DIY or Buy: Custom-Fit Earbuds

My inbox is peppered with emails from PR firms offering samples of new products for review, a situation common to us bloggy folk, I suppose. Rarely are the items in question relevant to our beloved practice of making, but once in a while, I’m presented with the prospect of checking out a shiny new commercial version of a device I’ve previously crafted/made/hacked-together myself.

Most recently, an offer to demo a set of custom-fit earbuds caught my eye, and instead of hitting the delete key as usual, I thought it might be interesting to compare these to my own DIY mod/hack which aimed to produce the same functionality. Comparing a commercial product to one you made yourself may not be a fair or straightforward process, but it addresses a question I ask myself quite a bit these days: “DIY or Buy?”

The Buy:

The Sculpted Eers PCS-100 Custom-Molded Earphones product consists of a surprisingly large-fitting headset temporarily attached to a pair of in-ear earbuds. Each “bud” is surrounded by a rubber bladder ready to be filled with silicone compound via the fitting headset.

The DIY:

Making your own custom-fit earbuds can be done a number of different ways, but I’ll be using the ones I made here for this comparison. I used an old pair of Shure E2C in-ear earbuds for the basis of my version, along with a 2-part silicone from Radians.

Price vs Process: The Eers PCS-100 retail for $199 – not cheap, but also not surprising when you consider what’s included. The fitting process was quick & easy, but also quite wasteful as I’m now left with a relatively large plastic headset to dispose of – ick. On the other hand, the DIY version requires the insertion of silicone compound directly into the ear canal (with no retaining bladder) – a process which is understandably unappealing to some folks. The remaining process of drilling out the sound hole can be a bit fiddly if you aren’t experienced with using a Dremel (but if you’re reading this, you probably are, right?)

yours truly, intently focused on getting a good fit

Functionality: The resulting fit of the fitted Eers custom-fit fittiness is well – a nice comfy fit. They’re slightly more difficult to insert than my DIY pair, but they’re also much easier to wear in public without attracting undue attention (still regretting my choice of blue silicone for the DIY).

Sound isolation seems equal between both pairs, though noisy city living always leaves me wanting more of it. Sound quality is a much different story. The Eers PCS-100 feature “enhanced bass response,” a feature I kind of loathe in audio devices. The E2Cs used in my DIY pair have a much more even frequency response and therefore sound dramatically cleaner, less boomy, and more suited to my use as in-ear “monitors.” I’m fairly certain the Eers were delivering some nice treble, but it was hard to judge accurately with all the extra low-end mucking about. I’m aware that some humans prefer buds that go *boom* … just not mine you see. I did enjoy listen to some music with the Eers, but given the choice, I much prefer the sound of DIY.

Prolonged usage of the Eers resulted in very little physical discomfort, likely because of the small amount of material which comes in contact with the ear. As you can see, my DIY pair is decidedly less elegant in this regard, more or less a big gobby cement job which after very long periods of use, tends to hurt my outer earfolds(?) a bit. So there’s that issue to consider.

Verdict: As mentioned earlier, this is not exactly a fair comparison, mainly because whatever earbuds you decide to use in a homebrew iteration will obviously effect the resulting sound quality in a big way. That being said, I prefer my DIY pair. They’re less compact, less attractive, and less comfortable for long sessions, but the ability to reuse my old favorite earbuds, save ~$100, and avoid throwing out an elaborate fitting device goes a long way in my book.

(It’s worth noting that Sonomax sells a another version of the Eers which features a balanced frequency response, but the higher asking price of $299 would likely negate any audio improvement in respect to this comparison.)