7+ Best Custom in-ear monitors for Musicians and Audiophiles

Selection of custom in-ear monitors next to each other

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Best Custom in-ear Monitors

It’s been a long time coming, this post on the best custom in-ear monitors. I’ve put it off and put it off as there was always more appeal in pulling together recommendations on a Universal IEM list for singers, drummers and all the budget options out there.

I figured as universal IEMs are so much more accessible the appeal of a list with the best custom in-ear monitors would have less benefit for people.

But, here we are. I’ve already showcased companies where you can go to get your custom in-ear monitors from and also provided some help for beginners and tips on getting ear molds done.

So now it’s time to tackle the custom IEM list with as much gusto as I can. I am passionate about in-ear monitors and custom IEMs are like the Formula 1 of audiophile bliss. While sometimes the mold needs tweaking, once it’s done it’s all yours down to every curve.

In the last 10 years, I’ve watched so many in-ear monitor companies come to life as they have become more popular well beyond musicians and singers. Now audiophiles are adopting them as their portable listening perfection.

The driver configurations have also become quite astonishing. I blame Jerry Harvey for that when he came out with the JH Roxanne the idea of 12 BA drivers per side was not ridiculous anymore.

I had a set of the first generation JH Roxanne and they were nothing small in the ear, and still aren’t. Keep that in mind when shopping.

Some questions to ask yourself before choosing your CIEM:

  • How much money am I prepared to pay? (we’re only doing high-end in this post)
  • How many drivers do you need?
  • What will your source be and will impedance/resistance matter (ohms)?
  • Does design matter to you? Some of these companies, like Noble, are real IEM artisans
  • What is your primary use occasion – singing, drumming, live mixing, listening to music?

So, if you’re looking for the best custom in-ear monitors you can get your hands on, this list will showcase a really great selection. The truth is, there are so many companies it’s important to cut through the pretenders and reach the players.

For each represented company we’re putting forward their top of the line CIEM but most will also offer universal versions and more affordable custom in-ear options.

In no particular order:

1: Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver

Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver Custom In ear monitor
Alclair ESM Thirteen Driver

Drivers configuration:
4 x Balance Armature Drivers (BA) (Bass)
4 x BA (Mids) Drivers
1 x BA (Highs) Drivers
4 x Electrostatic Drivers

Other things of note:
4-Way Crossover
Fore Bore

Perfect for:
Full Band

Tech Specs
Noise Reduction: -26dB
30 Ohm resistance
110 dB Sensitivity

Alclair is a different custom in-ear manufacturer as they include electrostatic drivers in their CIEMS. This is unique as typically electrostatic drivers take some serious power to drive them.

Surprisingly, these only have a 30 Ohm impedance which means you don’t need a solid power amp or hefty belt pack to run them. You could even get away with your smartphone although audiophiles will usually extend their source with a DAP/DAC/Headphone Amp or similar.

With this range of drivers, it’s not hard to imagine how much headroom these things must have.

Most of all the soundstage should be wide open and really clearly separated.

While aimed at musicians and singers first and foremost there is no doubt that this driver configuration and price point will impress even hardy audiophiles.

Throw in the electrostatic drivers as a cherry on top of all the Balanced Armature drivers and audiophile fans of HiFi Man and STAX will surely be curious here.

2: JH Audio Layla

JH Audio Layla Custom in-ear monitor
JH Audio Layla

Drivers configuration:
4 x Balanced Armature Drivers (BA) – Bass
4 x BA Drivers – Mids
4 x BA Drivers – Treble

Other things of note:
4-Way Crossover
Triple Bore

Perfect for:

Tech Specs:
Impedance: 20 ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz-23 kHz
Sensitivity: 117 Db @ 1mW
Sound Isolation: -26 Db

At first, I was going to pick the Roxanne’s based on my ownership of the universal model but clearly, that would be to short change the evolution the Layla CIEM has gone through over the years.

This Custom in-ear has been tuned and tuned to perfect by Jerry Harvey and is the pinnacle selection from his range.

