Custom full-ear silicone earpieces via the magic of Sugru!

Picture of Custom full-ear silicone earpieces via the magic of Sugru!
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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.  

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zerodb (author) 4 years ago
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.
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.
bond8153 years ago
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.
Tom 73 years ago
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.
remember to clean your ears first
mbmb3 years ago
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.
craig35 years ago
Also remember that these type of earphones are incredibly bad for your hearing
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
zerodb (author)  craig35 years ago
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.
oakback craig35 years ago
Is this just conjecture?
craig3 oakback5 years ago
No i apologize if i was wrong, it was something i heard in class at tafe, the thing about inear earphones may be wrong i heard in class, but hearing sound music and being used to it is definitely true in being bas for your ears
Actually just the opposite. Since they block out ambient noise, they require far lower SPLs in order for you to hear your music. They also happen to be far more efficient at generating the required SPL (which can be a disadvantage, since you can achieve significantly higher SPLs if you're not careful.) But as long as you don't crank the volume, these will be better for your hearing in a noisy environment by blocking out external loud noises.
Great instructable, may have to try this one! I would imagine that because they are now custom fit, they cut out external noise a lot better, so you could reduce the volume?
turn down the volume on the source?
jtommi4 years ago
I tried it.
I'm not sure but I have the impression that I have lost a bit of bass, unless I keep a finger on the earbud to keep it completely in.

P.S.: I'm from Belgium and only understood when I found the translation of petroleum jelly being Vaseline :)
ChrysN4 years ago
Intriguing project, I have two questions (sorry if you've answered them already elsewhere) how comfortable are they and how well do they block noise? I'm considering using this to make earplugs as you've suggested.
tofagerl5 years ago
Just tried this today. (The Sugru was slow in coming, but that was all the postal company's fault, since they shipped it the same day I ordered) Some thoughts: As a norwegian, I had no idea what petroleum jelly was, and the lady at the drugstore laughed at me, since every single product in the store had petroleum of some kind in it apparently. She sent me away with paraffin, which worked fine, but I think I'd have gotten off a lot cheaper if I had just asked for lube. I put Sugru all they around my earbuds, since I figured "why not, they're cheap". That made it difficult to get the outside to look nice, but from what I can tell that wasn't a realistic option anyway. I spent a LOT of time getting the Sugru out of the little hole the sound comes out of. Next time I'm going to find something thin and long like a needle and plug that hole before I start. (DO NOT STICK A NEEDLE IN YOUR EAR) All in all, I am pretty happy with the result, although it's still curing. I watched a podcast for 30 minutes with the buds in the ears, and it felt completely natural.
zerodb (author)  tofagerl5 years ago
Ironic, I avoided using the name brand "Vaseline" so as not to alienate any non-US audience, but it appears that the name brand is more easily recognized (and might actually be made IN Norway?!) - but anything slippery and a bit greasy should work, as long as you don't mind having it in your ear. In my case, I found that I could pack the Sugru AROUND the opening of the earphones without blocking the port, but I didfirst try using a short cut-off piece of a cotton swab (Q-TIP!) to do what you're suggesting. It of course promptly fell out of the earphone deep in my ear canal, requiring extreme tweezer dexterity to extract, and making me decide it would be a bad idea to advise anyone else attempt the same thing!
godfish5 years ago
I just did this last night, with my Rokr HD's and it's great and comfortable The only thing is it don't look all that great. I used Black because my headset is black, and it helps if you have someone that can help you mold the outside of the Sugru a little so it looks better. The only other tip I can give is keep your ears clean because when you plug them for long amounts of time you can promote ear infections and lots of nasty build up..
Hi Godfish, thought you might like a quick tip to help you make your buds look better :) TIP 1: sugru bonds to sugru... Once your custom form has cured, you can add a bit more sugru and shape that until it looks great. TIP 2: To get a great smooth surface, just dip your finger in soapy water and rub the sugru gently until you like the shape / surface finish (soapy water acts as a release agent for sugru but also allows you to get a very smooth surface) I hope that this helps you get the quality finish you want.
zerodb (author)  godfish5 years ago
Agreed, they are not very pretty! I'm going to re-do mine in black, I think, just so they're less attention-getting.
mathyookeem5 years ago
just out of curiosity once they cured did they fit as well as you hoped they would?
zerodb (author)  mathyookeem5 years ago
Yes, I was afraid that after the full 24 hours there may be some shrinkage but if so it's insignificant. The fit is excellent and the material is pliable enough to be very comfortable but still stay in position beautifully even when running.
grannyjones5 years ago
hivoltage5 years ago
I have a set of the same earphones, and they have done exactly the same thing with the little strain relief falling off. I may have to consider doing this for my set.
zerodb (author) 5 years ago
I should note that if you just want a killer set of earplugs for sleeping or travelling or whatever else you do, you could substitute "anything that you can grab onto" for the earphones and just make the molds to plug your ears. If you anchor a lanyard in each one, they will hang around your neck when not in use and be easy to remove. I found that getting these in my ears is facilitated by pulling up on my upper ear while inserting them, they "pop" into place nicely and stay very secure and comfortable. The Sugru material is BRILLIANT for this application. (I am either not allergic / reactive to the material OR the layer of petroleum jelly was sufficient to protect my ears from the chemicals.) I have suffered no ill effects from the process and I'm loving my headphones now.
hey zerodb, I am loving your custom earphone hack :) I noticed that in step 7 you wondered if sugru would bond to itself once cured, the answer is that it bonds brilliantly to itself, hope this helps.