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A $3 bet over custom-fit ear molds

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By Bob Levens

Contributing Editor
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
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A topic of recent discussion between iLounge editors has been that of custom ear-molds. I’ve been looking for a way to reduce the costs of replacing the foam tips for my Shure E500PTH, so I investigated the possibility of getting custom ear-molds made. While not everyone’s ideal solution, it seemed that the cost of getting them made was a viable alternative to the annual cost of replacement foams - a bag of 20 foam tips (10 pairs) works out at about £20/$40, while a pair of custom, reusable molds were approximately £80/$160. While initially appearing to be expensive, the customs would of course pay for themselves over a couple of years, taking into consideration the frequency of replacing foams which became dirty or had lost their ability to expand after compression.

With my ear canal impressions duly made by a local audiologist and sent off to a company in the West Country, it was a matter of waiting to see if they could be made for the E500s. While Westone’s UM56 custom moulds are available for the Shure E3/4/5 range, the new E500 had not been tested, so although the shafts the tips fix to were the same size, making these moulds fit a new range was a unknown area.

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Eventually the custom tips arrived and after a few minutes of fine tuning the orientation of the tips on the body of the E500s, I achieved a comfortable fit. After the softness of the foam tips these initially appear to be hard on the ear but as the are moulded to the inside of your ear canal you soon get used to them. The isolation afforded by these custom tips is far better than Shure’s silicone rubber tips, and on initial listening, they’re as good as the foam tips.

Shure now make a new style of foam tip available for E500 (now SE530) users, similar to the “Comply” tips and made from coated foam. They are more resistant to dirt and grease/wax than the original yellow foam tips, and will last longer according to Shure booth staff. I actually used a pair on the flight home from San Francisco and I was able to keep them in for the duration of the flight (10 hours) without the itching which occurs with the silicone tips.

As the old adage goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” so over the next few days I will be using the custom molds and will update this article accordingly. We’ll see whether my £80 investment is worth it; Jeremy’s made me a $3 bet that Shure’s new foams are better overall.


UPDATE: 29 Jan 07
Well, I have been using these custom molds now for the last couple of weeks and, after the initial fumbling around to find an easy way to insert them, they have now become everyday wear for my Shures. They seal in the ear nicely and have proved to be as comfortable over fairly long periods of listening as the foams. So my experiment has been a success (and Jeremy’s money is mine). I intend to take them on my trip to Singapore in April, so a long haul flight will be the final test, but I am confident that the custom molds will pay off in the long run. 

And, after all, that was why I tried this ‘experiment’ - replacing foams once or twice a week (depending on how dirty they got) at a cost of £2 (almost $4) a pair would soon add up. And while you can wash the foams once or twice this reduces their ability to expand.
Of course the new foam tips are now available but I have not seen a price for the packs but I was told they would cost more than the yellow foams.

Now,  what to spend my winnings on….

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Comments

1

Dear Mr. Levens,
We also have foam earpieces designed to fit the Shure product line.  It is a Comply(tm) Foam Tip specifically made for the Shure E5c.  If you send me your address I will be glad to send you a sample for you to include in your evaluation.  I will also include a paper that I was invited to present at the research forum of last year’s AG Bell Society National meeting.  It has to do with a comparison of compliant foam pieces like the above versus custom earpieces for hearing impaired people.
Best regards,
Bob Oliveira, Ph.D.
President
Hearing Components

Posted by bob oliveira on January 25, 2007 at 8:27 PM (PDT)

2

Hi Mr Oliveira,
You did provide me a sample - I found them comparable to the new Shure foam tips. Had a slight problem with them though - they are a very tight fit on the phones and trying to remove them resulted in the foam tearing off the inner plastic sleeve which was left on the earphones.

As highlighted in my piece this was about reducing the cost of regular foam replacement.

As a regular user of foam ear plugs I am aware of the need to use a pair only once or twice.

Your price is $32 for 10 pairs (£16 or so) so the cost would still mount up over months of use. And, if they are destroyed each time you remove them to clean the foams, any advantage in using ‘coated’ foam tips against normal ones goes out of the window. Or into the waste bin to be more precise.

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on January 29, 2007 at 3:45 PM (PDT)

3

I feel compelled to respond to Bob’s comments.  My experience is directly opposite: I found the tips extremely easy to slid on and off (I’ve done it several times). Additionally, I’m on a treadmill 45 minutes a day and after a month my original pair are just fine.  These are very comfortable, quicker to fit your ear and the staff (Mike)  especially helpful.

Posted by Laurence Wayne on March 31, 2007 at 7:18 PM (PDT)

4

I can only report what happened. Whether I had a rogue foam with a narrower core I don’t know. What I do know is the tip ended up in the bin in two parts!
Do you push the foams down over the ridge on the sound bore? If not then they are easier to remove but they may also part company with the phones. either in your ear or when being carried?

I also don’t doubt their comfort - the black foam tips now available for the Shure were worn by me on the flight home from MacWorld and they were excellent. And easier to insert than the yellow foams. So I fully accept the Comply tips are as comfortable.
But as replacement cost was the reason behind me trying the UM56 I think my ‘experiment’ has paid of.

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on April 25, 2007 at 2:40 AM (PDT)

5

Bob-Just caught your reply-sorry for the tardy reply.  I do push my Comply tips over the ridge on the sound bore and it was quite easy,with both small size and regular and several pairs.  As for replacement time I am now at a month of 1 hour a day use and still comfortable and not “yucky” at all.  They also seem very willing to allow a trial sample.

Posted by Laurence Wayne on May 9, 2007 at 3:46 PM (PDT)

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