Picture of DIY In Ear Monitors
In ear monitors, also called musicians monitors, are canalphones used to listen to music (or with respect to musicians, to hear custom mixes of vocals/instrumentation during live music performances or while recording music in a studio). They are custom fitted to the users' ears to provide superior comfort and bass response, as well as unsurpassed passive noise reduction (up to -25dB). They are also exceedingly expensive (an equivalent 3-way design from Westone or Ultimate Ears would probably run $1,000+), putting them out of the reach of the average music enthusiast. These aren't earbubs-turned-psuedo IEMs, this is the real deal. This article will show you how to make your own custom fitted in ear monitors for about 1/4 the cost of a professionally made equivalent.
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Step 1: Tools and Materials

Obviously lots of variables here. I'll list the things I used, and then along the way explain why I used what I used and what some suitable alternatives might be.

-Soldering iron
-A helping hands
-Utility knife
-Wire cutters

From Mouser:
-Balanced armature drivers (Knowles Acoustic: (2) CI-22955-000, (2) DTEC-30008-000, (2) WBFK-30019-000)
-(2) 1 uF capacitors (Mouser part#: 581-SA305E105MAR)
-(2) 7.32 ohm resistors (Mouser part#: 270-7.32-RC)
-AMP female connectors (Mouse part#: 571-665059)
-AMP male connectors (Mouse part#: 571-665079)

From Earplugstore:

-Earmold impression kit

From Microsonic:
-Acoustic tubing
-Acoustic dampers (green ones and yellow ones; also available at Mouser)

From a quality art store:
-A mold making material (for making molds of the impressions; I used SmoothOn Reoflex)
-A body making material (for making the body of the IEM; I used SmoothOn Crtystal Clear; please see my safety comments regarding this product on page 4)

-Some copper stranded wire, whatever you have laying around

-And you'll have to either make a connecting wire, cannibalize one from some other headphones, or buy one like this. I originally made my own, but I couldn't find the same kind of small gauge, soft-jacketed wire, so I eventually broke down and bought a Westone cable that I ended up modifying. If you have a lead on the kind of wire use in headphones, but all means share it. If you use a wire that's too stiff, in addition to it being awkward you'll also get unpleasant microphonics.

A note on impressions: Please read this before attempting to make your own impressions. There is a potential risk of serious injury, including permanent deafness. If you're unwilling to take this risk you have the option of having impressions professionally made by an audiologist. Also, while Earplug Superstore sells a kit, complete with the impression material, syringe, bite block, and ear dams, it is also possible to by these materials from Microsonic (since you'll need to buy some supplies from them anyway). The syringe isn't necessary, though it is helpful. Biteblock isn't necessary, and alternatives could be used. You must use an ear dam, though you could easily make them yourself using some foam and string. Don't try to make impressions with anything other than materials specifically made for doing so.

A note on crossovers: If you'd like to read more about high-, low-, and band-pass filters, this is a pretty good introduction. I've also found a handy RC crossover calculator. The resistor and capacitor values you choose will depend of the impedance of your drivers and your desired roll off. For more complicated circuits, including how to (properly) wire a 3 way crossover (unlike what I did), check out this. But note that you cannot use inductors with balanced armature drivers (BA drivers have inductive coils in them, if you use inductive crossovers you'll get inductive coupling).

UPDATE - took me a while to find them, but the IEM connectors are called TF10. A quick search will yield lots of results.
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crownedjules3 months ago

Is there any chance of this being turned into a video tutorial?

Dener4 months ago

Excelent project Marozie, Congrats!

Please, mycuriosity: If the project contemplated more balanced arms and crossovers, as well as the example the JH Audio JH16 custom in-ear monitor (use 8 balanced armatures in a triple crossover configuration - 4 low / mid 2/2 high)
What are the settings for all components?

SrRaven7 months ago

So I always wanted some custom IEM, but as you really neatly added the product nr for mouser stuff for the electronics, could you link me to the dampers and tubing for mouser ? Im from germany, so not all stores do send to germany.

Much appreciated!

timsat7 months ago

is there any reason not to use silicone as plug material?

marozie (author)  timsat7 months ago

I actually made earplugs out of silicone from my molds, turns out they didn't work as well as I'd hoped. It take a lot of contorting to get the soft material deep into the canal, and this would surely destroy the structure of any electronics embedded within.So, yeah, the earpiece needs to be fairly rigid.

