Looking for a company that does custom in-ear monitors and you want to know who’s best?
I started using IEMs in about the late 90s. I started selling in-ear monitors in the early 2000’s. I bought my first set of custom in-ear monitors around 2010.
My history with custom in ears has meant I’ve seen them start as a medical looking device with foam tips and evolve into the finely crafted units they are today.
Even the old way of getting ear molds done is changing as companies come up with 3D scanning technology to map your ear and produce a 3D printing unit that is perfect for your personal physical ear shape.
Also read: Beginners guide to in-ear monitors
In the last 10 years, a few companies have entered the market with amazing and competitive products to challenge the ‘OG’ or original in-ear monitor companies. While many people are moving to true wireless earbuds and wireless headphones, there are still many audiophiles and musicians who need and want to, seek out the best IEMs.
There are custom in-ear monitors and Universal IEMs. See more on the difference in this post.
If you just want some cheap IEMs that are not custom check out our list.
If you’re in the market for some custom in ears then this list should help you narrow down your choices of manufacturers and what they offer.
What’s the benefits of a custom IEM?
We’ve covered some of this in our beginnings guide to IEMs and a little bit of the history of where and why in-ear monitors were invented.
Essentially, custom IEMs provide an earbud mold that is shaped perfectly for your ears. This means a better fit, better sound and often more comfort.
It can also mean because they are seated better in your ear they are less likely to leak sound or fall out while in use.
The key benefit is hearing protection. If you’ve ever stood in front of a stack of Vox guitar amps or an Ampeg bass stack then you know it’s important to have some hearing protection and be able to hear what you’re singing or playing.
For music lovers just commuting, the sound isolation is a real bonus.
The build quality is usually exceptional and they are personal to you, so you don’t have to share them.
Also read: Getting custom IEM molds fitted
Customer In Ear Monitor Manufacturers
That’s enough background. Let us know if you have any questions but for now, let’s get into the list of companies that make custom in ear monitors and where to buy them.
This list is not exhaustive and only lists companies I have tried, sold or at least been in touch with at some time or other over the last decade.
If you’re a CIEM manufacturer and want to make the list then get in touch through Make Life Click. If there are incorrect details in the list, let me know also. Things change.
This is list is in no particular order. The interweb requires me to do this in some order in the list.
Company Name: Jerry Harvey Audio LLC
JH Audio is a company founded by Jerry Harvey. Considered by many the ‘OG’ (original) in-ear monitors inventor.
In the late 80’s he was the fold-back engineer for Van Halen and when the band realised they couldn’t hear and were damaging their hearing Jerry got to work and one of the earliest custom in-ear monitors was invented. He then named his company Ultimate Ears but sold it later on (more in a minute).
Of all the musicians I have played with over the years, JH Audio were one of the most common custom in-ears I came across.
JH Audio is always working to improve their in-ear line up so while they have some staple winners, they are always pushing for better and better.
The really solid performers in the JH Audio range are the JH13 and JH16. In more recent years the Angie, Lola and Roxanne have come to the custom market.
If you have the money, these are delightful to get hold of.
Company Name: Westone Audio by Lucid Audio (Hearing Lab Technology, LLC)
Westone started with a speciality in medical earpieces and moldings back in the late 1950s. It was their skills in creating moulded ear casings that led Jerry Harvey to work with them in the early days when he owned Ultimate Ears. Things go complicated and Ultimate Ears and Westone parted ways with some help from the courts. That’s all history now. Westone sold its audio business to Lucid Audio in 2020. Karl Cartwright should get a mention here too, google him.
Personally, I am a big fan of the Westone range. The W range has a great fit, comfort and the UM Pro range is excellent for a universal IEM. So, their custom range is still somewhat influenced by the early work Westone did with Jerry Harvey and still benefits from that, especially the ES range.
Their ES range is the higher end and better-known CIEM range. They are seriously good looking and the molding results are always celebrated by owners – that is people always find the finished fit really good.
Personally, I own the full universal range of W and UM Pro series but will get an ES done if I start playing live again.
