Make your own custom fit earbuds

Collin Cunningham of Make: Online shows you how to make your own custom fit earbuds.

I've used quite a variety of sound-isolating personal audio gear; around-ear cans, in-ear buds, as well as active noise-canceling models. All of these posed problems for me in one way or another. Most often, it came down to issues with comfort and how well each design could maintain a good seal on my substantial noggin.

I was excited to find out that there are custom-fit headphone services out there, but my enthusiasm withered upon learning the price for such a thing. Thankfully, I did find a DIY custom-mold earplug kit available for relatively cheap. So, I dug out my old pair of Shure E2C earbuds, ordered myself up a kit, and then put together a very simple but satisfyingly effective project.

Collin's Lab: Custom fit earbuds


  1. Sugru seems to be the perfect thing for making the earbuds. Actually, I’ve seen photos of sugru used for that.

  2. How would one use the wax screens with this mod? It seems to me there is no “protection” for the screens with these plugs.

    1. I don’t think the wax screens are needed when you use this mod. The screens are needed when you’re stuffing earbuds down your ear canal ramrod-style, but shouldn’t be necessary when used in these molds.

      1. I humbly suggest you are wrong, mappo. The open tube from the “speaker” is clearly exposed as deep in the ear canal as it would be during normal / stock installation in one’s ear.

  3. Oh, bluh. I got a set of Jabra EarGels for under 10 dollars. They’re made to go with Jabra’s Bluetooth and other headsets, but they include a small, medium, and large each of both right and left eargels. I have weird-shaped ears and regular earbuds fall out. With the eargels, they stay in and stop exterior noise.

  4. I wonder if those earplugs would keep out the annoying music in the background. That would be worthwhile

  5. Couldn’t this be done with some kind of 2 part plumber’s epoxy instead of buying the fancy kit?

    1. Most two part plumbers’ epoxies cure too hard and smooth to be of great comfort for most people’s ears, I think. Ten bucks isn’t bad.

      @Audiotherapist: While I have respect for your profession and am sure that you’re right on most of your points, the goal of this is to save money and I think that most go into this knowing that customs would be better. A drop of blue Loctite on each will secure the drivers pretty well while not being completely permanent.

  6. Am I the only one who thinks sticking phones in your ears is icky and annoying? I’ve never been able to tolerate listening to anything this way for more than a few minutes.

  7. So, crappy amateur and risky personal impression loosely bonded if at all to expensive drivers. Should last about a week of regular wear…

    By the time you’ve gone to all that trouble and expense a pair of custom made earplugs is starting to look pretty affordable and significantly safer and more reliable.

    Disclosure: I’m an Audiologist and make these things…

  8. I’m with @AudioTherapist on this one: there is *no way* that I’d risk semi-permanently bonding a set of decent ear-canal phones to epoxy/silicone resin in search of a better fit (given that any ‘phones worth the treatment are rather pricier than the cost of getting it done professionally by an audiologist, with — one would hope — a warranty and some guarantee of quality).

    1. Last time I tested with sine sweeps I was getting nearly 20 dB of “outside world” attenuation with stock E2Cs. I would suspect that number would only go up with custom ear molds.

      So… How loud is your traffic?

  9. Please please put a disclaimer with the article. You can puncture or rip you ear drums doing this. I work in the industry and seen unlicensed impressions taken. You can go too deep or create a vacuum while pulling out the impression ripping out the ear drum. Saving money is great but know the risks first!!

  10. I would suggest a material designed for this task. The 2 part silicon putty in the kit is merely a small chunk of this product (or similar):

    This particular one is food safe so I wouldn’t be concerned about shoving it into my ear. You can make a lot of molds for the $25/lb this particular one cost.

    There are plenty of formulations on the market. Google for “2 part silicone molding compound” to see the different vendors. Many sell in smaller quantities although not listed as food safe.

    I would be a bit leery of using Sugru since it’s designed to be adhesive. There’s a bit more about that on the Sugru website on the thread about this subject.

    As for the professional one, they are nice but way too expensive ($200-$400 for a set).

    2 part silicon casting putty is way too cool for anyone not to have a bit. Unfortunately it doesn’t have an unlimited life so maybe a year or so but if you keep it small or go in with a group it’s pretty cheap.

  11. Well, it looks nice and it might sound even nicer but… does really no one knows that you shouldn’t hermetically close your ear for more than 20 minutes. It’ creates airless vacuum in your ear which is perfect for anaerobic bacteria to develop an infection. Later when you try to heal that infection with antibiotics, you might develop a fungus infection (which likes antibiotics). Add to that ear drum damage from to loud music (in this case loud and hermetically closed) and you’ll have a mess.

    The rise of mp3 players adequately follows the rise of Tinnitus cases all over the world. So watch your ears.

  12. I’ve had custom eartips made for a pair of Etymotic ER6i’s, and they’re £82, or around $126. when the original moulds were taken the audiologist pushed a small piece of foam down into my ear canal to avoid the silicon going in too far and causing damage, so that’s all that’s nessessary in this case. As far as things in your ears being icky, have you never stuck your fingers in your ears when there’s a loud noise?
    There’s no difference, canalphones go in about the same distance as the end of your finger would, in fact you could possibly do more damage with your own fingertips and nails than a pair of ‘phones could ever do. I’ve got three pairs of Ultimate Ears phones, MetroFi 220vi’s, SuperFi 5vi’s and TripleFi 10vi’s, and I was going to see about custom eartips for either the Super or TripleFi’s; with this I could easily do both. Brilliant. Oh, and the attenuation of b/ground noise with a standard silicone bud on a pair of UE SuperFi’s is 26dB.

  13. I wasn’t going to post further on this topic but something is wrong on the internet!!

    Anon #16 is quite right about the dangers. Whilst barotrauma perforation is pretty unlikely there are a long list of contraindications to impression taking. It’s pretty tricky to look in your own ears or to successfully interpret what you see without training.

    Re Soap’s comment and Anon #18. The outside world can be extremely noisy. Part of the joy of attenuating headphones is that you don’t need to drive the sound so loud to get your signal above the ambient noise. Most ambient noise is low frequency. There is a phenomenon known as the ‘upward spread of masking’ which results in a dampening of the mid and high frequency cochlear sensitivity with a rise in low frequency noise. To counteract this with normal headphones you need to drive them to higher levels. If you have attenuated the ambient low frequencies then this isn’t necessary.

    Of course if you choose to blast your ears with occluding earphones then the risk of damage is greater, but the point is you shouldn’t need to. The evidence relating attenuating headphones to a rise in noise induced hearing loss and Tinnitus is extremely weak and flawed, i.e. there is apparent correlation but no evidence of causation.

    Top tip: Set the volume of your player to a comfortable level before leaving the house. Once out of the house resist the temptation to make temporary adjustments to compensate for transitory loud noises because you will adapt to the new level and not turn the VC back down to it’s previous level. Repeat this enough times and the saw-toothed ascending pattern means that you’ll be listening at levels you’d consider insane at home in no time…

    You can all relax now, internet’s fixed…

  14. you can get similar results (that look a lot cooler) using plain old 30 dcb ear plugs bought at any pharmacy. cut the ear plug in half, flatten it, poke a hole in it, and stick the stem of the earphone through. unnoticeable, and the quality is superb. i use mine everywhere, and they work awesome for noisy projects like lawn mowing.

    a box of 30 dcb earplugs costs maybe $3 and you get like 12 of them on one box. when they get grubby, toss and replace.

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