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Homemade Foam Ear Tips for IEMs

post #1 of 244
Thread Starter 
This thread is a follow-up from another thread “Make Your Own Shure and UM2 Foamies!” started by noorudeenshakur.

Because the original thread had branched out well beyond Shure and UM2 foamies, there may be many Head-Fi’ers that have missed this interesting DIY project. I am hoping here to start a new thread for a wider audience; perhaps participants can join in with their particular phones and construction tips. I am using the Altec iM716 phones here, but I hope we can get feedback on Shures, Etymotics (should be comparable to Altecs tubes), Westone UMs, UE Super.Fis, etc. It would be interesting to see if this method is also applicable to ear canal phones like the Senn CX300, Creative EP630, Sony EX series, etc.

The basic concept put forth by noorudeenshakur was that foam ear tips are fundamentally earplugs with a hole in them for ‘audio’ tubing to bind the foam tip with the phone, and for sound passage. The thread then went on to explore homemade foam ear tips.

Although the original thread was an effort to DIY to save money on tips, an important outcome of this project, at least for me, was the ability to try many earplugs to see which fit my ear canal the best.

Supplies:
Earplugs: Please take a look at the Ear Plug Store. The link to this store is at the top of this page under Head-Fi Sponsers. This store will sell from single pairs to thousands of pairs of earplugs. The advantage here is that you can try many different flavors to see which you like best before proceeding to buy a bunch of your favorite.

I’ve been experimenting with 3 earplugs: (1) E-A-R Classics, the yellow ones that look similar to the Large Ety ER4 tips; (2) Hearos super soft, thought to be similar to the Westone Comply tips; and (3) the 3m 1100s, which to me appear similar to the picture of the ETY ER6i medium size foam tips.

Tubing: As per dvallere, from the aforementioned thread, try aquarium tubing from a pet store. Other options include hardware stores or laboratory supply stores (Fisher, VWR, etc). Best bet, just use the tubing from your worn out tips. The latter is especially true if you have dual driver IEMs.

Construction:
Making the hole: Not as easy as it sounds. These things are very soft, it’s not like drilling wood. Noorudeenshakur and others have used hole punchers (please refer to that thread for details and links). Some, including myself, have tried simply compressing the earplug into a coin-like size and drilling. I found this method did not give the best results. Maybe others fared better with hole punchers. In fact, the very soft Hearos plugs never retained their original shape and ended up looking like a piece of Juicy Fruit gum on a tube using the flatten and drill method. I believe noorudeenshakur also preferred the E-A-R Classics (stiff PVC) to the urethane, tapered plugs possibly because of undue compression on the soft urethane with his hole punching method. One could also employ a red-hot poker and push it through, but I’ll leave that for another day.

I would recomend the excellent advice of Sugarfried (from the Shure company- how cool is that!!) from the original thread, and freeze the plugs. Pretty simple- squeeze the air out of the plugs, throw them in water until they expand, then toss them into the freezer. Even the contoured tips of the soft urethane Hearos and the 3M 1100s were easy to work with like this. In a rigid, frozen state they are also easier to cut shorter, if you wish. Thank you Sugarfried!!! But please wear gloves, in case you slip.

Tubing: Always cut the final tubing so it will be shorter than the earplug. You don’t want the tube to scratch your ear canal. This could not only be irratating, but could also make it prone to infection.
To insert the tube, place it over the shaft of an appropriately sized jewelers screwdriver and twist it through the plug. I placed a longer piece into the plug while it was still frozen, that is a piece that was long enough to stick out on both sides of the plug. I pulled it out and cut it shorter later, after the plug dried. It just seemed easier to insert the tube the first time with a frozen plug- no compression as opposed to trying to jam the tube/screwdriver through a non-frozen plug.
UPDATE: Many people find the most difficult part of this DIY procedure is getting the tubing. Of course, the tubing from your old foamies can be scavenged from that set and used here.

