Custom In Ear Monitors

I personally have been ogling customs lately with a feeling of bitterness as more and more companies abstain from reshells, essentially making customs not a possibility due to being at an age where my ears may still change shape.

Complaining aside, back to the custom ogling part. Even if my ears were settled, customs are still a huge commitment, where the resale and possibility of returning is essentially nonexistent. I feel like a catch all thread where people could give advice for those struggling to find the custom for them, post pictures (they do look great), and discuss customs in general would be a great thread to have here.

Plus, the new Solstice custom from CFA is a great release to jumpstart a thread like this with.

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I’ve been on the “hunt” for a good, neutral-reference, custom IEM for a little bit now. I’m pretty sure I’ve found it (AAW Canary), but I’m still intrigued by the Solstice.

Fit issues aside, which are my principal issue with the Andromeda (which the Solstice is supposed to be, sound-wise), the idea of a custom Andromeda is quite appealing (I really enjoyed it when I auditioned the original a year or two ago).

I shall have to ask how CA handle re-fits on custom IEMs, since they’re using 3D printed ceramic shells and I assume those can’t be easily adjusted (I imagine they’d need a re-print and re-build, rather than filing/filling and polish).

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On Head-Fi, Ken Ball himself said the Solstice could not be reshelled, which is a super bummer

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I’m not worried about “re-shelling” - I wouldn’t buy a custom IEM with the intention of selling it at this point, nor buy one with the same intent, as an increasing number of manufacturers are ceasing their re-shelling options entirely.

I AM worried about re-fitting my purchase if it isn’t a proper/comfortable fit when initially delivered. About half the custom IEM users I know well have had to have at least one of their custom IEMs adjusted post-delivery to get the fit right. Most high-end IEM manufacturers offer free re-fits in the first 30 days. I absolutely would NOT buy a custom IEM from any manufacturer that didn’t offer that.

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There’s a couple of things to unpack here.

  1. Most brands will be able to reshell your own IEMs if your ear shape changes over time. I’ve had to do this with most of my 5-year+ IEMs. Apparently if you lose/gain a ton of weight you might also need a reshell. And the fees are very negotiable, brands want to keep you as a customer and holding on to a pair that long means that you’re pretty likely to buy from them again. With my own earmolds I’ve gotten quotes ranging from $200 (Westone triple driver circa 2010) to $400 (64 Audio 12-driver). Note that this is different from ownership transfer, which is not the policy of most brands (although, again, that’s something you can negotiate).

  2. Ken is smoking crack if he doesn’t offer refits on the Solstice. I think that his comment means that you can’t resell them and get a new pair of molds for the new owner. Obviously it’s not something he can enforce 100% but I guess he reserves the right to reject molds if they look too different from the previous pair.

  3. People’s ears stop changing shape pretty early on, unless you’re actually 15 or younger I wouldn’t worry a whole lot. My first pair of serious CIEMs was the Westone ES3 when I was 17 or so, and they’ve lasted well over a decade on one reshell that was mostly because the 2 pin sockets were falling apart.

The only CIEMs that can’t be refit at all that I’m aware of is the Fitear Titan and Noble Prestige both of which utilize materials that are extremely hard to work with. I actually have the Titan on order - it’s a 4 month wait - and Suyama’s policy is that if it doesn’t fit, you either get a full refund or a pair of universals plus a partial refund of the cost difference.

Re: @Torq 's point about needing refits, I mostly blame that on sloppy American and European builders refusing to spend the money on more advanced techniques of production or higher tolerances. JH, Westone and UE are particularly terrible about this and I cannot recommend any of these brands because of that. If you want precise fits and good workmanship, you need to look to Japan (Fitear, Just Ear, Canal Works) or China (QDC) or get soft-shells that are much more tolerant toward bad molds (ACS, Sensaphonics)

I would add that the best way to avoid the need for a refit is to select a reputable audiologist with actual experience in making molds for in-ear monitors. Go to the recommendation list from Weston and UE and stick to people they list that also have good Yelp reviews. Ask them to use plenty of material and cover the entire outer ear. Some brands ask for open-mouth molds and some closed and some have pretty specific recommendations for the size of the bite block. Follow those to the letter and if you need a refit, always take a new pair of molds and refuse the “patchwork” technique that JH and co. are using these days.

Also also, I don’t think that you can actually 3d print ceramics and didn’t see anything from Ken that suggests he’s using anything exotic for the shell structure. You’re right in that a fully 3d printed plastic shell (UE) can’t actually be patched like an acrylic one. But of course UE will rebuild the entire shell for you if it doesn’t fit.

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Here are my XJE-MH2’s. Sony’s procedure for taking the impressions (I went to Sony’s own lab based in HK for them) on these is so important that I had to sign an NDA to not discuss the details. Actually, I can’t even confirm or deny that they took physical molds of my ears. Can’t argue with the end results though.

To OP, what UIEM’s do you enjoy and what price point are you looking at? Ken is new at the CIEM game and I would probably recommend giving him another year or two to work out the kinks. In the meantime, there’s plenty of good fish in the sea.

