CIEM are custom fit headphones. In-ear monitors custom fit for your ears. They are great for sound isolation and allow superior sound quality.
Our goal is to build our own pair of silicone pair of in-ear headphones, by buying parts online and DIY.
On this page, you can read on why we chose to DIY and why silicone but this post is mostly a journal of our results, successes or failures. To show how we built our custom in-ear headphones, there are some instructions, explanations of some choices, details and many pictures.
This post was written because we could not find any resource on making silicone CIEM. While there are some acrylic tutorials, most are incomplete, outdated, and don't talk about materials and where to get them. A large part of building CIEM is similar for acrylic and silicone.
If you have any questions or want more details, contact me by email and I will update this article.
CIEM are not cheap. Price range is 400$ to 2500$. Cheapest set I could find: Custom Art's FIBAE 1 at 400$. Noble Audio's cheapest are 600$. Additionally, impressions and shipping fees will cost 50$ to 200$. Finally, using silicone instead of acrylic is usually a premium of minimum 200$.
I've had a set of custom-fit acrylic headphones for 4 years now. Unfortunately, the fit is not perfect anymore. The outer ear, which includes the ear canal, changes with age and weight.
For sound isolation, an airtight seal is required. My pair cannot offer a reliable seal anymore.
I've seen people use nail polish or foam wraps (Comply Custom Wraps) as alternatives to a complete reshell. I tried custom wraps but they also degraded after a month of use.
To get a set of CIEM, you first select which model you want and buy it.
After, you'll have to get your ear molded by an audiologist (or DIY like shown below) and send the resulting impressions to the CIEM manufacturer or artisan. This can cost up to 150$.
When the manufacturer receives it, they send it to their artisan (usually in China) where they will make your CIEM. Finally, in 1-8 months, you will receive the final product. If you are lucky, there won't be any duty fees.
All required material can be bought from oundLink. SoundLink is a shop on AliExpress and they know their shit. I contacted Grace many times to make sure I was getting the right stuff and she was always helpful.
When we bought bulk material, our total cost was around 400$ USD, including shipping.
Silicone And Lacker
Drivers and Tubing
There are single use impression kits available online. Including shipping to Canada, they cost the same as SoundLink's bulk material. We used Detax green eco.
Make sure you are relaxed and your ears aren't swollen. (Mine are sometimes swollen after a shower and I can't fit my CIEM)
Ideally the impressions will show at least 2mm of the second bend inside the ear canal. The material should completely fill the canal. You might feel some pressure while it expands a little.
If you bought your CIEM, here is where it stops. Send your impressions by mail to the manufacturer.
Extra material on the impressions can be trimmed with a knife, but you should keep as much as possible. Especially when molding for silicone CIEM. It is better to keep more material because we can later trim the shells before the final lacker application.
You can chop the tip of the ear canal but keep around the second bend, keeping the angle of the bend. Keeping the angle allows us to position the tubing to point deeper. Most CIEM do not have a deep canal because it can hurt. In our case, we can later chop the silicone while trying it on. You'll be able to maximize depth and minimize pain.
I initially did not trim the ear canal on mine and later had to use a bigger contained to create the negative mold. This makes it harder to remove from the negative mold, which eventually broke it.
Also, as you can read below, silicone ear plugs with longer ear canal doesn't necessarily deliver better sound isolation.
Furthermore, the outer ear can be shaped, making sure you leave enough volume for the cable plug. This is important. You'll be able to trim it more later when working the silicone.
At this point, you can try on your impressions, to help trim the extra material. Be careful to not break them. I had never heard about people trying their impressions on. We did and there were no problems. It is not required but it helps to trim.
It is harder than you think to put CIEM on for the first time. Impressions are even harder, mostly because of the long ear canal. By safely trimming the canal up to the second bend you should be able to try them on.
The goal of dipping in the wax is to cover any imperfections.
This is harder than it seems because the wax did not stick much to the impressions. I am not sure if this is worth it.
Boiling a certain algae produces agar, which we use as a duplicating material. There are different materials available but agar is cheap, reusable and does the job.