Jazzy1311 months ago
What was the total cost? This was a great instructable by the way.
z1lle1 year ago
I have a pair of westones um 2, the drivers are in good condition, but concering to the noise in the Shell when I put them in my ears, I think the parts have lost connection to the shell. Is there a possibility to use the drivers from my UM2 for this project, and is there a possibility to add another driver from Knowles to the system to get a 3-driver-system? Does anyone have some information about positioning the drivers in the shell concerning wave length and frequency response?
Where did you get the drivers
cjh10411 year ago
do i reall need 1 uF capacitors and 7.32 ohm resistors?
i really do not know how to connect them together..
ggltd2 years ago
Just a thought on this- I have made my impressions from Radians material. My mold is out of casting resin and I plan to make the ear buds out of the rubber molding material most people use to make the casting molds. I then will connect my Sony earbuds into these. Wouldn't the rubber material work for this project instead of using the toxic hard plastic? Or would it cause the components to malfunction? It might also be easier to cut the material and remove the components if needed.
patdoherty2 years ago
poofrabbit2 years ago
Congratulations on being a finalist in the DIY Audio Contest!! Good luck to you!
Justin Mai2 years ago
Is there any other place(s) that sells acoustic tubing? Micro sonic had 1 foot priced at $0.50, but shipping was $7.75... -_-
wespitzer2 years ago
While I always appreciate a good ible (and this is a great one), for the cost in parts you can get a set of ears from the guy who invented in ears AND started Ultimate Ears for about the same price. Granted, they're only dual drivers but they are great sounding and only $400.
But you don't get to make them yourself. Which is half the fun.

As a point of reference, I'm a professional monitor engineer at House of Blues.
marozie (author)  wespitzer2 years ago
Check this out. I'm not familiar with this company, but their dual driver IEMs start at $250. That's the cheapest I've ever seen. But making them yourself is half the fun!
He didn't invent in ears. Marty Garcia did.
I was a little off on Marty Garcia inventing in ears, "in 1978, inventor Steve Ambrose designed and built the first in-ear monitoring system"

Nevertheless he created the "First Commercially Available In-Ear Monitoring System Future Sonics Ear Monitors" in 1985.
Either way, Marty Garcia created a custom fit in ear in 1982, Jerry Harvey in 1995.
marozie (author)  wespitzer2 years ago
Exactly! Somehow cost takes a backseat when you're trying to make something cool for yourself. I did overstate the cost of the drivers a bit: WBFK - $47, DTEC - $47, CI - $27; So, not $50 a piece, but I concede it's still expensive.

Also, those JH's are bottom of the line, that's where they start. Which isn't to say they don't sound good, but if you were to make yourself ears with a dual driver like DTEC or TWFK I bet it would sound just as good, and you could probably do it for about $150 if you were careful about the budget.
awesome ible! so the material is a hard resin in the end? for some reason I always imagined these being soft/flexible.
marozie (author)  amandaghassaei2 years ago
Amanda - Looks like some of the companies (specifically, Ultimate Ears) are offering a two part shell where the body is made from rigid acrylic, but the tip is made from an acrylic material that softens as it warms up. Dreve, which is a German company that makes acrylics for this use, calls it Thermosoft.
cool, thanks for the tip!
marozie (author)  amandaghassaei2 years ago
Yep, hard plastic. There are some that are soft (check out the Sensaphonic 2X-S:, but I've never seen them. I'm curious if it's a rigid inner shell with a silicone coating? I've thought about making a solid version (like mine) using a rubber instead of a plastic, but I'm a little concerned that the electronics might be able to shift around a bit.
yeah I like the idea a flexible outer coating, I guess you could still use the same mold you have now, just cast all the components in hard plastic before putting them in the mold.
marozie (author)  amandaghassaei2 years ago
Yeah. You could just take the little bundle of innerds and dip them in the plastic resin -- allow it to cure -- then position them in the mold and pour in a rubber resin. Silicone would be ideal, as it's very biologically inert (also used in many medical device implants).

Still curious about those Sensaphonics. Like I said on one of the pages, the earpieces are usually hollow shells, which is why they have to be made out of hard plastic.
How about using mouth guard rubber? You can buy a set at a pharmacy for $20 and remove the soft inner moldable rubber.
Yes, this can work pretty well. Depending on the chemical content of the material used, the ear canal can react to something that causes an alergic reaction in sensitive tissue. Everyone's body chemistry is different... So, this is something to remember when doing this... with material designed for another context. (dental/auditory)
I have the Sensophonic inserts for some otherwise decent (not great) Shure SE210s, and they are brilliant together. They are basically just silicone RTV molds specific to the earphone shape. It was kinda a pain to get them fitted, and I think the total bill came to around $300, but I really love them. I'd like to have a better driver though, and I may look into this.
dgateley2 years ago
Can anyone suggest a source for the uv curable acrylic? I've found a few dental sources but they require you to prove professional credentials to sell you anything. Very annoying.