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Good to know. I am 18 but always hear the age is 25, which I may wait until to just be safe, plus, I just got a Xelento anyways which was a big purchase.

Separate response. I enjoy my Xelento right now, but was thinking of getting a more midsy CIEM as a sidegrade, since a V shape is sort of niche and a signature that I don’t quite want to commit over $1,000 to. My favorite UIEMs have been the ER2SE, Z1R, and then the Xelento as a V shape which I enjoy in the context of a universal as stated above. I’ve been considering P.EAR.S stuff or a 64 A6T or A12T. The N8 sounded interesting but apparently has an issue where the universal is great and the custom has issues.

Also, I think Ken referenced that the Solstice has something up with the internals that makes reshelling difficult as a process, so I’m worried.

EDIT: That being said, $1,500 for an Andromeda is not really my style anyways. I like the Andromeda but that’s a but steep for me, I personally see it as a specialty IEM that really impressed with treble and imaging and was just fine with everything else. So also a bit too niche to commit.

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Now I’m commenting three times in a row, sorry!

Another huge factor is that companies don’t seem to put in too much effort into producing dynamic drivers in customs. It is harder and a bit counter intuitive because they require venting which goes against the whole principle of isolation, but as someone who is in it for solely musical enjoyment, I would love to see more single DD or hybrid options. As far as I know, single DD customs don’t exist (CFA Equinox I guess but that is not what I’m looking for) and a truly standout hybrid has not been achieved yet as far as I’m aware*.

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@boneburglar You should be fine. At 4-5 years with MMCX/2 pin you’d be looking at a socket replacement anyways. If you like the ER family, check out Sensaphonics. The 2x-s is pretty much tuned to the same profile as the original ER4 but using a 2BA design. The silicon mold should last for 3-4 years at least and the reshell cost is nominal (something like $150) for the original owner. Alternatively ACS has a pretty neutral 3BA. If you want an acrylic piece I think that something like the A12T might be your best bet. I can’t really recommend dealing with Chinese/Japanese labs if you’re not local to the region and can’t speak the language, just too much potential for stuff to go wrong.

Futuresonics does a DD only CIEM (the mg6pro). I have not heard it but it’s rumored to be dark and mid-forward and I know people who swear by them. The finishing is also crazily bad, they don’t lacquer the shells at all so it feels just like a lump of plastic.

The Elysium is a very fine triple hybrid with a great midrange and treble but at a commensurate price point. For actual seamlessness of the BA and DD drivers you pretty much have to relegate the BA to treble-only duty which cuts into the resolution of the IEM. Sony obviously felt that this is acceptable and the XJE tunings achieve amazing coherence at the cost of some resolution. Of course, YMMV on whether or not that’s a detriment to musical enjoyment.

An ideal implementation of a DD driver might be something like the Fitear Air/Air 2/Titan, which uses two DD drivers. Only one driver is active and the passive driver modulates the volume of the chamber to both alleviate the stress on the active driver and increase its response speed. So you get better resolution and isolation in one package. The tunings are deliberately weird and very much oriented toward Japanese music, though. Fitear’s logic is that they have a budget (333) and a premium (335/dwsr) monitoring option and everything else they do should be fun and genre-specific.

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We have a couple of (dedicated) machines in our fab lab that do it. We also have 3D metal printers (SLM and DMLS), and an array that do resins and plastics using a bunch of different technologies.

Yep, I misread the specs … it’s the acoustic chamber, not the shell, that is 3D ceramic printed.


Nice to hear that the Elysium didn’t go down the “EST means excessive treble route”. I’ll have to get a universal demo of those and see how they stack up next to the triple-hybrid Canary (which also doesn’t let the EST dominate the show).

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I thought that the ceramic thing was an additive and not actual ceramic ( like in high end watches)? Would be cool if someone decided to go down that route. UM just came out with a titanium CIEM as well, I think that it’s a print+machining process similar to Fitear.

At the end of the day I wasn’t that impressed with the Elysium, at least not at the price that VE wants. The Canary you almost don’t get any of the EST tweeters at all, which IMO defeats the purpose of using a triple hybrid.

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I don’t know … I’m enjoying the extended response,speed and detail in the top-end, without being plagued with excessive treble levels with the Canary.

The other EST-equipped IEMs I’ve heard to date have either been way too bright/piercing and/or were saddled with less then impressive low-end performance courtesy of BA drivers there or massively overdone/woolly/uncontrolled bass. Very very tired of IEMs that are all fireworks and “wow factor” that I then can’t listen to for extended periods - which is most of the current crop of flagships it seems (for me).

My goal was something more neutral, while retaining detail, speed and proper timbre and no artificiality or “special effects”.

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Agree that the Canary’s treble is nice, I just expected a bit more technically out of an EST design. It’s a difficult line to toe.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with people going after extreme tuning profiles. The Asian market is dominated by people like me who view CIEMs as essentially collectibles. So you have one neutral pair if you need a reference portable setup but everything else is part of a rotation. A lot of those designs make a lot more sense when you think about them as “one day a week” IEMs. This is especially true for new technology because designers can play kinks in the design off as quirks.

