Ready for custom in-ear monitors? Here’s the process

I’m ready for some custom in-ear monitors! Now what?
Inside the personalized metal box the contents are well protected

Inside the personalized metal box the contents are well protected

Are you a musician? Monitor tech? FOH specialist? Mixer? Audiophile or simply a music lover who wants to hear the music as it was mixed? It just might be time to step into a set of custom in-ear monitors. In the continuing story about Ultimate Ears products, we will concentrate on the process of making it happen. How do I get the customs? What has to be done? How long does it take? In our next article we will talk about the impressions and performance of the UE Reference IEM solution used in this article. Enough rambling, on with the story…

The first thing you’ll obviously need to do is decide what will fit your use and budget best. With multiple models and designs this can be a daunting task. It can be tough to decide which IEM to invest in. You’ll want to look at your primary use along with your particular musical tastes. This such an independent decision you will want to spend some time on the Ultimate Ears website looking at the different models. From triple drivers with a bit more pounding bass, to the six driver (yes, -6-), to the triple driver flat response reference models you are sure to find something you like. As a quick side note…once you have your custom molds created you don’t need to do it again. You can use those same molds to have another model produced or even the custom earplugs. And by the way…once you decide on which model, you’ll also need to select the custom color, ear art or designer edition you like!

In this process it was decided that the custom reference model developed in a collaborative partnership between UE and Capitol Records was the right choice. We stayed with the “standard” color and design; black with the US logo on one ear, the Capitol Records log on the other. From start to finish, here’s what you can expect.

The next thing you’ll need to do is have the ear impression made. These ear impressions are then used to create the custom molds that ultimately turn into the product you have chosen. One of the great services offered at The NAMM Show 2012 was that UE had a staff of highly trained Audiologists in the booth to create the ear impressions for free. If you are not at one of the special sponsored events you will need to schedule an appointment with a local audiologist.

UE audiologist Ann Mundell-Noel creates the ear impression

UE audiologist Ann Mundell-Noel creates the ear impression

Ultimate Ears has a list of instructions here. Also note that there may be a nominal fee for the impressions. The first thing the specialist will do is check your ears. They will want to make sure there are no obstructions or injury that could be made worse through the process. Once you are cleared, a small cotton block will be inserted to protect your eardrum. I hate to think about the potential for damage to the eardrum without this critical step. A short length of string is also inserted to help facilitate removal. From here, you are asked to open your mouth a bit to bite on a small rubber-like block. This actually opens the ear canal a slight amount and will ultimately help provide the best possible fit. I’ve got to tell you, the next part feels a bit weird…the specialist will pump in the impression material. The silicone based material is the same type of substance you would see in use producing hearing aids. Okay, the hard part is almost over. Check out this quick video where UE Audiologist Ann Mundell-Noel explains the process in more detail. BTW, Ann is who did my ear impression and she was just awesome! Thanks Ann.

In about 5 minutes, after the material has a chance to harden…well, harden as much as soft silicone actually will…the impressions are carefully removed and packaged to be sent to the wizards in the custom facility in California where the IEM will be made to your specifications. Your ears are checked to ensure nothing is left behind and you are on your way. The careful process throughout will provide the best fitting product delivering the best sound direct to your eardrum.

The hardened mold is removed

After the drying period of approximately 15 minutes, the mold is carefully removed

Now it’s time for the waiting. Like a kid waiting for Christmas, the monitors just can’t get to you quick enough! Expect about a two to three week turnaround time for delivery. The cool thing is that Ultimate Ears keeps you updated through the process. “We have received your ear impressions and our studio has begun the process of handcrafting your personal earphones.” That was the very welcomed first notice I received was that the order was started. Along with that, there was a link to a nice video talking about the process. Let the count down begin!

You might be wondering about now just what is it that UE does to create these customs. Well, instead of trying to write it all down check out this video that walk through the process. If you are a geek like me you’ll enjoy seeing this. If not, just wait two weeks and we’ll pick up where we left off.

Just kidding! 15 days after the first email another one was in the inbox; “We are excited to let you know that your Ultimate Ears Custom Monitors are ready to ship!” Yeah! The next day, UPS was at the door delivering the package you see in the photos below. Time to see what these IEMs could do. Would they live up to expectations? Could they possibly be as good as they say? In short; yes. More to come in a future article where we will talk about the performance of the Ultimate Ears Reference In-ear Monitors.

check the photos on the page and gallery below, but inside the package you’ll find everything you need. Of course, your custom in-ear monitors are there. After inserting these into your ears once or twice, the process will be really simply and you will instantly wonder why it took so long to make this choice!  Inside the well protected box you’ll also find a cleaning tool, a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter as well a sound attenuation adapter to avoid those loud spikes when, for example, the pilot screeches in your ear in-flight. For best performance and longevity, be sure to store your IEMs in the custom box while not in use.

In summary, it’s really easy to see why UE has such a loyal following. The process has been smooth and professional from start to finish. While there is of course some waiting, you are never left wondering what’s going on. When the package hit the doorstep, it was well packaged. The custom and well padded exterior storage box is both functional and good looking. Inside you’ll find the customized metal storage container, and it too is both attractive and functional. With this order there were a couple of choices in regard to the cable. Either black or clear, and then either 48″ or 64″. I chose the 48″ and I will say it’s a tough call. If your plans are to be more mobile or on stage connected to a connection box the shorter one is probably best. If you are working on a mix board or other recording gear where you might be moving between different consoles, the longer one might be better. And from a mobility standpoint, the product does not ship standard with the smallest storage box, only the larger customized unit. Spend the little bit extra and get the small box for the best mobility. Cables and storage boxes can be found/ordered on the UE accessories page.

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The Express Box your custom IEMs arrive in!

The Express Box your custom IEMs arrive in!

Inside the delivery box

The packing inside was protected in a foam/cushioned sleeve.

The outer protective box

Opening the outer box you'll find the personalized storage box

Opening the outer box you’ll find the personalized storage box

Inside the personalized metal box the contents are well protected

Inside the personalized metal box the contents are well protected

Custom IEM and adapters

Custom IEM and adapters

Front and back sides of the UE/Capitol Records custom IEM

Front and back sides of the UE/Capitol Records custom IEM

Back-side of custom IEM reveals inner workings

Back-side of custom IEM reveals inner workings

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