A unique feature of JH Audio in-ear monitors is the Variable Bass Attenuator. This allows you to tune the bass in the CIEM to your preferred levels, just with the twist of a dial. You can increase or decrease bottom-end bass response from flat (0) right up to +15dB.

It’s something you have to experience to see how cool this feature is. Each JH Audio unit with VBA comes with a small screwdriver so you can adjust it as you like. If you lose the included hardware you can always use a small screwdriver or similar.

JH Audio have an epic reputation in the pro audio and musician/singer space so you’re dealing with a company led by someone who is considered the inventor of the modern in-ear monitor.

3: Noble Audio Prestige Kahn Custom in-ear Monitor

Noble Audio Prestige Custom Kahn - best custom in-ear monitors
Noble Audio Prestige Custom Kahn

Drivers configuration:
1 x 10mm dynamic driver
4 x BA drivers
1 x 10mm Piezoelectric driver

Perfect for:

Tech Specs:
Tech specs from Noble are hard to come by but we’d estimate:
Impedance: 20-30 ohms
SPL: 105-110dB

Noble can only be described as one of the most artistic CIEM companies around. They are also one of the older, more experienced companies. Dr John Moulton has a long impressive history in the audiophile world which is where he made his name early on with Heir Audio.

Noble Audio has always focused on HiFi enthusiasts and audiophiles first and foremost. That’s not to say they are not perfect for live musician use, just a little bit reversed from what most in-ear monitor companies have done, and are doing.

No cast acrylic or 3D printed shells on this CIEM. The Prestige Custom Khans are carved from solid materials.

The driver configuration stands out from the crowd with the less is more and quality matters configuration. Where Alclair plays with electrostatic, Noble (Wizard) play with a Piezoelectric driver.

This is considered a Tri-level Hybrid with its three-driver configurations.

Noble’s reputation precedes them and while their prices are high, if you have the money it could be worth a go.

4: 64 Audio A18s Custom in-ear Monitor

64 Audio A18s Custom in-ear Monitor
64 Audio A18s

Drivers configuration:
1 x Tia BA – Treble
1 x BA – Highs Mids
8 x BA – Mids
8 x BA – Bass

Other things of note:
4 Way Crossover

Perfect for:

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 106 dB/mW @ 1kHz @ 1mW (84mV)
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz
Impedance: 8Ω (easy to drive)

I started selling 64 Audio when they were transitioning from 64 Ears to 64 Audio. I was impressed with their ADEL technology and when they parted ways with ADEL their APEX technology seemed even more impressive.

You can swap out the APEX modules based on your preference and this comes with two.

I love that the A18s come with a humidifier in the package. At this price, I think all custom in-ear monitor companies should include this kind of hardware to protect your investment.

64 Audio have always boasted more tech than most IEM companies and for many, they always land as an end-game CIEM. Audio is subjective so this might change for different consumers.

18 BA drivers per ear is not a small package so. you can expect to be noticed in these. If you have small ears, think long and hard about how far out of your ears these might need to go to fit the drivers in.

The A18s also come in a universal, the U18, if you’re too scared to commit to a custom model.

5: Empire Ears Odin Custom in-ear Monitors

Empire Ears Odin Custom in-ear Monitors
Empire Ears Odin Custom()

Drivers configuration:
2 x W9 Subwoofers – Bass/Sub Bass
5 x BA – 2 x Low-Mid, 2 x Mid, 1 x High Mids
4 x Electrostatic – 2 x High, 2 x Super High

Other things of note:
7 Way Crossover
Japanese designed cable in collaboration with PWAudio and PENTACONN

Perfect for:
Full Band

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 100kH
Impedance: 3 Ohms @ 1Khz

The first comment here is that these are big. Like the A18s, these are not for small ears or you must at least have to be prepared to send in photos of your molds prior to sending them in as Empire Ears need space to build out such a lot of BA drivers into the space.

I love the storytelling element of this CIEM. Odin is the name and the finish is called Bifrost. How cool is that? No, it won’t help the sound quality but it will certainly have some negative placebo affect mentally.

