As a musician in a church with an in-ear monitor (quiet stage) environment, I have a need for good quality in-ear monitor drivers. I've looked at some of the 'professional' ears but a pricetag of $400 or more is very intimidating. Since I'm a hacker at heart and get more thrill from making things than having them, I figured I'd take a swing at making my own.
Step 1: Step .5 - Research
Step 2: Step 1 - Collect Materials
Small earbud drivers (I chose a pair of Sonys for their sound quality)
Two 5g packs of Sugru
Sharp Xacto blade (preferably brand new)
iPod or some other audio source that can keep you entertained for an hour or more
I tried to document my progress with pictures along the way, but for a few of the following steps you'll need to use your imagination since both my hands were busy forming things and I didn't have an assistant.
The sound quality is as important as the fit for something like this, but you won't be able to try out earbuds before you buy them for obvious reasons. This is why I went with the Sonys, and also because they're white. (I wanted the Sugru to match the wire and not look silly). You can pick up a pair of buds for as little as $5, but if you're going to be using them on a regular basis, or if you're an almost-audiophile like me, then you'll want to pony up a little bit and buy something a little nicer. I believe the pair I purchased was $30.
Step 3: Step 2 - Begin
Step 4: Step 3 Continued
As previously mentioned, this step doesn't have any pictures.
Once you have the cables on both drivers trimmed, you'll need to break out the Sugru. Portion out a small amount (a ball maybe 1/4" in diameter), and once it's been kneaded, roll it into a tube and wrap the cable where it exits the driver. Insert the driver into your ear, being sure to insert the driver as fully as it will go. This will ensure that you get best sound quality and the maximum level of outside sound suppression.
It's a good idea to have your buds connected to your music player while doing this, to ensure that you get the same sound out of both sides/channels. A small discrepancy can make a huge difference here, and if it's not corrected now it will drive you nuts.
With the buds inserted in your ear, route the cable along the outside of the lower ear chamber (again, I'm not a doctor) towards the notch above the cartilage flap over the ear canal. The Sugru there will help it stick, but it won't stay very long. Start building up the Sugru to fill the lower chamber about 75% full.
Step 5: Step 4
Once the chamber is appropriately filled, you can opt to smooth the Sugru using the method described in the included booklet. I used soapy water to achieve a smooth finish. After you have the texture you're after, you'll need to let the Sugru cure for at least an hour before you try taking the earbuds out. If you still have your iPod connected, dial up some good tuneage and go about some business for a while. DO NOT touch your earbuds while they are drying, or else you'll have evidence of your impatience every time you use your ears.
After your earbuds have cured (an hour or hour and a half should be good enough so that you can pull them out, but they'll fully cure in 24-36), you can take them out by pulling straight back on your ear. You'll feel some tension as the Sugru releases your skin, but a few pulls and they should pop right out. Do your best not to take the earbuds out by pulling on the cable or prying them out with your finger, as they aren't fully cured at this point and will deform ever so slightly if you put too much pressure on them. This will result in discomfort for future uses, and ear pain is ... well, painful, so be careful.
Once they're removed, hang them somewhere that they won't touch anything (or each other) and let them cure overnight before using them. If they touch anything while they're curing, you'll again have a reminder, so just be conscious.
Step 6: Step 5 - Done!
To remove, gently pry on the backside (opposite the driver and the 'lock notch') until they pop out. Sounds complicated, but quickly becomes second nature with a little practice.
Your earbuds will provide you with loyal service, and if you take care of them they'll last for years.