A $3 bet over custom-fit ear molds

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.

A $3 bet over custom-fit ear molds

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.