The Odin cable is a partnership between PWAudio and PENTACONN of Japan. Even in our list of the best XLR cables we found Japan quality topped the list with the MOGAMI cable. That to say Japan has a reputation fo excellent cable manufacturing.

The high end is represented really well in these thanks for the electrostatics drivers powering the upper treble frequencies.

There is a built in transformer to overcome the challenges driving ES drivers which Empire Ears have done a good job of. The challenge with electrostatic drivers is there need for power and their inability to function well with other drivers in the same arrays.

EE has overcome this with their proprietary EIVEC technology.

6: UE Pro – UE Live

UE Pro UE Live
UE Pro UE Live

Drivers configuration:
8 x Balanced Armature (BA) Drivers

Other things of note:
5 Way Crossover

Perfect for:
Full Band
Mixing / Mastering / Foldback Engineers

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 120 dB @ 1 kHz, 1mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1Khz
Noise isolation: -26db (ambient noise)

Ultimate Ears and UE are owned by Logitech. They were purchased back in 2008 from Jerry Harvey who now owns JH Audio, previously mentioned on this list.

There is one thing that UE Pro get’s right that makes it hard for some of the boutique CIEM places to compete and that is their ability to mass-produce and lower the prices of their products. That in part will be because of the huge financial backing from Logitech (I’ll now wait for a clarifying notice from their accountants explaining they operate separate P&L…).

But, in truth, UE Pro doesn’t need to be propped up with all that IP and Brand recognition behind, what can only be described as, stellar CIEMs.

Their UE 18+ have been audiophile magic – like a glitter bomb went off in your ear canal. Their UE Live was launched a few years ago aimed at live performance musicians but there is plenty here for audiophiles.

If the UE Live is pricier than the UE 18+ so if you’re more audiophile than live musician / singer, they are still a very, very attractive option.

7: Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM

Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM
Campfire Audio Solstice CIEM

Drivers configuration:
5 x Balanced Armature (BA) Drivers

Other things of note:
Beryllium cable points
MMCX Connectors

Perfect for:
Audiophiles & Music Lovers
Full Band
Mixing / Mastering / Foldback Engineers

Tech Specs:
Sensitivity: 112.8 dB SPL/mW
Frequency Response: 10Hz–28 kHz
Impedance: 12.8 Ohms @ 1kHz

Half the fun of owning your own custom in-ear company is naming them. Campfire Audio with their cool semi-hipster logo is no exception to this joyous nomenclature event.

What I love about Campfire CIEM is that they have 2 core offerings, at the time of publishing anyway. The two models are so different it makes it easy to choose between the two. One is a dynamic driver CIEM and the other uses BA driver.

The first is the Equinox which is the dynamic driver model. The second, and my choice as I like the way the balanced armatures are collated is the Solstice.

The sound signature pushes the mids forward which is a personal favourite sound sculpting outcome of mine. I love to hear the crunch of the valves of the guitar amp and the spit on the microphone of the singer.

Their Universal range has a very cool angular design aesthetic if you decide to opt for that rather than other custom in-ear monitors

The last thing I like about the Solstice is the MMCX connectors. Most custom IEMs use 2 Pin connectors which many believe to offer better sound transferrence. I like MMCX as they have a solid connection and there is far less risk of the earbuds dropping off the cables when you take them out and hang them around your neck…which you will do.

Buyer’s Guide

Custom in-ear monitors are worth their weight in gold. They suit your specifications down to the ground, and who doesn’t like that? As the name suggests, custom in-ear monitors, or CIEMs, are earphones that are fitted specifically to their owner’s ear. In comparison to universal-fit in-ear monitors, this eliminates the need for ear tips, enables optimal driver placement for better sound quality, and leads to improved isolation and comfort.

Below, we’ll look at some crucial characteristics that every CIEM needs to stand out from others and ensure you have a truly unique, custom experience. Use this buyer’s guide to save time and learn the important consideration points when choosing CIEMs.

