IEM's and air pressure inside the ears
May 21, 2009 at 5:25 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 31


100+ Head-Fier
Jan 3, 2006
I had a coincidental revelation today, and I'm wondering if this may apply to other head-fi members using iem's.
Whenever I plugged my ER4P's deep in my ears, I would always feel a buildup of air pressure in my ears against the earphones, which made sense because the earphones compressed the air inside the ear as it was pushed in and completely blocked out airflow. This feeling was a bit uncomfortable, but I didn't think I could do anything about it.
But today, the pressure was especially annoying and I used a technique I learned to get rid of the pressure when there's a sudden change of altitude in airplanes and other cases. I held my nose and tried to push the air out of my ears by attempting to breathe out of my nose (the air can't get out of the nose so it tries get out of the ears and relieves the air pressure).
While doing this, I noticed a great change on the sound signature:the relieving of the air pressure opened up the sound considerably and the mids and treble became much more lively. Of course, when I stopped doing the technique, the air pressure normalized because the air still was trapped in my ears. This got me thinking, and I attempted the technique right before and as I was plugging in the earphones to get the air out of my ears so it wouldn't be compressed and build up pressure.
The results were fantastic, ER-4P's sounded much more crisp and detailed than before although bass response remained the same as well as both bass and treble extension. I'm enjoying the new sound alot, even though I probably look ridiculous holding my nose and plugging in the earphones at the same time. I'm wondering if anyone else has this problem regarding iems.
May 21, 2009 at 5:35 AM Post #2 of 31
Occasionally I'll raise my ears without touching them just using my face muscles. The seal from my Shure SE530's breaks and air escapes resulting in a fuller sound. This will always happen if something is blocking your ear canal since air pressure will build up quickly.
May 21, 2009 at 5:45 AM Post #3 of 31
i think you are right on the money, or hit the nail on the head, or something like that.

I had similar experiences with my SA6 and UM3X. If I decompress the air, everything sounds much better. However, I can not decompress air the same way because I have bad allergies.

Also, some people have a hole like near the ear drum where the air can leak between the outer and inner ear.
May 21, 2009 at 6:32 AM Post #4 of 31
It is an interesting finding, but it isn't a direct cause of air pressure build up in the ear canal by inserting the IEM.

The outer ear (ear canal in this case) and the rest of the ear structure are separated by the ear drum. Unless your ear drum is damaged, there shouldn't be any air exchange b/w them. Eustachian tube, which link to the pharynx, is what help to regular the air pressure behind the ear drum (and what the breathing technique you used trying to affect). If there is a build up of air pressure in the ear canal, changing breathing technique won't have any direct effect since it only affects the air pressure behind the ear drum, not in front of it.


On an airplane, the air pressure build up in the Eustachian tube (as air pressure drops on the outside) and push the ear drum outward. Thus you want to breath in a way that will help release that pressure through your pharynx; With an IEM, air pressure build up in the ear canal (as you push and seal in the IEM) and push the ear drum inward - unless you can increase the air pressure inside th Eustachian tube to balance the pressure of both side (*very unlike since you can only increase it to about atmospheric pressure), the only way is to release the pressure in the ear canal is to create a temporary break in the seal so the air pressure can leak out.

One of two thing might have happened to you: 1) When you applied the breathing technique, you temporary increased the air pressure inside the Eustachian tube to reach equilibrium. However, since you can't actually hold the pressure in for very long, eventually it will drop back to normal atmospheric pressure and the situation will reverse back; 2) As you change the way you breath, the composition of the soft bone inside your ear canal changes slightly, allowing just enough air to escape from the seal and reach an equilibrium. Situation #1 is what likely happened in the first place, while situation #2 is what likely happened when you applied the technique while you are inserting the IEM.

If my assumption is correct, a temporary breaking off of the seal after normal insertion will be just as effective. It is easy: insert the IEM normally, then push the earpiece (which is now in the ear canal) from side to side or up and down trying to break the seal and allow the air pressure to release. Since the eartip is in the canal, it will seal back once you stop moving it around. Now the air pressure should be in equilibrium again.
May 21, 2009 at 8:21 AM Post #5 of 31
That's an outstanding graphic. I think you're right, equalizing pressure with the inserted IEM is key. Otherwise, you have a pressurized eardrum.

I've always been able to clear my ears with a flexing of the jaw, a technique that's served me well since childhood.

Over the years, in various aircraft, friends have chewed on gum like madmen, grabbed their noses and made their eyeballs bug out, trying to force a wee bit of air in quest of comfort...and I've simply clicked my ears in one teeny motion. Especially in pressurized aircraft cabins, when the engines spool up, and the cabin air press valve opens, I see folks look up surprised, as the static pressure rises.

Be very careful in trying to force your ears clear. For most, a yawn moves the passages well, allowing flow. I wish I could relate my personal method.

Forcefully blowing is a bad idea. If you've ever experienced otitis media, you'll know what I am warning against.

Wiggling the IEM to allow the pressure to equalize is a great idea.

May 21, 2009 at 9:49 AM Post #6 of 31
Yaaaawwwwnnnn... aaa.. so sleeepy...

Yes, yawn also a good way to equalize the pressure. To me, it's works very well.
May 21, 2009 at 5:41 PM Post #7 of 31
haha neutron bob, i know exactly what the 'jaw technique' is, but forgot about it. Okay, now I can insert my eartips without looking so dumb.
I wish I could wiggle my iem's until air pressure gets out, but I have small ear canals and its' impossible to do so.
May 21, 2009 at 9:41 PM Post #9 of 31
I actually like to put IEM's deeper than they should be, make a seal, and release them. It makes a slight vacuum in the ear canal and gives me a better seal. For me, it doesn't affect the sound quality at all.
Feb 15, 2021 at 9:45 AM Post #13 of 31
You can pierce a hole in any silicon tip. This little hole will not affect the noise cancelling but will let the pressure to equalize no matter how deep you pushed your iem. I've been using this for a decade because my left ear somehow tries to reject the iem and removes the bass in several minutes of listening to vacuum iems. This never happens with iems that has vents in them.

The pierced hole should be in the right place so your ear will not close it (for spin fits you can pierce from inside through the place that makes spinfits what they are). Also after this you should remember which of 2 tips is pierced and not to tear them apart while removing.

It helps me, but may be no help for you, you should understand that you can waste your ear tip. The point is that this little hole closes by itself when there is no pressure or it is not enough to escape, that is why it doesn't affect the noise cancelling. Use this advise at your own risk. Also give your iem a moment for this hole to work, since it is small and closed by itself it works not instantly but very mildly. I have never pierced 2 holes, 1 was always enough.
Let me know if that helped someone, I would be happy. Because this issue driven me mad and I would pay for this solution back in a day :ksc75smile:
Feb 15, 2021 at 10:06 AM Post #14 of 31
Let me know if that helped someone, I would be happy. Because this issue driven me mad and I would pay for this solution back in a day :ksc75smile:
I need to try this with my TRI Starsea, because it causes a nightmare of a pressure buildup for me in one ear, to the point that I have to use foams on them because it's the only way to avoid this buildup, the resulting discomfort, and the popping driver flex.
Feb 15, 2021 at 10:17 AM Post #15 of 31
I need to try this with my TRI Starsea, because it causes a nightmare of a pressure buildup for me in one ear, to the point that I have to use foams on them because it's the only way to avoid this buildup, the resulting discomfort, and the popping driver flex.
It would be great if that helps and you will not hate me afterwards 😁

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