Universal vs. Custom In-Ear Monitors: Fit & How to Decide


Choosing the Empire Ears IEM That's Right for You

When selecting a pair of in-ear monitors (also called earphones), you have a choice: universal fit or custom fit. Most Empire Ears IEMs are available either way, so how do you know which is right for you? IEMs are an investment -- one that will pay dividends in sound quality and convenience -- so it's worth ensuring that you are making the right choice for your ears, your budget, and your lifestyle.

Universal IEMs

Universal IEMs can be a good, ready-to-go option for many listeners. They are designed to fit most ear canals, meaning you can be reasonably sure they will be comfortable for you while providing a good seal. They usually come with ear tips in various sizes so you can find your most secure and comfortable fit. If you don’t want to get ear impressions or wait for custom IEMs to be built, universals can be the way to go. Universal IEMs are typically less expensive than custom-fit models.

Another consideration is degree of noise isolation. If you will be using your IEMs in an office or other environments where you need some awareness of outside sound, universals will provide that because they don't provide as tight a seal as custom-fit IEMs. Finally, universal IEMs can be sold to another user should you decide you want to upgrade to a new model or you want a different sound signature. This is not an option with custom IEMs, as customs will have been specifically made to fit your unique ear canal shape.

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Custom IEMs

Empire Ears custom IEM color options

Performing artists and audio professionals who desire maximum fit and better sound isolation usually opt for custom in ear-monitors (CIEMs), which are molded to fit the listener's unique ear anatomy using an impression obtained from an audiologist. Audiophiles and others who want to "shut out the world" while listening to their music may also opt for a CIEM. The better noise isolation of custom IEMs means you can listen to them at a lower volume, which helps to protect your hearing. Custom IEMs are also a good choice for use while exercising (running, in particular!) or other activities in which you don't want to worry about an earpiece slipping out. With a CIEM, you get a better seal and a personalized fit with no need for silicone or foam ear tips. You also get a perfect fit for each ear, which is useful if your ear canals are not symmetrical (it's not uncommon!).

Custom IEMs also allow you to achieve a particular aesthetic. Empire Ears offers many ways to customize the look of an IEM. Shells and faceplates are available in a variety of opaque and translucent colors with or without glitter. There are also premium and signature designs available for the faceplate, and you can choose from a variety of logos, Swarovski crystals, or even your own custom artwork.

Obtaining an Ear Impression

You will need to make an appointment with an audiologist to obtain an ear mold. You can search for an audiologist in your area via Google. It is important that the impressions display the full contour of both the outer ear and the ear canal. Each impression must include the full helix, crus of the helix, and the antitragus.

Once you have obtained your impressions, you are welcome to send photos to Empire Ears to ensure they meet the requirements; this way, any issues can be addressed before you mail them (customer is responsible for postage as well as the cost of obtaining the impressions).

When you are ready, mail your impressions to:

Moon Audio

1157 Executive Circle, Suite 101

Cary, NC 27511

Depending on current demand, build time for your custom Empire Ears IEMs can be up to eight weeks from when your impressions are received.

Download the Custom IEM Impression Tip Sheet Here.

The Importance of Proper IEM Fit

It is important to note that an ill-fitting IEM can be a deal-breaker. If one or both earpieces do not fit snugly enough, they may slip, forcing you to reach up and readjust. There is also the issue of comfort, as an improper fit just won't feel good in or on your ear. The other major consideration is sound quality. If your IEM earpieces are not properly positioned within your outer ear canal, your audio will sound sub-par, with lower volume and diminished low-end response. There will also be less noise isolation. To help ensure this doesn't happen, you may need to experiment with ear tip sizes.

To ensure you are getting the best fit from your IEMs, make sure you are inserting them properly. With universal IEMs, be sure to secure the tip onto each earpiece. If using Final Audio Type E tips, squeeze them before insertion.

To insert your IEMs:

  • Turn the IEM forward, then gently insert it into your ear canal
  • Gently rock it back and forth, until completely snug in the ear
  • Secure cable behind ear
  • Cinch cable for best isolation

Caring for Your IEMs

Whether you opt for custom or universal IEMs, you'll want to take proper care of them to ensure maximum performance and years of enjoyment.

Every Empire Ears IEM comes with a microfiber cleaning tool and cloth. It is suggested that you adhere to the following cleaning protocol after each use:

  • Use the cloth (or alcohol wipes) to polish the shells.
  • Use the brush end of the cleaning tool to to eliminate any debris to the surface of your IEMs.
  • Locate the sound bores at the end of canal on your IEMs. Using the loop side of the cleaning tool, point your IEM downward and scoop out any internal debris. Remember that earwax buildup can damage the IEM drivers.

Do not...

  • Expose your IEMs to moisture.
  • Remove your IEMs by pulling on the cable.
  • Wear an IEM if it has microfractures, as it can break during use.
  • Allow the IEM to hit hard surfaces or knock into each other.

To store you IEMs, cinch the cable all the way up, then loosely wrap the cable around your fingers. Store your neatly wrapped IEMs inside of the Empire Ears protective carrying case.

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