Nozzles and Ear Tips

The nozzle is the portion of the IEM that rests in your ear canal. The length of these will vary. Earpiece sockets can either be flush mounted or recessed; this is where the cable will connect. To help you achieve the ideal fit and sound, ear tips are available in a variety of materials and sizes.

You have other options besides the ear tips that come with your IEMs, so it’s important to research them. Foam and silicone are the two most popular choices. You can select whichever option for your custom IEMs that makes you feel more at ease.

What The Body Is Made of

Numerous materials, including metal, resin, plastic, carbon fiber, wood, etc., are used to make in-ear monitors. Your overall experience may be greatly impacted by these materials. For instance, IEMs with metal bodies are very strong but their weight can wear on your ears.

IEMs made of carbon fiber, on the other hand, are lighter, more durable, and don’t rust. However, they are much more expensive than those made of plastic and resin. Additionally, keep in mind that some in-ear monitors may not fit your ears comfortably and feel irritating because they come in so many different shapes and sizes.

Soundstage and Audio Imaging

While a graph can help you determine the general sound signature of the IEMs you want, it cannot capture the soundstage or the quality of the audio. You can either trust the opinions of reviewers or give them a shot yourself to learn more about them.

Your music will sound more “spaced out” or 3D, as if you’re in a hall, if the soundstage is larger. Every beat will sound distinct if you can place each musical instrument and the singer precisely where they are in that fictitious 3D space.

Type of Drivers

Custom in-ear monitors are available with dynamic and balanced armature drivers, along with other uncommon types, whereas regular earphones are only available with dynamic drivers (the most common type). For better sound reproduction, some IEMs even have a hybrid of multiple drivers.

Multiple driver units are frequently found inside each earpiece of high-end IEMs. Please keep in mind, though, that more drivers do not always equate to better sound quality. More so, it depends on how well the drivers were developed and tuned.

Summing it all up

The build of most of the custom IEMs on this list is made in the USA. I’m not sure how that affects price considering comparative units made overseas. For each, there is a strong artisanal element to both the design, build and technology that goes into each.

Each company works hard to develop proprietary technologies that improve the audio production for its users. Competition is a good thing in this space.

The build quality, while supported by machining (3D printing most common), is usually meticulously finished by hand, as is the external finish.

CIEMs for me are the pinnacle of the personal audio and live monitoring industry. They represent innovation, artistic invention and the quest to create the perfect audio experience.

If you have the budget, you can try more than one.

The only suggestion I would have is to consider trying a set of affordable universal in-ears before you pony up for a set of customs. This way you can get a feel for what they are like to wear on stage and whether they work for you.

Any questions? Fire away in the comments below.

Endless hours of experimentation, professional work, and personal investment in Home Theatre, Hi-Fi, Smart Home Automation and Headphones have come to this.

Former owner of Headphones Canada, a high-end headphone specialty retailer.

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2 thoughts on “7+ Best Custom in-ear monitors for Musicians and Audiophiles”

  1. Mark – thanks for the insight- i have been into great sounding gear since I mowed lawns to buy my first speakers . We have similar interests. I have hearing loss in my right ear from a child infection so I have spent tons on focal room speakers. At 59 I now would like some really good sound on my morning walks or when family gets loud and I’m beat from work. I am looking at focal Stella and this morning I ordered ue live but after reading your stuff should I go jh ? I also wonder if one of these houses could do something with my near deaf right ear ? I plunked down $1500 this morning taking advantage of the sale – thoughts here? My name is mark too

    1. Hi Mark – sorry for the delay in reply. I have more personal experience with JH Audio but equally have as many friends, or more, that are using UE. Many of them are sponsored but rest assured both are impressive CIEMs (the focal Stella are also awesome). I’d love to hear about your experience once they arrive but if you are going custom you’ll need molds done so that will take some time. If you do get molds done with an audiologist talk to them about balanced power/amp options that will allow you to control the left and right channel volume separately – you might already know about those options but wanted to mention it.

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