Custom Full-ear Silicone Earpieces Via the Magic of Sugru!

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Introduction: Custom Full-ear Silicone Earpieces Via the Magic of Sugru!

I'm probably not the only one who thought this, but when I saw the magical material that is Sugru, this is the ONE project that I absolutely had to do.  My trusty Shure E4 in-ear headphones are great performers, but I'm never happy with any of the earpieces - the foam inserts are OK but after losing them well beyond visual range in my ear canal a couple of times, I'm a bit hesitant to push them too far into my ears anymore.  Aside from this, the rubber strain reliefs on both earpiece cables have long since fallen apart, and this leaves the cord vulnerable to breaking free internally.

Custom earpieces are the obvious answer to problem 1, but this is generally a somewhat expensive 2-step process - have an audiologist take molds of your ears, then send those molds off to have your earpieces cast for you.  This looked like it would cost me approximately as much as the E4s did originally, and I'm not honestly sure how much life these things have in them anyway...

Enter Sugru!  I've seen that a few people have already used it to enhance their earphones, but I wanted to do more than any I've seen so far.  Sugru sets quickly and stays soft, and it's adhesive enough that I hope it will stay attached to my earphones (but is still removable if one makes a dedicated effort to peel it off).  If this works right, I can cast my earpieces in a one-step process with just a few dollars worth of material.  I hope that this general procedure will translate well to other makes and models of in-ear monitors, but I obviously can't be sure.

DISCLAIMER - Sugru's documentation warns that it may irritate skin, and prolonged skin contact is essential for this project.  If your skin is sensitive, test the product first.  This project involves sticking things into your ear which you may never see again.  Try to remember what went in and make sure it comes out.  

BE CAREFUL STICKING THINGS IN YOUR EARS.

Step 1: Preparations...

Gather materials!

- In-ear headphones/monitors - ideally ones that are oriented to point directly into your ear canal
- Sugru!  Pick your favorite color, I used 1 5g packet for each ear, and set some extra aside for reinforcement / alterations afterward.
- Some kind of human-compatible lubricant (petroleum jelly, etc.)
- Vinyl or latex gloves
- Cotton swabs

Clean well... I would suggest cleaning your ears and your earphones because stray ear wax may corrupt your earpieces.  I used rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs to clean the plastic parts of my earphones, to give the Sugru a good chance of sticking in place.


Step 2: Optional?

I sacrificed my current set of foam tips because they have a nice flexible rubber tube in the center which I wanted to use to extend the ear canal tube a bit.  I did a bit better than depicted in removing the black foamy bits, but it gets covered anyway so I didn't worry too much.

If you happen to have something in your parts&pieces bin that will accomplish this, go for it.  I only extended it 1/8" or so, just wanted a bit more extension and diameter than the white plastic bit, and I liked the idea of a soft tip that I could trim afterward if necessary.  If you play around with this part, make sure your extension is not so long as to poke holes in your eardrums or brain. 


Step 3: Prepare to Mold!

After looking for notes on whether or not using my skin as a Sugru mold was advisable, one thing I noticed were a number of people asking "HOW DO I WASH THIS OFF MY HANDS NOW??" 

Therefore I opted to proceed from here with clear vinyl gloves on.

Using a cotton swab, liberally and carefully coat your ears with petroleum jelly or your personal lubricant of choice in your entire outer ear area and about 1/2" into your ear canal.  This will help the silicon slide into place when you push it in, creating a more accurate mold, and help it slide OUT of place when you're done.  There are tiny hairs in your ears.  They will stick to things unless lubricated.  Make this part easier on yourself.

Cut open a packet of sugru, knead the contents in your fingers, and begin applying to an earpiece.  I was sure to fully encircle the tip going into my ear canal, and leave a solid mass between the body of the earpiece and my ear.  I don't see any reason to fully cover the outside of the earpiece.  This is one full packet in the photo.  Make sure your sugru does NOT cover the end of the tube by which sound will enter your ear.

Step 4: Go Ahead, Shove It in There.

