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New Project: Custom Fit Earbuds

Combine custom molded earplugs with in-ear headphones for isolated hi-fi.

New Project: Custom Fit Earbuds

I’ve used quite a variety of sound-isolating personal audio gear; around-ear cans, in-ear buds, as well as active noise-canceling models. All of them posed problems for me in one way or another. Most often, it came down to issues with comfort and how well each design could maintain a good seal on my noggin.

I was excited to find out that there are custom-fit headphone services out there, but my enthusiasm withered upon learning the price for such a thing.

Luckily there are simple DIY custom-mold earplug kits available for relatively cheap, so I dug out my old pair of quality earbuds, ordered a kit, and well, put together a very simple but satisfyingly effective project.

Steps

Step #1:

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New Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Mix the two separate putties included with the earplug kit.
  • The earbuds I'm using are quite bulky, so I decided to use only half the amount specified by the kit's instructions (in other words, 1/4 of the total material for each ear). This leaves me enough to make another pair if need be.

Step #2:

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New Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Before proceeding with this, take into account the following considerations. If you are going to DIY instead of getting a professional (such as an audiologist) to make your custom devices then at least follow the follow steps
  • DO NOT ATTEMPT if you have ever had a mastoidectomy or any ear surgery or the putty will end up in a very bad place and will require surgery. Meningitis = VERY BAD.
  • Wait until the putty is definitely set; if it isn't then it may be left behind in your ear, setting yourself up for a visit to the emergency room.
  • When removing the mold from your ear, VERY SLOWLY release the seal around the top part of your ear and VERY SLOWLY twist the mold forwards and outwards. If you just pull it out then the suction can burst your eardrum, causing immense pain, possible loss in hearing, perhaps requiring EXPENSIVE surgery and a trip to the emergency room. Plus, you won't be able to get your ears wet until the perforation has healed or risk massive pain and infection.

Step #3:

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New Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Remove the rubber or foam sleeves from the earbuds and evenly press half of the putty mixture into each ear.
  • Insert the sleeveless earbuds into your putty-filled ears as you would normally wear them.

Step #4:

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New Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Wait at least 10 minutes as the mixtures cure and solidify.
  • Once they are fully cured, you should be able to remove the molds and earbuds together as one piece - though it's not a problem if they come out separately.

Step #5:

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New Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Trim the excess mold to expose the end of each earbud's stem/sound-pipe.
  • For comfort's sake, it's also a good idea to trim any abrupt edges that result.
  • And in the interest of safety - do remember to cut away from fingers (unlike me in this photo!)

Step #6:

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New Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit EarbudsNew Project: Custom Fit Earbuds
  • Try them on for a sound-check.
  • If all goes well - you're done! The small pouch included with the earplug kit makes for a decent (perhaps a bit snug) carrying case.
Collin Cunningham

Collin Cunningham

Born, drew a lot, made video, made music on 4-track, then computer, more songwriting, met future wife, went to art school for video major, made websites, toured in a band, worked as web media tech, discovered electronics, taught myself electronics, blogged about DIY electronics, made web videos about electronics and made music for them … and I still do!


  • Dzsefi

    that’s what I’m thinking of too – the liquidy material would just flow into the earbud, blocking the sound.

  • schlmeil

    yup, one of mine got putty in it, the other did not. Now I’m sitting here trying to get the solid putty out…

  • Mark

    Yes, I noticed that the earbud got putty on it before the putty had cured. I would suggest doing this in 2 steps; 1 make ear plugs, 2 fit phones to plugs.

  • Collin Cunningham

    Huh – wasn’t a problem with the shure E2Cs I used. Perhaps some designs have considerably larger openings than others. Also, I spent around 30secs or so pressing/molding the putty into my ears before inserting the sleeveless earbuds.

  • neilol

    Yeah I had a similar problem. My earbuds (Lenntek Sonix) have pretty stubby sound pipes so without the rubber they didn’t go very far into the earplug material. They work great but the isolation aspect is a bit less since I had to cut off quite a bit of earplug. As for blocking out putty, I just cut round pieces of masking tape to cover them (mine have a screen and not an open tube so I knew the putty would stick)

  • Josh Burroughs

    I had the same problem with my Shure SE115s I just couldn’t get the sound pipes centered at my ear canal. I was actually off so much I had to scrap the plugs. Least the kits are cheap, I’m going to order a couple more kits tonight and try drilling them out after curing instead.

