In-ear monitors are great, until the rubber sleeves stop being comfortable. Here’s a quick and cheap way to make disposable ones using foam ear plugs so you can stay comfortable while listening.
What You’ll Need
Disclaimer: This project uses sharp tools and involves sticking things into your ears so be careful, and be smart! We’re not responsible for any mishaps!
- Foam ear plugs. I used some cheap ones from Amazon (AO Safety Disposable Ear plugs 80-pk).
- Pen tip, rotary tool, or other sharp bore-like object.
This requires that you have earbuds that have a stem on them, like my Shure E3Gs below.
Punching a Sound Hole
The foam plugs will block outside noise, but we need to make a hole for the sound to come through and so they fit onto the earphones. You can use a pen tip that’s slightly sharpened, a rotary tool with a small bore tip, or anything of that nature.
Here’s a size comparison of the tools. Basically, you want to make a hole that is smaller than the stems on your earphones. That way, they’ll be snug and won’t come off in your ear. Let’s start by taking an ear plug and flattening it.
You can cut it to an appropriate length for your ears with the scissors. My ears aren’t very big, so I just cut them in half.
Wait for them to puff up back to their normal size and then flatten them the other way, so they’re a round dot.
Next, take your hole-making instrument and put it to work. I used a sharpened pen tip and punched it.
You could also use a hobby knife and make a small square instead of punching a hole as well. Here’s what the finished product looks like.
I went back and punched holes in the other halves of the ear plugs so they wouldn’t go to waste.
You should be able to just slip them onto your earphones, albeit with a little effort.
The more snugly they fit onto your earphones, the more outside noise will be sealed out. It also helps keep them from slipping off into your ear that way.
Squish them, put them in your ears, and wait for them to expand and create a seal before you let go. Ear plugs are pretty cheap, and you can make a dozen of these in a few minutes. It’s a great alternative to the rubber and silicone tips that come bundled. I have relatively small ears and one side is slightly larger than the other, so I can only keep these in a for about two hours before I need to take them out. I’ve been using the foam tips several hours a day for a few days and I can definitely vouch for the difference.
Update: Some of our readers contributed their own tips to make the process easier. Robert Wictorzon’s method works particularly well on soft foam:
I use a heated needle for the hole making part.
Another reader, frater mus, has a unique way of making drilling easier:
I find it easier to drill if I:
1. squeeze them under water a few times then freeze them.
2. drill out cleanly
3. allow to thaw and dry out
Having tried both of these methods, I can say they work really well depending on what kind of materials your ear plugs are made from. Thanks as always to our helpful readers!
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 03/10/11