DIY or Buy: Custom-Fit Earbuds

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.)

24 thoughts on “DIY or Buy: Custom-Fit Earbuds

  1. Tryg says:

    Sugru does the same process easier than the two part silicon soultion.
    The Process:
    1) Buy Sugru
    2) Buy Earphones or use ones you already have.
    -Perferably ones with silicon ear bulbs
    3) Place ear phones in your ears
    4) Open Sugru: Small packs work best
    5) Split in half and roll into a slug looking blob
    6) Place the slug in your ear cannal
    7) Push into you ear cannal while making sure that your ear is comfortable during the process by moving the earphone and the Sugru to make the fit comfortable
    8) Leave in your ear for about a half an hour then take out and hang them for 24 to sure up


  2. karizmatic says:

    question for those who have made their own: does it stay on while you’re exercising? i love these kinds of earbuds because they are so compact, but they slip out everytime i work out – wondering if the custom fit makes that any better or do i just need to get some that actually hook onto the back of my ear/head?

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      Haven’t used them for exercising – but I’m betting they’d stay put.

      1. JasonD says:

        I made my own custom fit ones using the instructions on Make (or maybe it was Instructables), I found they were comfy, but I could never maintain a good seal during use. They never really sucked in tight to my ears. If I kept them pushed in using my fingers it was great, but let go, and they come out a half millimeter; just enough to make the fit actually worse than the commercial silicone flap style earbuds that resist pullout.

      2. Keith says:

        Thanks Collin for the awesome info! I made a pair following your instructions months ago and they stay on like a charm even during running. They provide excellent sound deadening even with out music on and for “deep in a cave silence” you can add hearing protectors on top of them.

  3. Steve Hoefer (@Grathio) says:

    The great part about the DIY version is you get to choose the quality, price, and attributes of the headphones, you’re not limited to their two (rather pricey) options. If you want to upgrade the cheapo pair that came with your MP3 player you can. Of you want a microphone to use them with a phone, you can. If you want active noise canceling, you can have that too.

  4. Mike says:

    I kind of wish I’d known about the DIY silicone available before shelling out hundreds of bucks for the Sensaphonics brand sleeves… But I guess I wouldn’t have known the process either. I think I’ll try some now that I know.

  5. Mike says:

    I can attest for the fit of the professionally done ones, they do stay in better, if they’re made well. I am having to send mine back because the cord comes out at a strange angle which puts a torque on the mold and tends to break the seal. Not pull them out all the way, mind you, but once the drums start leaking in, you can’t hear anything else so for my purposes they may as well have come all the way out.

    1. Mike says:

      P.S. My cord does come over the ear to get cinched up at the back of my head, that’s the suggested method for the pro kind… If I made some for consumer earbuds like skull candy, I’d probably want to do the same for them as well. Once they’re cinched up, turning your head or shaking doesn’t transfer as much movement to the earbuds themselves.

  6. James Nixon says:

    If you want to make moulded earphones like the pros do it, check out this thread over at head-fi.

  7. Travis says:

    I use a pair of JVC marshmallows (which I like the sound and feel of pretty well). 2 main problems; the foam hardens up over time (Running them under warm water softens them up, but then you have to wring the water out or have squishy ear) and they also will pull out if the cord gets knocked around. I solved the pulling out problem by using a hair snap clip, and clip the wire to the collar of my shirt. Keeps them from getting bumped out, but yet if the cord gets caught, pulls out of the clip before ruining the wire.

  8. RoyFOMR says:

    Hi Collin, I’m a very recent tuner-in to Makezine but, somehow, my first port of call was to your videos. Dunno how but that’s how it happened and I loved every moment of the odd dozen or so of the superbly quirky and enormously informative chapters of every one!
    Your sense of humour (humor!*- apology accepted) indicated, that somewhere in your DNA bank you had overmuch of a UK genetic dysfunction!
    Probably, as a small UK electronics company, we couldn’t afford even your dihydrogen monoxide bills I’d love to find out if you could talk to us about using your personality and etc. to have a bit of fiscal fun!
    Yours sincerely – Roy Senior –

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