Gluing: After they dried I tried gluing the tubes into the E-A-R Classics using Crazy Glue. Bad idea. The glue dried out and ruined the foam as well as the elasticity of the tube. I would recommend cutting a smaller, tighter hole and nixing the glue. Perhaps someone can recommend another glue that works well here. Perhaps I applied too much.

The Sound: This , of course is the critical part. The E-A-R Classics sound remarkably similar to the supplied, stock foamies of my Altec iM716s (Etymotic clones). So far, so good.

Different from the coarse, open cell PVC foam of the E-A-R Classics are the smoother, less stiff urethane derivatives. The Hearos are very soft and the most comfy. But these were just too small for my large ear canals. The 3M 1100s are denser than the Hearos, and a slightly wider diameter that I needed. Importantly, the bass and fundamentals really came out with these. They were, to my ears, better than the PVC foamies and the silicon flange tips. The urethane may also have a longer compression / expansion lifetime as it appears to be a denser and less open cell structure (smoother too) than the PVC ear plugs. But then, this is just my experience with these. Your results may vary.

Anyway, I am happy to have tried this little experiment; it worked out well for me. But then, I kinda like DIY stuff. And this was pretty simple. If you are considering this solely to save money, let me say unless you go through these tips like toilet paper, a dollar a pop for a professionally finished tip is not a bad deal.

Looking forward to other comments for other models of phones.



(I'll have to post a photo at another time. Haven't figured out how to reduce the photo to the 25kb limit yet.)
post #2 of 244
please post pics soon!!!
post #3 of 244
Quote:
Originally Posted by jSatch
(I'll have to post a photo at another time. Haven't figured out how to reduce the photo to the 25kb limit yet.)
You can host/upload your photos to a photo hosting site like photobucket.com and copy and paste the address into the tags below. Your photo will appear in your post instead of attachments and 25kb limit.

[img]www.photoaddress.com[/img]

Interesting project BTW.
post #4 of 244
Thread Starter 

photos

Thanks for the photo tip afbug!

Photo is here:



From left: (1) Hearos Super Soft (brown). The most comfortable, but too small for my large ear canal. I wasn’t able to get a very good seal, so I never trimmed them down. Center front, (2) E-A-R Classics (yellow)- full size on left and trimmed on right. You may be able to see what a little of the Super Glue did to the right tip- whitish area with foam hardening a little around the pore. Right front, (3) Stock foamies for iM716 (black). Professionally constructed. Very nice! Center back, (4) 3M 1100s (orange). These have been slightly trimmed (originally the same length as the Hearos). As you can see, they are getting a little dirty from being carried around in my briefcase. I also bored the pore a little larger on the tapered, ear side to see if it made a difference. It didn't. Back right, (5) the original iM716 tri-flanges that I removed the smallest flange from, now essentially bi-flanges, for comparison.

Have fun!

post #5 of 244
Heh, I did this exact same thing for my super.fi 5 pros. The stock ear-tips fit well enough, but they irritated the crap out of my ears. So I went to CVS, picked up some cheap orange squishy earplugs, and went home and use my hole puncher to bore holes in them. Then I inserted the tubes from my stock foam earplugs in the holes and put them on my phones.

Nice! So much more comfortable than the stock foam tips or rubber tips. No more ear irritation for me. And the seal is much better too. No more sudden bass dropouts from the phone coming lose, or wind leaks in the ear.

I would take a picture, but I don't feel like taking them out of my ears.
post #6 of 244
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PiccoloNamek
I would take a picture, but I don't feel like taking them out of my ears.
lol

I completely understand!



Do you remember the brand of the ear plugs?

Thanks.
post #7 of 244

My custom foam eartips for ER4S (photos included)

Result
=======================
Some photos so that you can decide if it is worth reading the whole post(long)

Photo1
Photo2
Photo3
Photo4
Photo5


Photo1 Alternative Link
Photo2 Alternative Link
Photo3 Alternative Link
Photo4 Alternative Link
Photo5 Alternative Link
Why do I need custom tips
========================
My ear canals are bigger than average (I guess) because I can only get a
perfect seal with the big yellow Etymotic eartips. 3-flanges were out of the
question immediately. Uncomfortable (had to push them in very deep) and poor
seal. The black ones are good enough for my right ear but too small for the
left.