But yes it’s unfortunate for those who take a more functional view toward IEMs. For me, the big cans are where I want to be serious. If I’m listening to an IEM, it’s almost always for fun.

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I don’t think there’s anything wrong with extreme tunings either - though they’re not my personal preference. And for this IEM I wanted something more neutral. I have my tia Fourté when I want a “fun” IEM.

Two IEMS is enough for me, as I’m an “only use IEMs when I have to” type.

I do the primary and rotation thing with my full-size headphones and my watches though.

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The Fourte is a great choice. I miss mine but I find the fit a bit hard to work with. I travel a lot, always with a DAP and a couple pairs of IEMs.

If you have a chance, check out the 335DWSR. It’s only a 5BA but Fitear has much higher driver match tolerances than the rest of the industry and they’re on their 3rd revision of the same basic 5BA design. And Fitear is pretty much unique in offering CIEMs that are completely filled with acrylic, which is a huge boost to bass and sub-bass performance. It’s a bit like an A18t but without any of the transition problems and much, much better sub-bass. Pretty interesting design.

What’s in your watch rotation btw? Maybe I should start a watch thread :slight_smile:

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It’s a bit fiddly, since after selling the big place and moving to the waterfront the trio of in-wall watch safes wasn’t practical, so I keep eight pieces here, for my “current” rotation, and then the watches in that set rotate out monthly with the remainder of my collection which is currently in safe-deposit.

Right at this moment, my primary is a Rolex Sea Dweller (Ref. 126600). In fact there’s always either at least one Sea-Dweller or Submariner in my “current” rotation, since I dive a lot and like to have a mechanical watch along side my Perdix AI.

And in the “current” eight here, I have a Franck Mueller Master Banker, IWC Pilot’s Chrono, Tudor Heritage Advisor (current series), Breitling “Emergency” & Navitimer World Chrono (ETA rather than the in-house movement; though I have one of those too), Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Moon and a Casio G-Shock GMWB5000GD-1.

Some other fun pieces, likely coming out of the bank for December, include the Franck Mueller Crazy Hour, Rolex Double-Red Sea-Dweller (Ref. 1665) or the Deep-Sea (116660), a 16613 Submariner w/ Slate Serti Dial, and Tag Heuer Monaco.

And one I miss a lot, but sold with the car it went with, was the Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX 2.

How about you?

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Wow! That’s a great rotation and I’d love to hear more about the collection. I don’t have nearly as much stuff - right now I primarily wear a Ressence Type 3 “Black Black”. I’ve also got two mechanical quartz watches from Devonworks, an updated Tread 1 Version E and a built-to-order Tread 2, and a NORD Zeitmaschine Variocurve. I sold off all of my non-independent pieces about a year ago and I’ve been limiting myself to brands where I can have real conversations with the watchmaker(s).

Now I’m back in the market for something I can dress up a bit more. Most likely FPJ, but also looking at the Galet Microrotor, the Hajime Asaoka Tsunami, or a white Ressence Type 1 to continue the “pair from one brand” thing.

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That’s a gorgeous, and innovative, piece! I shall have to try and find one in person and see if it really looks that good on the (my) wrist!

I like the stuff Devon stuff too, though so far I’ve not been able to convince myself that I won’t buy a Urwerk … and until I do, I’m hedging there. Lovely stuff though!

I have a couple of collections-within-my-collections. Sea-Dwellers and Submariners are one obvious one, and are, consequently, over-represented compared to everything else. My tool-watch collection (which overlaps with the dive watches of course) is focused on “classic” tool watches that I actually use for the intended purpose. So, for example, the pilots/navitimer/GMT stuff is what I wear when I’m in the left-hand seat. The Regata Timers for sailing/racing. Memo/advisor stuff for fiddly schedules around a main-event (usually that precludes a phone). And so on.

I’ll save mention of the really exotic stuff until I pull them out and can take proper pictures of them.

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I should start a watch thread and continue the discussion there…but yeah, the Ressence is pretty much perfect for me as a daily watch (WR and shock protection aside). 95% of the watch is cased in sapphire means that I can wear it day in and day out and never put a scratch on it. And the fit is great with fixed lugs with a wrap around strap, it’s a 44 that actually does wear like a 40 or smaller.

Devon is run by some of the best people in the business and I can’t speak highly enough about my experiences with them. Real big happy family vibes. I’d pretty much buy anything they make in the future just to support the company. Their facility is pretty close to Schiit so if you ever head to LA that might be a trip worth making. Urwerk is cool and all (and something I’ve considered myself) but you’re not getting the same service or the same treatment.

Sounds like you have the perfect setup to complement your life…I feel weird wearing a diver or chronograph since I don’t dive or race cars, although if I pick up those hobbies I’d add the watches to match. Really looking forward to seeing your more exotic stuff!

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