Piercing holes in the inverse mold with a small drill bit will allow the silicone to completely fill the mold. We don't want any air pockets! It is easy to chop the extra silicone that escapes through the holes when filling. Drill holes wherever air pockets could form. Our best mold had as much as 8 air vents. Make sure the agar isn't too hot, otherwise the was will meld and mix with the agar when you poor it on the impressions.
This step is optional but it's a good introduction to silicone.
Get an injection gun. It is impossible to get the silicone our with your hands. Soundlink does not sell the cheap gun we used (yet). You can find them on ebay or Aliexpress for less than 10$.
The silicone cartridge can be sealed for later reuse. No need to empty it on first use. we had enough for 2.5 pairs with a single cartridge.
Also make sure you have the right mixing tips! Double check with Soundlink. They did not send us silicone mixing tips.
For this step, you'll definitely need a silicone impression gun.
Soundlink only has detax softwear silicone lacker. The lacker's viscosity is a bit higher than the wax.
Driver selection is up to you. There is an infographic out there that I can't find anymore. It explains the popular driver combinations.
We chose to use a set of drivers sold by Soundlink for around 60$ each. They are the triple driver set GK-31732. Recently they added these: quad driver set GV-32830. I would get those.
The dampers we chose are BF-1861 (on tweeter) and BF-1921 (on woofer). This setup was recommended on multiple forum posts.
After choosing your drivers or schematic, solder it up to the cables.
Get a decent soldering iron and solder the litz wirers to the drivers. It was much easier to use helping hands than only blue putty. It is harder than it seems to solder the connectors! Apply some solder on them first before soldering the wires. This part is straightforward.
Our CIEM both had problems after 2 weeks. Nic's connectors broke and mine are buggy. They need to be wiggled on the left ear for sound to be good. I suggest you don't use connectors and solder directly to the cable. We chose to use connectors because we did not want to have to lose a set of cables if something went wrong. Unfortunately, both our headphones had problems with the wiring. Both problems were caused by the connectors.
That's why I suggest you just sacrifice the cable. Mold it in the silicone with the connectors. You should probably solder the cables directly to the litz wires. This removes a crucial problem with silicone CIEM. Aliexpress sells decent cables for 30$.
The tubing length can vary, just make sure they are the same between both drivers. We use a smaller 1mm tubing to plug in the driver and to a larger 2mm tubing. The larger tubing contains the damper. The dampere is secured by a second smaller 1mm tube. Keep this one long or you'll have a bad time when filling with silicone.
I believe the damper's side does not matter but just in case, we chose to put them like they are in my Noble CIEM; rounded edge is outwards.
Refer to part 1 for more information.
Make sure the tubing are symetrical on both ears. Drivers should not be touching the agar much.
When filling with silicone, make sure to fill behind and under the drivers!
After this step, the headphones should work but they will be ugly and harder to try on because of the rubbery surface of the silicon.
Chop the extra material on the impressions and cut the extra tubing. To apply the lacker, block the tubing holes with toothpicks and block the connector pins with some tape.
See part 1 for more information on silicone and lacker.
The end goal is to build a set of silicone Bluetooth CIEM.
Bluetooth from apple airpods? maybe. (they are great) https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/AirPods+Teardown/75578
Fine tuning with frequency analysis: https://www.reddit.com/r/DIEMs/comments/5sacyz/iem_tuning_guide_by_sonion/
If you have any questions or want more details, contact me by email!
You can also subscribe to this mailing list http://eepurl.com/du0jdb. I plan to update you on new projects once or twice per year.
Complete acrylic CIEM video tutorial, DIYearphone: https://youtu.be/LJ55BCSwJkg (I asked if he was selling electronic kits again and he replied no december 2017)
Great HeadFi tutorial, zman0225: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/diy-shell-making-re-shell-guide-w-some-pictures-new-finished-ciem-pics.656122/
Impression instructions: https://web.archive.org/web/20170622074802/http://site.earplugstore.com/Making_Your_Impressions.pdf
Knowles dampers reference: https://www.reddit.com/r/DIEMs/comments/5d9d7x/diem_clone_of_etymotic_er4_for_43_parts_list/
Insane collaborative document with lots of information: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jU37oWefx2dGS8dWw5TVkugEtwJh_bh3fuUBNe2HrQg/edit?usp=sharing/