So yellows are the best for me but they are not very comfortable to wear.
Too tight a squeeze in my case, especially the right ear.

Cost wize, I found foam eartips too expensive. A pair of foams would last me
about 2-weeks of daily, 1-hour use. After the first week I usually washed
them with hot water (just water) to remove earwax. That revived them a
little bit but after 2-weeks the seal started to suffer.

Given a moderate use of 20 pairs per year I would need $12x5=60 plus
shipping to the EU (idealsound.com prices). It is too expensive, especially
for something that doesn't fit me 100%.

So I had to do something about it or give up my ER-4.

Notes on notes
===============
My reference point is the seal and sound with the yellow foam tips.

Materials/Tools:
===========
See photo

Notes on Tips
=============
EAR Classic tips are very similar in texture as the large Ety tips. Size
wize they are longer than all Etymotic tips and width is between the yellow
and the black tips. Length is no problem and width is perfect for me. For
other users they might be too big.

Isolation is similar to the best I had with yello Etymotic tips. Sound is
also excellent, no difference than the yellow Etymotic tips.

I tried some noname urethane tips I bought locally from a drugstore. Judging
only from the pictures. they look similar to the Moldex Pura-Fit. Comments:
1. Seal is significantly better and any Etymotic tip and the EAR Classics.
2. Sound is different. Warmer sound and fuller bass. I can't say I liked it
very much but I didn't give it much time either. Firt impression was that it
didn't have the clarity/transparency of the standard Ety sound.
They are more difficult to work with. I have not tried freezing them.
3. They are very soft and comfortable, more comfortable that PCV foam tips
4. The make noise as I move. They are so soft that they deform as you move
making an irritating noise

I did not pursue them further because of problems 2,4 and because I could
not find a cheap source for good urethane foams in Spain. I might do it in
the future.


Notes on Tubing
==============
I used TYGON FLEXIBLE PLASTIC TUBING 1/8" (MODEL R-3603) for tubing. It is
not perfect but it works. Problems:

1. 1/8" is not the exact size ER4 needs. I have no precision tool to measure
it but I gather than 3mm will be perfect since 1/8" is just a tiny bit
wider.
2. Tygon tubing is more flexible that the tubing used for the standard tips.
3. 1 and 2 mean that there is a posibility that the tip will stay in your
ear when you remove the IEM. There is not enough friction to make sure that
you will take it safely. It doesn't happen very often but this will depend
on the size of your ear canals.
4. Walls are thicker that standard tubing but this will only be a problem if
you ear canals are very small. No problem with that in my case

Contruction
=============
Having a look at the tools the process is quite obvious. The only trick is
not to squeeze the tips completely (like a coin) because punching a hole
in that state deforms them permanently. I found that it is safer to squeeze
them half way, just to fit into the mold you see in the picture and and punch the hole.
This process is not perfect:
1. I ocasionally get a lightly deformed tip (just one of the edges). No big
deal.
2. I have to let them for a day in order to retain there original state.
3. If I enter it correctly on one side but don't calculate correctly the
projection of the punch on the other side, I get hole that is centered on
one end and off center on the other. No big deal. They work just the same.
4. I don't find it necessary to cut them in length so I don't do it. The
work fine as they are and cutting them perfectly with a sharp knife is
messy.

Conclusion
==========
I enjoy me eartips more that Etymotic tips, they are cheaper and making them
is relaxing.

I hope somebody finds this useful.
post #8 of 244
Quote:
Originally Posted by jSatch
lol

I completely understand!



Do you remember the brand of the ear plugs?

Thanks.
No, sorry. They were just some random orange earplugs, the first ones I picked up, because they looked soft and smooth, rather than coarse and hard. (I can't stand the feel of the porous, hole-filled earplugs.)

