Custom ear-buds for headphones

Custom ear-buds for headphones

A story of buying headphones and custom earbuds for sports while overthinking every aspect 🧐

Some context

Headphones are a really personal and subjective thing. Audio in general is but I do not want to go the route of audio or Hi-Fi here. Just about the headphone themselves.

For whatever reason, I never could use in-ears. They did always fall out. Sometimes left, sometimes right. If they did fit for longer than a minute it was mostly really painful.
The years went by and I never used in-ears. Only some over-ears with noise canceling in the office.

Did you ever try to run with over-ears? Do not even think about any sports activity. It is not possible with over-ears. Despite the fact that I want to use them in the rain and they should resist sweat as well. That was not possible with my over-ears at all (Bose QC 35 II).

What to buy?


Okay, then I did a little research and found this not quite in-ears but in ears with wings on them. I decided on the Bose SoundSport.

Bose SoundSport
  • Water resistance: check
  • sweat resistance: check
  • light: check
  • no pain: check
  • Good sound (for me): check
  • Perfect fit: meh 😒

I thought "one of these silicone buds should work". Unfortunately not. Still running and exercise without constantly readjusting those in my ears was not possible.
Before someone suggests headphones that have these clips. They did not work either. The ear is extremely sensitive to pressure when it is on a small spot and it was still no perfect fit because most of them are in-ears as well.

The solution -- Custom ear-buds

Custom ear-buds or sometimes custom ear-sleeves are just what it says. Custom made for your ear.
I recommend you to go to your local hearing acoustics.
I got them locally for just about 80 €. This is not cheap but for me, it was worth it.
Process of getting them locally:

  1. The hearing technician will put some mold in your ears
  2. This silicone ear imprint will then send out to a contractor which does the 3D printing of your actual ear-buds
  3. (optional) When the contractor does not have the headphones dimensions yet, you need to send the headphones in as well (I did not need to do this)
  4. Wait a few days
  5. Get them and enjoy!

When I looked online it was way more expensive.Around ~ 100 € - 180 €.
You can still get them online. Here is also a site I did found during my research listing some examples:

Kopfhörer Modelle
Kopfhörer ModelleWir können dir für nahezu alle In-Ear Kopfhörer individuelle Ohrstücke fertigen.Einen großen aktustischen Unterschied wirst du ger

It is a german website but you can just click on the headphones and see the images with custom earbuds.

Why could I never use in-ears?

What do you see in this picture?

On the right image for the left earbud, you can see how a normal in-ears direction looks like. Just straight to the ear canal. On the left image for the left earbud, you can see quite a significant turn in direction. My inner ear canal is taking a slight turn. No wonder in-ears never did fit or caused pain. It is physically impossible for me to use them 😀

Considerations with custom ear-buds

As with everything in technology, there is always an up-and downside of things. Be aware that using custom ear-buds may interfere with your microphone in 2 ways:

  1. It may be that the earbud material itself needs to cover the microphone holes in order to fit into the earbud itself
    This could just physically block the sound waves to get into the microphone. Blocking sound will prevent you from using it to call someone.
  2. Changes the outer dimensions of your headphones

This is a tricky one. The guy at the local store did explain it to me like this:
The software which is used by your headphones knows the distance between your mouth and the ear. Therefore, it knows the time when your voice arrives. This can be used to recognize your voice. Sound which takes longer may be from your surrounding area, like traffic.

If you change the outer dimensions due to custom earbuds this may have an impact when you want to use the headphones for calls. If I remember correctly the local store did have that experience with a customer who did get custom earbuds for his Apple AirPods and could not use them for calls anymore.
The more you know! 🤯

The sound may change as well

It could be possible that the sound of your headphones will be different from the custom earbuds. It may be due to the material you choose. For instance, I could choose between a harder and softer material. I did go for soft since I wanted the most comfort for sports.
It is not just the material that will have an impact. The length and diameter of your earbuds do change as well.
I am not saying it will be better or worse. It will be different and you have to decide if it is better or worse than before.

The problems with true wireless headphones and their charging cases

I did try to find a pair of so-called true wireless headphones with which I can use my custom earbuds with.

The problem: The charging cases
I did not find a single pair where the charging case would be big enough to store the custom earbuds.
Since I already got the Bose SoundSport and the Bose SoundSport free wireless were just announced I figured I could try these.
Here is the result:

As you can see there is not enough space for the custom earbuds in my case (pun intended). Your mileage may vary.
I was considering damaging the case by using a Dremel. Cut out some space for the custom earbuds. Unfortunately, these cases do not have any unused space anywhere.
I just could have always removed the custom earbuds to charge my true wireless headphones but this is not an option for several reasons.

  1. Laziness
  2. When removing them I need to store them somewhere and might lose them since they are tiny
  3. The ear-buds will break

Why would they break you ask?
Have a look at this:

The two little edges on the headphone hold the earbuds. The problem here: The material of that earbuds is not strong enough to handle this amount of disassembly. You already can see they are wearing off.
I am solving this problem by removing and putting them on with the potentially damaged side first and stretch the rest of the material to fit over the audio canal. This way there is no material leaving the custom earbud.

Conclusion

Nothing is simple when you think like an engineer and try to find the best solution for your problem. Everything has upsides and downsides.

What is your experience with headphones especially for sport

To all the big companies building true wireless headphones:
Please make true wireless headphones where I can put in my custom earbuds in the case as well. Just put some space into the charging case.