UE Pro (Ultimate Ears)
After Jerry Harvey sold Ultimate Ears 2007 for a mere $34 million to Logitech of all companies, they continued on and went from strength to strength. They’ve always been very good at connecting with artists and marketing themselves well. They have also spend a lot on ear molding technologies and tried to enter the digital work by leveraging the technology well.
The UE FITS range is a great example of trying to take custom molded earbuds for the masses.
UE Pro is the professional end of Ultimate Ears (UE) so don’t expect you’re dealing with the same company that sells Bluetooth speakers that good looking college kids throw around at pool parties.
UE Pro only do custom in-ear monitors.
In my head, the UE LIVE might be my end game IEM but then, I look at the ES and Noble and 64 Audio and….this addiction is a problem.
UE Pro are very experienced, very well respected and produce an excellent custom IEM. You’re in good company.
Company Name: 64 Audio (formerly 64 Ears)
64 Audio first came to my attention (while still called 64 Ears) when they were selling custom IEMs with ADEL technology. ADEL allowed for air release from the IEM in such a way as to reduce the pressure on the ear and allow a more open, breathable and less damaging listening experience. This, for any musician, was enough to peak interest and get a lot of buy-in from us consumers.
Eventually, like JH Audio and Westone, ADEL and 64 Audio parted ways. In the words of Vitaliy the founder of 64 Audio “The different visions that 64 Audio and Asius had for ADEL inevitably led us to a fork in the road.”
The good news is 64 Audio went to work and created a similar but different technology called apex. Apex does the same work in relieving pneumatic pressure in the sealed ear canal.
Now, with 64 Audio there is some debate on apex technology. If you consider sound in IEMs is created by air pressure, what happens if you let that pressure out? If you have ever used an IEM that doesn’t have a good seal you know all the bass disappears. But, have no fear – ^$ Audio nailed it and have been producing very popular custom IEMs, at powerful prices for many years now.
If you’ve never heard of them well, Beyonce, Bon Jovi and John Mayer have…so there.
Company Name: Campfire Audio (Audio Line Out – ALO Audioi)
My first play with Campfire Audio was in Yodobashi Camera store in Akihabara. They had a ‘locked’ cabinet in amongst more headphones, IEMs and earphones than I’ve ever seen in my life.
Campfire has a boutique feel to them but they are certainly big enough that you can have confidence giving their in-ear monitors a go. Their product release schedule is unrelenting which is excellent for those of us with an addiction to the pursuit of audio bliss.
Interestingly they do have dynamic driver custom IEMs which not all companies spend time on. Their Equinox 10mm DD is a single driver custom IEM with a decent price on it while the Solstice runs a typical 5 x BA configuration.
Company Name: Noble Audio (Wizard also of Heir Audio fame)
To add yet another interesting drama to the world of IEMs (I should write a book) Noble was co-founded by John Moulton (a.k.a. The Wizard and now Dr. Moulton.). A popular and regular contributor to audio forums and communities, John first set up a company called Heir Audio in partnership with what I believe was a Chinese company. John moved to China, designed the IEMs and the other partners in Heir Audio produced them.
They were, and are really good IEMs, and the audiophile community, including me, celebrated his creations. But like all great custom in-ear companies, John and partners had to separate. I’ll have to remain ‘Switzerland’ on this one but it sounds like it got ugly.
Jim, his brother is also a great guy. Just a lovely company to deal with and serious about Audio.
I own a custom pair of Heir Audio 8.0 CIEM and love them. They’re a little too warm for me but heck, they’re nearly 10 years old so we’ve come a long way since then.
Noble was raised from the ashes of Heir Audio like a phoenix and has continued to soar on customer adoration and critical acclaim.
Not only are they the most artistic IEMs you can buy, but they are also made by Wizard who, with his audio engineering degree, makes one incredible custom in-ear monitor.
I’d been considering selling a kidney to get the PRESTIGE CUSTOM KHAN IEMs but then I noticed they take AfterPay at checkout so I can pay it off over time instead. Thanks, John.