Here are some pics:





The edges aren't all the same thickness, but it isn't noticable.
post #9 of 244
thats an impressive macro shot. What kind of camera did you use?
post #10 of 244
I used my trusty Olympus C-5050Z. Macro shots are something I've done a lot of, I have several (13) featured pictures on Wikipedia, many of them are macro shots. You might have seen some of them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Pi...tured_Pictures

If you guys are audiophiles, then I'm definitely a "photographyophile".
post #11 of 244
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PiccoloNamek
No, sorry. They were just some random orange earplugs, the first ones I picked up, because they looked soft and smooth, rather than coarse and hard. (I can't stand the feel of the porous, hole-filled earplugs.)

The edges aren't all the same thickness, but it isn't noticable.
Thanks for the pictures!

These look like the Max tips I was hoping to try next.

http://earplugstore.com/foam_plug_information.htm

The Hearos were too small for me, and the 3M 1100s were still not very tight in my larger ear canal, I had to maneuver them around too much. I was thinking of trying the 'Max' as it is also urethane at a density similar to the 3m 1100s, and according to the Ear Plug Store, they would be ideal for "average to large ears".

From the pics your tips look a bit compressed. This was what happened to me when I flattened and drilled the urethane Hearos plugs. I wasn't able to see if this compression made any difference sonically, since the Hearos plugs/tips didn't work for me anyway.

I'll have to see if I can find a CVS pharmacy around here anywhere.

Thanks!
post #12 of 244
Thread Starter 
dear ntsour,

I was unable to download your pictures. Maybe a Macintosh problem, dunno.

You might try cutting off the smallest flange of your tri-flange tips, as per my photo in above post.

I also have a large ear canal and my tri-flanges were worse that useless, they were painful, until I did that mod. Besides, you have nothing to lose.

Thanks for your detailed post, and the good tips! (pun, what pun? )
post #13 of 244
Quote:
Originally Posted by jSatch
dear ntsour,

I was unable to download your pictures. Maybe a Macintosh problem, dunno.

You might try cutting off the smallest flange of your tri-flange tips, as per my photo in above post.

I also have a large ear canal and my tri-flanges were worse that useless, they were painful, until I did that mod. Besides, you have nothing to lose.

Thanks for your detailed post, and the good tips! (pun, what pun? )
That's strange. They work fine with my browser.
I have posted some alternative links to the pictures.
Hope this helps.
post #14 of 244
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ntsour
That's strange. They work fine with my browser.
I have posted some alternative links to the pictures.
Hope this helps.

Thank you ntsour, the alternate photos worked perfectly. Like I mentioned, it may just be a Macintosh glitch in the translation.

The Classic tips look very professionally finished. Between you and PiccoloNamek, I think I may have to take down my crummy photo.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ntsour
2. Sound is different. Warmer sound and fuller bass. I can't say I liked it
very much but I didn't give it much time either. Firt impression was that it
didn't have the clarity/transparency of the standard Ety sound.
They are more difficult to work with. I have not tried freezing them.
I also noticed an increase in lower fundamental frequencies with the softer urethane tips. Thanks for mentioning this point. I don't know if it actually decreases the clarity / transparency. I don't know how it could.

At this point I am leaning to a fuller sound with the urethanes that may not emphasize the highs as much. I still think the highs may retain the same shimmer and transient speed, but with less of a spotlight on this end of the spectrum. An (over the top) analogy might be with mini monitors when a subwoofer is added. The monitors can at first appear to have less detail. But then again, I have an Ety clone, the Altec iM716, so I'm sure there are some differences from your ER4s. Nonetheless, I will need to do more listening with the urethane vs PVC tips as this is not a trivial point.

Later-
post #15 of 244
I'm currently in the process of making/designing my hi-fi foamies for the E3/E4/E5 line. My design really opens up the sound. Check out:

http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=172283

All the foamies here I've seen use the standard 1/8" inch tubing (which I want to find in Toronto! where can I get this?). I've been using 1/4" tubing which really opens up the sound and makes a noticeable difference over the stock yellow foamies.
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