I really appreciate the caution about uv curable urethane being incompatible with tissue. I had obtained some uv curable liquid from a fly fishing store presuming it was acrylic and had intended it for use on tissue until I read this. I'm still not sure which it is but I'm not going to experiment to find out.
marozie (author)  dgateley2 years ago
I found the UV acrylic I bought, it's made by Dreve and it's called Photoplast lacquer. If you search for that you'll find places that sell all sorts of audiology materials.
Many Thanks. I sure had trouble finding info on that until your second post clued me that it is actually Fotoplast, not Photoplast. Along the way I found a similarly misspelled reference on a custom earphone fitter's site which indicates that it softens at body temperature. That can be good or bad depending on your application.

Actually I'm seeking something that would safely make a cast of my complete ear canal _including the ear drum_ for a project I'm considering for measuring the in situ response of 'phones. I'm told to stay the hell away from anything that is a resin for certain. It can attach and pull the drum and some little tiny bones right out of your ear. I'm not even close to finding something I might call safe yet.

A Silicone RTV with fast cure time and no heat generation could be right but there's no such stuff that I can find. It absolutely can't stick to anything and that's my experience with RTV's so it remains a candidate.

Another possibility is an organic stuff called alginate which is used for temporary castings until transferred to a more durable mold material. Dentists use it for making castings for dentures and it has application in the world of Motion Picture F/X. See for it and lots of other cool stuff for makers.
marozie (author)  dgateley2 years ago
The Fotoplast cures to a hard acrylic. What you're referring to is called Thermosoft, also made by Dreve.
Thanks. You know, there are so many varieties of this magic UV cured stuff with so many different properties that a specialty Amazon storefront might be worth the effort. It's a makers dream.

It was this project that first led me to it.
marozie (author)  dgateley2 years ago
I also found this:

It's UV cure acrylic nail polish. Cheap enough to check out.
marozie (author)  dgateley2 years ago
I found a source for audiologist supplies that doesn't require account permissions:

Looks like the stuff I bought, Fotoplast Lacquer, isn't even the right product. It's for, you know, lacquering an earpiece, not making the shell. The stuff to make the shell is even more expensive; smallest quantity (500g) of clear is $212 (granted that's probably enough to make dozens and dozens of shells). You can get 100g quantities of other colors/tints for $60.

I am working on making hollow shells from the Fotoplast lacquer though. The results will be in my next Instructable.
marozie (author)  dgateley2 years ago
I was able to by some, it was the same situation where I had to register an account, and the accounts are supposed to be for commercial, as opposed to retail use, by dental/audiologist practices. I basically just told the guy what I was trying to do, and he was cool with it as long as I wasn't trying to buy equipment and stuff. But the chances of people having that kind of luck are probably not great.

For what it's worth, these kinds of medical supplies are extremely expensive since they're not sold retail - the UV acrylic was something like $40 an ounce - so it's not necessarily a practical route to try and go down. Check out the link I posted to Electron Microscopy Sciences, you can get a quart of liquid acrylic for $60.

Also, the urethane I used wasn't UV curable, it's self curing, like epoxy. Just try to find some more info on the material you got, and try to track down an MSDS.

I haven't tried it yet, but I think the best solution might be to first coat the molds with nail polish, let it dry a bit, then fill them with your plastic. When you make an earpiece from the mold and then coat it with nail polish it ends up being a bit too big and will exert uncomfortable pressure in your ear.
Justin Mai2 years ago
If you were to use the TWFK drivers, what kind of crossover setup would you use for the driver?
marozie (author)  Justin Mai2 years ago
TWFK is apparently two different drivers, it's not just a dual WBFK like I thought. One of the drivers is WBFK, but the other one is something else. And Knowles says that it had an internal crossover, so it's basically a tweeter and a mid in one package.
So you wouldn't need any electronics between the 1/8 cable and the driver?
marozie (author)  Justin Mai2 years ago
Depends what you're trying to do. If you have more than one driver and you want them to be expressing different frequency response curves, you need crossovers. Read some of the links I put up at the end of the materials section.
I mean do I need any specific electronics for the TWFK, seeing as it has an internal crossover?
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