Company Name: Alclair Audio
To be honest, this is one company I’ve not had anything to do with professionally, as a musician, or as a headphone and IEM retailer. I’ve heard of them around and they are certainly not new to the market.
I was more excited when I saw Ice Nine Kills on their Artists list. Being a big fan of an artist of a company always instils you with some immediate ‘loyalty’ to a brand.
They, like most, include the instructions on how to get your ear molds done, which is possible at most all audiologists.
If you’re a Church or Brand/Artist, you can get a discount on a multi-item order so it’s worth reaching out to the team there for your options. Andy Swanson from Alclair reached out to clarify that for me so seek him out if necessary.
They along with JH Audio have a pretty good IEM vacuum which you might want to keep your stuff in good condition. Moisture is the biggest killer of custom IEMs.
What differentiates Alclair most is its commitment to electrostatic drivers in some of their IEMs. It’s not just DD and BA drivers here. The challenge with electrostatic drivers, as you’ll see with the Shure KSE1500, is that they are really high impedance and need some serious oomph to make them sing. Alclair has overcome this with an internal transformer. This removes the need for an external power pack.
They also have a good range of hybrid and straight balanced armature (BA) packed custom in-ear monitors.
Company Name: Sensaphonics
Sensaphonics are another company that make great IEMs but could use a little help with their design and marketing (call a friend).
Started in 1985 by an audiologist Michael Santucci, like Westone, a big part of their make-up was around the health of hearing and ear wellbeing first and foremost. That evolved into custom in-ear monitors over time.
In 2006 they invented what they called (patent approved in 2012) the 3D Active Ambient system. This is really unique and quite interesting. Essentially it still allows you to hear some ambient noise around you. It drops the overall sound volume (DB) on stage while allowing you to enjoy your IEMs as you sing or play live.
I have some custom molded ear protection in-ears which I use at concerts or when I am playing but don’t want a full IEM set up. This is great as it drops the DB a bit but still allows me to hear the ambient noise and still talk to my bandmates without having to take my in-ear out. This is essentially what Sensaphonics have invented in their 3D Active Ambient tech, except that it’s also a proper IEM.
Check them out.
Company Name: Empire Ears(spun out from EarWerkz)
It’s been a joy watching Empire Ears grow over the years. For me, they sit in with Noble in terms of artistic design and flair.
Nothing cheap here but a stellar lineup of artists and customer in-ears. At the top of their line is the Odin, I mean come on, how can you not want to own a set of custom IEM with 11 drivers, a finish called the Bifröst and a frequency response of 5Hz to 100kHz (what?! I can’t hear you…). Note – these are a little bigger than most to fit all those drivers and Thor’s hammer.
The Artist list is a mixed bunch of genres and Flo Rida and T-Pain stand out to me most.
This family business is really dedicated to the tech side of things as a path to excellent sound. I like their approach to solid audio as the foundation of their creations. The reviews agree with me…or do I agree with the reviews?
Company Name: Lime Ears
Lime Ears and I first spoke years ago when we were toying with the idea of including customer in-ear monitors on our retail site. I couldn’t get my head around how to retail custom in ears online so we didn’t get much further. Emil Stolecki, the founder, is a sound engineer by profession and this is always a good start to tuning new CIEM.
I appreciate his/their fresh marketing take and the CIEM they produce look really great.
I like that one of their flagships is a hybrid, the Pneuma. Putting a dynamic driver in your top of the line IEM to provide some rich sub-bass with clarity is certainly worth a listen
Of all the companies on this list, I am most curious to try Lime Ears and review them accordingly. They have an interesting technology write up.
They are one of the only companies on this list based outside the USA, being in Europe.
If I get my hands on some, I’ll let you know. Check them out as an option for your CIEM anyway.
That’s a wrap…for now
I think that’s the list for now. I’m sure I missed someone the fans all like and if that is the case I can always hit the ‘edit’ button on the post to update it at a later time. Just let me know guys.
B-Stock in-ear monitors
There are times the above companies have B-Stock universal or customer IEM units they can repurpose so keep an eye out for a deal
Questions? Comments? Let me know in the comments section below.