Insert the earphone carefully, trying to make sure it enters your ear canal and sits where it normally would.

Use your gloved fingers to poke and prod at the sugru to fill the crescent-shaped contours of your ears.  The better you get into the cavities of your outer ear, the more secure your fit will be.  Note that Shures are designed to route the cords over your ears - whatever you use, just make sure everything is in the position you would normally use it.  You shouldn't feel the hard plastic tip of the earphones scraping against your ear canals.

At this point I opted to plug into a music source and make sure the sound was clear and the ports were unobstructed.

Smooth the outer surface to however you'd like it to look.  At this point I decided I'm probably going to have to revisit the outer area to reinforce my cords - I am honestly unsure how well 2nd applications of Sugru will stick to already set pieces.



Step 5: First Results!

I did this job one ear at a time, since I wasn't sure how it would work and didn't want to be completely deaf for 30+ minutes while the Sugru set.

Note that you are of course welcome to listen to music on your headphones (or write an instructable) while the Sugru is working its magic inside your ear cavity.

This is what I pulled out of my ear.  As mentioned, it was still pretty soft - 30 minutes may have been a bit soon, perhaps because of limited exposure to air while in my ear, or maybe that's just how it works.  Remove carefully by pulling on the plastic earphone rather than the Sugru and try not to deform your pieces.

Whether you do one or two at a time, the Sugru needs 24 hours to fully cure, so put them somewhere safe, where their own weight or position is not deforming their shape while they rest.

Step 6: Not Cheetos.

Here are the two earpieces together - no, they don't look alike and they probably never will!  

In my case, the earpiece port appears to exit at an odd angle from the silicon piece corresponding to my ear canal - however they sound perfect and feel great, so perhaps this isn't a problem.  I'll probably try again at some point to see if they turn out differently, but I'll work with these for awhile.

Step 7: Last Tweaks

I eventually decided to crack open my last orange packet of Sugru to reinforce the cords.  I thought the odds of the new Sugru sticking to the old would be better before the 24 hour cure time is up, but that's just speculation.  I probably should have worked harder to achieve this in the first molding step, but then trying to pull the piece out probably would have messed this area up anyway.

At this point, if you have any Sugru residue where you don't want it, a cotton swab with alcohol will get rid of it pretty easily.

Once everything sets up, you can cut/trim any excess or odd areas to suit your desires.

I'm going to wait until the 24 hour cure time is complete before attempting to re-insert these in my ears, but unless they suffer some very significant shrink during curing, they should fit as they did during molding, which was wonderful.  I could see myself wearing these for hours without fatigue, and the noise isolation was excellent.

Good luck to all Sugru adventurers out there!

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    37 Discussions

    One of the main issues I had with this was the loss of "coupling" on my earphone s...it was not seated tightly enough inside the ear canal, so the bass was very weak. this is a known issue with this approach. True custom in-ear monitors are designed from the ground up and do not have this problem.

    I had a MEE audio X7 plus. this is a nice wireless set I got on Massdrop for the gym. Unfortunately the standard tips do not give enough bass, and the fit in the ear is not secure. So I bought Comply tips. Better sound for sure but very finicky in term of positioning, would often come out as I worked out.

    I tried the sugru approach here, using a sleeve for the comply (with foam removed) and a two-stage technique (start with the inner ear mold then put on more sugru for the outer. fit nice and snug! but the bass was lacking compared to the comply tips. I think the seal is not tight enough and the driver is not tuned for this approach. What to do?? I was ready to give up on them.

    So I decided on one last try. I cut the Sugru back to the level of the driver/post of the earbud. Then I removed the sleeve for the Comply tip and then cut back the Sugru a bit to allow a new, intact Comply tip. The idea is to use the Comply for better sound but the mold for stability and isolation. Voila!!! worked like a charm!!! Sounds great, better than with Comply alone, and very stable!

    meecustomwithcomplytip.jpg
    0
    user
    Rahere

    8 months ago

    Another approach is the more classic 3-stager, using Shapelock to mould the outer ear, which is then machined to fit the plug. It's hard, though, so form a negative mould from the old-style mix of talc avd silicove, avd finally go for the final mould in Sugru from that. It also gives you several goes from one moulding

    How did they do as far as blocking out sound? I'm interested doing the same thing without the earbuds to wear while shooting firearms instead of paying to have some made.

