How to get custom in-ear monitors made from any company
If you’re new to custom in-ear monitors (CIEM) then the process of getting custom in-ear molds produced can be daunting at first. To be clear, you don’t have to be a musician/vocalist to get these done.
A lot of people who just love listening to music (did someone say audiophile?) get Custom IEMs produced.
You don’t have to be the lead singer or drummer in a hot band to justify the expense and effort.
Read also: Custom in-ear monitors for Singers
There are two core IEM types. One is Universal IEMs and one is Custom IEMs. There are arguments for both which we discuss in another article Universal IEMs vs Custom IEMs. A Custom IEM is an in-ear monitor/earphone that is built based on a custom ear impression of the user’s ear. They are most common for singers, guitarists, drummers and other musicians.
First: Find an Audiologist who does ear impressions ideally for CIEMs
Ideally, you will find an audiologist that you trust or one that comes recommended.
Most audiologists will have experience with ear impressions for hearing aids, some will also do a lot of ear impressions for custom in-ear molds. Essentially there isn’t a difference but it can help if they understand the concept of IEMs at least.
If you live in the USA, Australia or Europe (or close to it) you can check out the JH Audio Audiologists list for places to get your custom in-ear mold impressions taken. You don’t have to go to an audiologist but at least try to find someone who does this stuff a lot, as practice makes perfect.
Try to get a sense if the audiologist knows what they are doing. You can always reference the JH Audio guide to print and take in when getting ear impressions done.
A lot of audiology centres will offer a free repeat ear impression within 30-60 days if you are not happy. This is great, but you won’t know how well your CIEM fit until they have been made. So if you just had a $1000 set of CIEM built you’ll want to know you have a great impression the first time.
For this reason, many people are just as happy sticking with Universal IEMs (check our best budget iems list out.
How long does it take to get in-ear molds done?
A visit to get ear impression usually takes within 30-45 minutes
How much does it cost?
The cost of getting ear impressions can vary around $50-$100 USD total.
The process for getting an ear impression or earmolds done for a pair of custom in-ear monitors is different in many cases so let’s walk through the steps of what visiting an audiologists is like.
Step one: Assessment
Assessment. The audiologist will likely check your ear and see how the general shape is. Depending on what you are using your IEM’s for, you might or might not opt for a bite-block.
A bite block is something you put between your teeth when getting ear impressions that assist in creating good ear canal shape for the final IEM fit.
Sometimes it’s a piece of foam, other times it’s a piece of wood or even a hard candy (if the audiologist has nothing else to use, but they should). A bite block is most often used when taking ear impressions for vocalists and similar. The reason being their jaw is often moving and they spend a lot of time with their mouths open.
If you are planning on using these for music listening only then you might opt out of having a bite block used. Just think ‘when I am wearing my IEM’s, what is the general state of my mouth and jaw – is it open or closed?’.
If you play guitar and you’re always mouth open then a bite block might suit, or not.
Your audiologist may have further advice based on the shape of your ear canal. For example, some ear canals don’t change too much when open or closed.
The last ear impressions we had done we used a medium height on the bite-block (it was a foam block with multiple height options) which suited our ears.
Read also: in-ear Monitors Guide
Step Two: Plug it
The audiologist places a cotton wool type material in the ear close and plug the eardrum. They’ll probably have a poke around in there and use a light to check the foam plug is well seated.
Don’t panic, they will (or should if they are good) know exactly where your eardrum is, so while it might feel uncomfortable you should emerge in good shape with no lasting weirdness.
Step Three: Gun it
A gun, similar to a glue gun or caulking gun is then used to fill the ear from the cotton plug outwards. They need to take the impression from around the second bend in the ear, which is right in there so it will feel ‘close’.
Don’t worry – the final IEM won’t reach that far into the ear, the IEM company just need to know the full length and shape of the canal. When it goes in it will be a little cold and the world will immediately go quite – like you just got put in water…but you’re not wet.
Step Four: Set it and Remove it
The foam material sets within a few minutes, it’s fast. In the old days it would take ages but technology has improved. If you are using a bite block you might even dribble a little bit so having a tissue/napkin is a good idea – with a bite block you have to sit there for a few minutes with your mouth open.
The audiologist will gently pull and twist the final ear mold out from your ear and canal. They will do this slowly to ensure there is no damage to the impression. It can take some wiggling as generally people’s eardrums open up after the second bend so it’s like pulling the impression back through a narrower opening than it is.
Your ear is flexible though so nothing will be damaged; it’s just moving some fat and cartilage about.
The final ear impression is a perfect match to your ear. You might even have a bit of earwax at the end, don’t be embarrassed as this is normal. Earwax is a good thing remember people, it protect our ears.
Step Five: Send it
This foam-like impression is then sent directly to the manufacturer, usually by yourself. e.g Westone, 1964 ears, JH Audio who duplicate the impression, often by using a 3D scanner.
You will have already chosen the model of in-ear monitor you want to buy e.g. JH Audio Roxannes, 64 Audio, Westone ES60 and the company creates your custom in-ear mold around that model of the earphone. This can take weeks depending on the company, but good things come to those who wait.
The final result is an earphone that is custom fit for your ear. There is less movement and fit issues with this style of IEM fitting, although bad ear impressions can often result in sound leaking and poor audio performance overall. It is important to get a good fit in the ear and this is often dependent on getting the ear impression correct at the beginning.
Most earphone/IEM companies will hold your ear impressions digitally on file. This means if you want to buy more Custom IEM’s from them in the future you can do so without having to get more impressions done. You just choose the model and they make a fresh pair.
We would suggest that if it’s longer than a year it’s worth getting more impressions done, only because your ears change with age, bodyweight etc.
That’s the essential break down.
This also works for custom ear plugs if you need those for any reason. We have had other custom in-ear molds done for on-stage custom ear plugs that allow you to put in dampers that leave the stage sound sounding normal but they can drop it 10db (or any db you prefer based on the dampers you put in them)
If you have any questions or comments please add them below!