think so. The quality of the modification work was solid and the fit is ultimately up to you - and it's really easy to redo it if it's not quite to your liking. The modified earbuds definitely have better isolation and outside noise attenuation, as well as a much more secure fit. They don't come out until you're ready to take them out. And of course, the price is much lower than what you'd have to pay to have an audiologist fit you for custom-made IEMs. You get most of the benefits of them, but for less than a third of the price. That sounds like a great deal to me! -HC-
InYourEar Custom Fit Modification for In-Ear Monitors ($89.00 MSRP, $79.00 "street")
InYourEar's product / service web page
You can purchase the InYourEar custom fit IEM modification service directly from the InYourEar's website or from their Reverb store.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.