  • Ari

    I just put a short (i cm) piece of plastic tubing over the end of the sound pipe. Happened that a piece from a roller ball pen cartridge was the right diameter. Put the silicone around that, and Bob’s your uncle, worked just fine.

  • http://www.custom-ears.com Rick Marchus

    You have a nice idea here, but this material is generally used for (temporary) impressions, and not meant to be a permanent product. I actually made my impressions out of the ‘basic A’ kit and sent them to custom-ears.com for a long lasting vinyl earbud set. So far, mine have lasted 3 years, through a few sets of headphones (they are custom molded for your particular headphones, so make sure you like your current headphone set) and still fit perfectly. The solid vinyl product has excellent isolating properties, and remains pliable for a long time, so they will remain comfortable for years of use. Check out Custom-Ears.com for a perfect set of earpieces that are worthy of your great headphones. They aren’t cheap, but they offer a 100% guarantee, so you won’t be risking anything to give them a try.

    • https://plus.google.com/113959581740686372414 Ian Cooper

      It might be good to point out that you are the owner of Custom-Ears.com so that readers will take your comment with the appropriate salt. The whole point of Collin’s post here is to offer an affordable DIY solution. Even if you have to re-make them every year, you still come out far ahead using the silicone putty.

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  • http://thentheres.wordpress.com lissidur

    This article changed my listening life. I had to experiment, but finally got a pair to fit perfectly. Even earbuds sound great. Thanks!

  • Guest

    Hey nice trick. It looks like a creative thing to do. In this way we can make any shape of earplugs. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.furnitureknowledge.com/ lizbyrdqi7

    Love my new earbuds! They look cool – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003HL091O/?&tag=429-20&ie=UTF8 and stay in my ears. They are soft rubber and don’t hurt me even if I am using them for an extended amount of time.

  • Dan Tauro

    Is it possible to create a plaster of paris cast of the original mold of your ear then produce as many as you like with a skin safe silicone?

  • http://psmay.com/ Peter S. May

    This is how I did it with InstaMorph (after accepting that IM is not a substance that is pre-approved for internal use). The result is fairly rigid; it blocks out noise pretty well without that perfect vacuum seal uncomfortably sucking on your eardrum.

    Start with earbuds that have a harpoon-like catch for keeping the pads on. (This makes the extra tubes unnecessary.) I used a pair of Skullcandy buds. Remove the stock pads.

    After softening a lump of IM and then allowing it to cool just enough not to burn you, stuff it into your ear. Even out the outer surface to be flat to your ear, and don’t force more than necessary into the ear canal.

    While it’s still soft, bring the earbud to your ear about where you’d place it if your ear weren’t stuffed, then press the bud into the IM.

    At this point the plastic is probably already cool enough to carefully take out of your ear without disturbing it too much, so do that and repeat for the other ear.

    After the pieces have adequately cooled, pop the earbuds out of the IM. This may require a little force or bending.

    To give the sound somewhere to go, a hole of about 1/8 in. diameter will need to be drilled from the earbud hole to the pointed part formed by the ear canal. This may leave behind some uncomfortable burrs which can be evened out by going over them a bit with a lighter.

    Finally, snap the buds back in. Because of the catch, the fit should be tight enough that the buds won’t fall out of the IM without a rather more-than-accidental force. Putting the whole assembly back into the ear may involve a little jiggling or twisting (ear canals are, after all, not perfectly straight).

    Enjoy!

  • Terryfic

    You can get a product called Amazing Mold Putty at Michael’s and other craft stores. It’s the same thing. People use it to make molds of buttons, seed pods, etc. for crafting. Costs about the same but you get at least 10X as much material. Also, it turns out a light yellow, which I find more subtle.

  • Jenny Watson

    latest collection of headphones and earphones,Find the best earphone reviews of 2014 here!

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  • Karol

    I know other stuff custom molded, they work pretty nice :)

  • Pingback: How to Make Custom Earbuds for Only $12 | CuffLinked Magazine()

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