    3 replies

    Don't forget a lot of the firearm sound is percussive blast rather than true sound, so it also travels along bone, circumventing the plugs, which may even make it worse. This is why we use softer foam.

    Honestly I can only imagine they'd be better without the headphones inserted in them.

    The best material I've found for making these is actually sold as a DIY custom earplug kit - look up Radians earplugs on Amazon or anywhere else. Great stuff, molds easily, and they also sell a specialized lanyard to anchor into the plugs for hanging them around your neck instead of losing them.

    Definitely cheaper ($11-12) and probably just as effective as having customs made anywhere else. Sugru is a bit cheaper than the Radians I think, but the Radians material seems to have a nicer soft feel over time in the ear.

    Great recommendation, thank you! That's cheap enough to give it a shot and see how well it works.

    All credit to Sugru for being an amazing material to work with, but I've re-done this project using Radians brand custom earplug material and I think it might be better suited to in-ear use; the material seems to be more compliant and create a better seal. But then again, it's possible that I just got better results because it was my second attempt.

    2 replies

    Based on the cost, Radians is also roughly 5-8x more expensive than the equivalent amount of Sugru.

    That said, the Radians cures in 10 minutes (versus a minimum 30 minutes for Sugru) and probably does create a better seal, since those guys purpose built their silicone blend for stuffing into your ear canal (at least a little bit).

    I've done an initial Sugru pair with a set of ipod earbuds and they cut the sound a little bit. Next up will be savaging some Skull Candy earbuds I bought a while back but never really used because they fall out too easy.

    I think the price i salmost the same.
    I have done this with Radians a few years ago (with a set of Creative buds, the fit is after 3 years still good and this creates a great bass), think I used half of the material. A pack of Radians is 45 gram and I used half of it which is approx 12gram per ear. I think you need 2x 5 gram of Sugru per ear as well to create a proper fit for ear and earbud. That is almost the same amount and price. have not tried the Sugru myself yet but thinking of making another set with either Sugru or Radians in combination with a pair of Klipsch S4's. I just can say that the Radians material worked out great, it is still flexible and holds the buds in place like new.

    Great idea! Fortunately however I'm married to an audiologist so I get custom made ear pieces but if I wasn't this would be the way to go.

    you could add a small hollow tube along side the ear-bud to allow external sounds to get to the ear. this is often done with in-ear hearing aids.

    An excellent instructable: clear, well-written, and entertaining. Thank you.

    this material and method is almost exactly the same as what is used to make earplugs for those with inner ear problems to use for swimming/showering and in industrial settings to give better protection than the regular foam or rubber ones most people are used to. i'm going to be making some of these, as i've tried someone else's and noticed how much lower in volume my ipod needs to be for me to hear it. they'll be great to sleep in...though i'm not certain my ipod will even go soft enough to allow for sleep with such little sound loss.

    How/why are they bad for hearing? I have a set of Skullcandy earbuds (in-ear), and I am worried for my hearing.

    Because there is no air inside your ear canal to absorb the pressure from the sound waves, it damages you eardrum by putting more pressure on it and constricting the hammer and anvil muscles in there. Kind of like, if you go into a room so loud it hurts, and soon the same level of sound doesn't hurt, thats doing reeeeeealy bad to your ear. The big headphones that cover you ears are probably the best for you, giving alot of air space between the sound source and eardrum, but mind you, speakers are even better

    Interesting, I've only heard good things about in-ear monitors for the same reasons mentioned already - with ambient noise blocked out, there is less reason to drive the headphones to high levels. Assuming that one is already using IEMs, then, it would make sense to find the best noise isolation in your earpieces to protect your hearing.

    My sister wears hearing aids. Her doctor told her that any headphones are worse for your hearing than speakers.