Custom ear-buds for headphones

Getting the perfect headphones for your workout routine

normal ear-buds (left) vs. custom ear-buds (right)

A story of buying headphones and custom ear-buds for sports while over thinking 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 itself.

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 cancelling 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.

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

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 which have these clips. They did not work either. The ear is extremly sensitive to pressure when it is on a small spot and it was sill 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 mould 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 which 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: https://www.scheinhardt.de/in-ear-monitoring/angepasste-kopfhoerer/kopfhoerer-modelle

It is a german website but you can just click at the headphones and see the images with custom ear-buds.

Why could I never use in-ears?

What do you see in this picture?

normal ear-buds (left) vs. custom ear-buds (right)
normal ear-buds (left) vs. custom ear-buds (right)

In this image you can see the normal direction for in-ears in general with the green line. The red line is the direction of my ear canal. It is the complete opposite. No wonder in-ears never did fit or caused pain. It is physically impossible for me to use them 😀

And here you can see the side by side comparison. You can click on one of the images and use the arrow keys fast to check the difference.

Considerations with custom ear-buds

As with everything in technology there is alway 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 to the ear bud itself

This could just physically block the sound wave to get into the microphone. Blocking sound will prevent you from using it to call someone.

  1. Changes the outer dimensions of your headphones

This is a tricky one. The guy at the local ohrenstore 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 arraives. This can be used to recognize your voice. Sound which takes longer may be from your sorounding area, like traffic.

If you change the outer dimensions due to custom ear-buds this may have an impact when you want to use the headphones for calls. If I remember correclty the local store did have that experience with a customer who did get custom ear-buds for his Apple AirPods and could not use them for calls any more.

The more you know! 🤯

The sound may change as well

It could be possible that the sound of your headpones will be different with the custom ear-buds. It may be due to the material you choose. For instance, I could choose between a harder and a softer material. I did go for soft since I wanted the most comfort for sports.

It is not just the material which will have an impact. The length and diameter of your ear-buds do change as well.

I am not saying it will be better or worse. It will be different and you have to decided if it is better or worse than before.

The problems with ture wireless headphones and their charging cases

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

Since I already got the Bose SoundSport and the Bose SoundSport free wireless where just announced I figured I could try these.

Here is the result:

As you can see there is not enough space for the custom ear-buds in my case (pun intended). Your milage may vary.

I was considering to damage the case by using a dremel and cut out some space for the custom ear-buds. Unfortunately these cases do not have any unused space anywhere.

I just could have always removed the custom ear-buds to charge my true wireless headphones but this is not an option for several reasons.

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

Why would they break you ask?

Have a look at this:

Example Rancher VPC Setup
Example Rancher VPC Setup

The two little edges on the headphone hold the ear-buds. Problem here: The material of that ear-buds is not strong enough to handle this amount of disassamly. You already can see they are wearing off.

I am solving this problem by removing and putting them on with the potentially damged side first and strecht the rest of the material to fit over the audio canal. This way there is no material leaving the custom ear-bud.

Conclusion

Nothing is simple when you think like an enigneer 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 companys building true wireless headphones: Please make true wireless headphones where I can put in my custom ear-buds in the case as well. Just put some space into the charging case.

Andrej Friesen
Andrej Friesen
Software & Systems Engineer

Andrej Friesen is a more or less classical engineer who followed his passion to IT.

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