At this point, it shouldn't come at a surprise that yet another CIEM lab (so many choices, so little money; I know, right?) has sprouted up in the midst of massive growth for the custom IEM market. The existing guard of CIEM companies has long been intricately tied to the hearing aid/protection industry. Not so anymore. With enough passion and dedication, ardent music lovers and DIYers are carving their own path with custom-molded in-ear monitors.
About half a year ago, I championed our very own piotrus-g (a.k.a. Peter) as having risen from self-experimentation with CIEM molds to being ready at the helms of his own company in CustomArt. He has since won the recognition and respect of numerous head-fiers for delivering great-sounding silicone CIEMs at reasonable prices.
This time, I'd like to introduce another triumph of DIY, not from Europe, but from half the world away: くみたてLab
くみたてLab (or Kumitate Lab), as you can surmise from the name, is from Japan, home of rabidly crazy CIEM fans. Nowhere else in the world do I know of so many audiophiles with four, five, six, ten, twenty plus pairs of custom IEMs, and yet, Japan only has a few major custom IEM manufacturers, despite housing some of the most prominent audio/electronics companies in the world in Sony, JVC, Pansonic, and many more. The biggest CIEM manufacturer, of course, is FitEar, which has set the portable audiophile world on fire as of late. There are other companies, such as CanalWorks, that work silently within the country but only happy-go-lucky schoolgirl Monet Sakamoto has been a common fixture in the head-fi portable forums.
With so many headphones and portable devices, Japan seems to have tried and heard it all. Thus, a small but passionate group of DIYers have risen in the last couple of years to create their own custom IEMs --- banding together and learning from one another. They communicate constantly with each other over social media like Twitter, tweeting news of not only interesting new products, what they heard at the most recent headphone show, but also what they were up to in their own designs, as well as organizing group buys for balanced armature drivers, acoustic tubing, capacitors, and resistors. They diligently documented their trials and tribulations on their blogs. Starting off with home-made measuring rigs and sub-par acrylic molds, each of them slowly but surely improved on their skill.
Silently reading (but not quite fully understanding, as I don't read Japanese, just the nigh useless Google translations) these blogs was me, and I found their community absolutely exciting and galvanizing. People like Vorbiser, hokutoumashi, 682, and quite a few others have banded together to find their own sound and to craft their own creations.
One of the leaders of this DIY movement was Mr. Ryosuke Ito, a.k.a. KumitateK. With one of the most detailed blogs (http://diy-ciem.blogspot.com/) amongst the DIYers, KumitateK quickly caught my attention as one of the guys that paid meticulous attention to detail, not only with analyzing sound and measurements, but also with the crafting of shells, and subjective recording of insight into the earphones themselves. Two summers ago, I e-mailed him with a few n00bish questions regarding crossover design, not really expecting any answers. To my surprise, he replied back to me quickly and enthusiastically, and since then we've corresponded from time to time regarding random, interesting findings.
Why create this company in the first place? Well, I can't be sure, because I actually haven't corresponded with Mr. Ito in a while (not since the end of summer), but my guess is that he would like it to be a celebration of DIY.
I am sure that the DIY effort began as a hobby for him, and remains a hobby in the minds of the others as well. They have fun tinkering with crossovers and UV curing ovens. They hold friendly competitions during audiophile headphone shows to see whose creations get the most thumbs ups from the meandering crowd. To me, Ito-san is likely making くみたて a business only because so many people in Japan (and perhaps quite a few around the world, myself included) have encouraged him to step out and offer a commercial service to audio enthusiasts that want a special and unique experience in their audio journey.
So how do Ito-san's creations sound? I actually do not know. I have not heard anything from Kumitate Lab. Thus far, the only head-fier that I am aware of who has heard a few of Kumitate Lab's creations is one of our neighborhood-friendly mods AnakChan, who mentioned them in one of his summer show reports here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/672513/15th-july-2013-tokyos-fujiya-summer-portaken-report
However, from my e-mail and Twitter correspondence with KumitateK, くみたて embodies all the right ingredients of a great custom IEM lab, with respect to both technical proficiency of sound tuning and artisan-like mastery over shell creation. I would not be worried about sound or craftsmanship.
What am I worried about? Well, for starters, fulfillment of orders. The lab had to close down for a few months because Mr. Ito fell ill after being inundated with reshell orders (just from local orders, no less). What is there to guarantee that it won't happen again? He says that his order system is now more robust, however. Second would be the MMCX connectors and home-made cables. While they're not bad, per se, (after all, they're good enough for Westone) I remain wary of MMCX as a good option because of high failure rates. Other than that, I don't know. I do know that I am excited for this triumph of DIY, and I think others should be too. If this DIY movement doesn't embody the spirit of head-fi, I don't know what does.
KumitateK's Head-Fi Profile: http://www.head-fi.org/u/365454/kumitatek
Edited by tomscy2000 - 12/10/13 at 8:08am