There’s little worse than an amazing set of in-ear monitors that constantly fall out, and without that seal they’re not doing their job right. With some silicone putty, however, you can get a fit that seals right and locks tight.
If you’re buying a really high-end set of in-ear monitors, like Shures or Westones, then odds are you can afford the $200 custom silicone molds. The process is long and involved, including an appointment with an audiologist. Now, I’m sure that if you’re dropping that kind of money on a custom fit, they’ll be great, but what about the rest of us? If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, then luckily making your own isn’t too difficult.
There’s a lot of information on the web about this, some of it conflicting and some of it unanimous. This was more of a trial run for me; I wanted to do this on a cheap pair of headphones instead of my expensive Shures just in case something went wrong. In the guide, I’ll give the technique which yielded the better results. In the Results section, I’ll point out what I did differently so you get an idea of what (not) to do. If you’re familiar with the process and want to see those points, feel free to skip to that section. If you’re considering doing this yourself, though, be sure to read everything more than once.
- DIY ear plug kit. I used the Radian brand .
- In-ear headphones
- A hobby knife
- Clean ears and hands
Silicone putty is great and it’s easy to get a hold of. Obviously we’ll want the body/food-safe kind, and luckily for us, there are plenty of DIY ear plug kits around. After some searching, I decided on the Radian brand, because it was cheaply found on eBay ($14) and got good reviews from a ton of places. Because I wasn’t sure how the process would go, I also bought a cheap pair of Skullcandy headphones so in case there were problems I wouldn’t ruin my Shures.
Disclaimer: In this project, you’re sticking something in your ear. You’re also using sharp tools. As long as you’re very careful and use some common sense, you’ll be fine. All the same, there are hazards to be wary of so you’re assuming responsibility if anything goes wrong down the line. Again, it’s highly unlikely, but there are risks, so read all of the instructions several times before you do it yourself.
How To Mold
Get your earphones ready by taking off the sleeves.
These Skullcandys look different from my Shures, and the little valley will ensure that the plugs don’t come off of the headphones.
Open up the ear plug package and take a look at the contents.
Read the instructions. Even though you’re following this guide, it’s important to read what they gave you as well, especially if your kit is a different brand.
Here are the separated putties. The putty comes in two separated gobs. When you knead the two parts together, that’ll cause the reaction which will allow it to set. If your ears are small enough, you might be able to use half for both ears, so you can create a backup set.
Once you knead the two together, it will set whether you use it or not, so approximate as best you can and whatever you don’t use, keep as separate and store away.
It’ll start off striated, but as you knead, it’ll blend into one solid color. It’ll also warm up to body temperature, which will make it more comfortable when you insert it.
Now we’re ready to go. Find something you can put between your teeth so that you can keep your mouth open. I used a mouthwash cap.
Pull up and away on the top part of your ear. This will make it easy for the air to escape when you put the putty in.
Slowly and carefully put the putty in your ear, pressing lightly but firmly. Fold in the excess so that it it creates a good fit.
If there’s too much, take some of it off. A little less is good; remember, you sill have to put the headphones in.
After you created a good fit, insert your headphones, again slowly but firmly. Press the putty in all around so that you get a good seal.
After about 10 minutes, the silicone will have set enough so that you can remove the molds. DO THIS VERY SLOWLY. You’ll want to get a grip and very slowly twist them out of your ear. If you remove them too quickly, you run the risk of popping your eardrum. This is not only damaging and painful, but you can run the risk of an infection, so please, do take your time and do this carefully.
Let them sit for a few hours so that they fully set.
Weird hunh? The two projections in the above picture will actually lock into the outside ear folds so that they don’t slip out.
Tweaking the Molds
Now that they’ve set, we want to make holes so that the sound comes through. Very carefully take out your headphones if you can.
Use a sharp hobby knife and cut into the mold. Try to make a circular hole so that the sound can come out.
You can also try it from the outside.
Here’s what the finished hole will look like.
Put them in and try to see if you can hear well. If not, you may need to cut off a bit more, like so:
For the sake of experimentation, I molded both of my ears differently. For my left ear, I stuck the putty in and kept my mouth closed. For my right ear, I stuck the putty in and kept my mouse open. The professional custom mold packages tell your audiologist to keep your mouth open while they let the foam they use set. I wanted to see if there was any practical benefit to this firsthand, and there was. It makes sense, as your ear canal changes shape depending on your jaw’s position, and to me, there was a much better seal on my right ear than my left. Definitely take the molds with your mouth open.
I was initially worried that putty would stick too tightly to the plastic on the earphones, which is why I didn’t try this with my Shures. They have a long tube and I didn’t want to get it stuck inside. The silicone mold doesn’t actually stick to the plastic, but there’s definitely a tight fit. When I do my Shures, I’ll be sure to carefully plug the tubes before I put them in the putty. The little ridge/valley in the Skullcandies make it so that they won’t separate easily from the finished mold, which can be good or bad depending on your preference.
All in all, they seal well, are really comfortable and sound great.
If this isn’t the type of project for you, take a look at How To Make Disposable Sleeves for Your In-Ear Monitors.
Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.
- Published 03/31/11