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Music Technology

Making Earbuds That Fit (Video) 104

Posted by Roblimo
from the heat-them-and-squish-them-and-scrunch-them-over-and-over dept.
Decibullz creator Kyle Kirkpatrick talks as fast as an old-time carnival barker and is as enthusiastic about his product as Dr. Ironbeard was about his potions. A lot of people are probably satisfied with $10 earbuds, but it's kind of a cool (more accurately a warm) idea to have earbuds you can heat in your microwave, then shape and reshape as often as you like to fit perfectly in your ears.They're just one of many interesting items on display this year at CES (annoying sound if you click the "CES" link).

Timothy Lord: So Kyle, what are we looking at here?

Kyle Kirkpatrick: Well, this is Decibullz. Decibullz are custom molded earphones. You mold them at home. It only takes about five to ten minutes. Basically, it comes with a whole kit. You get an earphone, your Decibullz custom molds as well as an earphone case and everything else you need to mold them basically.

Timothy: Okay. So what distinguishes this from your typical earbuds in the market?

Kyle: Well, really it is the customized fit that we have going for us that is way different than anything else on the market. These are molded directly to your ears by you. A lot of the other competitors out there will also have something that is a one-time mold. Ours can be remolded as many times as possible. If you don’t like the fit, you want to tweak it a little bit, you say okay, they are not quite what I want, I want them in a little bit deeper, you remold them, you get them exactly the way you want them, and it is infinite. You can remold them as many times as you want.

Timothy: What makes that possible?

Kyle: It is basically our specialized material. We have a thermoplastic that we can color pretty much in any color. We have black, glow in the dark. You name it, we can make it. And it is a hard thermoplastic. It is not like silicone, it is not like anything soft; because actually we find that it is more comfortable in the ear, when it is a harder plastic. It is also easy to clean and easy to work with.

Timothy: So you are an inventor by trade?

Kyle: I am actually a professional gymnastics coach, but I invented these out of necessity. I really needed something that didn’t fall out when I was, you know, being crazy or doing the stuff I normally do in everyday situation. So I hit the books hard, did some research, tried I mean hundreds of different prototypes, hundreds of different materials, everything from silicone to you name it. I had some material from sawdust built in there that didn’t work out too well, but I stumbled upon this, found out that it really worked and people really liked it.

Timothy: But what was the process like? Did you hire materials engineers or how did you come to your material?

Kyle: Research. Mainly research. I found some materials that were okay and then basically dug in and rewired the chemistry a little bit actually to make this blend that worked for this application. And, like I said, it was a lot of trial and error.

Timothy: How many cycles can you microwave these and remold them?

Kyle: We have yet to find the limit. As far as we know, it is infinite. If the molds get too far bent out of shape, you can actually separate the cone piece.

Timothy: I didn’t know that.

Kyle: And we have instructions on our website how to start all the way over. So you can basically start over something very similar to this shape. So if it is way too bent out of shape, you separate it, throw it back in the microwave, and you can start all over.

Timothy: And if I can zoom in a little bit. Can you tell us about the more detailed construction of this?

Kyle: The construction? It is a two-piece construction. We have a soft, this is the soft cone piece, so it is easier to insert in the ear, it doesn’t hurt, and this is the hard thermoplastic casing basically around it.

Timothy: So what goes into the microwave?

Kyle: Just this piece. You mold them one at a time. Basically in about half cup of water, you drop it in, then you heat it up for about 2 to 3 minutes; that is all it takes.

Timothy: Cool. All right. Anything else I should be asking you about it?

Kyle: They sound really good. It is hard to tell people over anything or over this type of media, but if you try them, we really spent a lot of time. We didn’t deal with a cheap headphone, and we also designed the headphone so it sounds better with our molding piece. But they sound really nice; you get a full rich experience.

Timothy: How well do they block outside sounds?

Kyle: Very well. You know, I am actually not allowed to use them in the house because my wife can’t communicate with me. She yells at me across the room, I am pretty ignorant to all of that.

Timothy: Being a hard plastic, are they essentially waterproof?

Kyle: The molds themselves are waterproof, yes, and the headphones we have done everything we can to make them sweat resistant, but the headphones themselves are not waterproof.

Timothy: Okay. These aren’t for swimming with?

Kyle: They are not swimming yet.

Timothy: Okay.

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Making Earbuds That Fit (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @11:27AM (#42557877)

    I know this is off-topic, but as someone who suffers from 24 hour shrieking in my ears, please be careful with these in-ear buds. If I can prevent just one person from my fate, my work is done.

    • by Chatsubo (807023)

      Was it the buds or the volume, what gave you the Tinnitus?

      I ask because my mother has been no fan of earphones her entire life and has Tinnitus, so just wondering which variable here caused the problem so I can prevent it for myself. At home I sometimes use buds at a reasonable volume, at work I use ear-covering earphones to block out sound, but it gets too hot and I'm actually planning on using buds there too.

      • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@co[ ]ll.edu ['rne' in gap]> on Friday January 11, 2013 @11:49AM (#42558141) Homepage

        If anything, buds may help prevent tinnitus. If listening to music in a loud environment (like an airplane), the isolation provided by in-ear buds allows you to listen at MUCH lower volume levels than you might with non-isolating headphones.

        • by xaxa (988988)

          If anything, buds may help prevent tinnitus. If listening to music in a loud environment (like an airplane), the isolation provided by in-ear buds allows you to listen at MUCH lower volume levels than you might with non-isolating headphones.

          This is true. However, I can often hear the music from other peoples' earphones when I get off a train, and that means it's probably too loud.

          It's important in a variably-noisy environment (e.g. underground train) to set the volume appropriately in a quiet place and not increase it.

          • While that is true, the reason why you may be able to hear them so easily is simply that the person is using open headphones. Many of the headphones designed for use in a studio environment are not isolated from surrounding sound, since closing the back of the headphones can create various acoustical issues. Unfortunately, they're also exceptionally noisy to those around the listener and are entirely inappropriate for uses outside of an enclosed office or studio space, yet most laypeople are entirely unawar

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bigbutt (65939)

        It's unlikely earbuds give tinnitus as they're just dead plastic bits and don't make any noise. It's the sound volume that does it. Keep the decibels down and save your hearing.

        [John]

      • by ozydingo (922211)

        Not all tinnitus is related to the kind of hearing damage under discussion, but for the purpose of this discussion, it's the volume, or, more specifically, the distribution of energy entering your ear. The tricky bit is that that will change for the same song and listener depending on the headphones and external noise. tl;dr = keep the volume down, but I think hanging buds are probably the worst, while well-fitted buds probably aren't so bad.

        Mostly, I believe, due to the different frequency response of th

    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      As someone who uses in-ear monitors on a daily basis, was it just the use of those headphones or a higher volume level that caused your tinnitus?

      • by issicus (2031176)
        I am also wondering this. I have those moldable foam ear buds and gotten minor ear infections from not cleaning enough.
        • Anecdotal - Daily ear bud user here who has been wearing them for 6-10 hours a day at work. My company has mandatory annual hearing tests. In the ten years I've been with the company, my hearing has not changed significantly*.

          A few provisos though..
          1. I do not have the volume very high. I can hear and understand people with the music on and could carry a conversation if I had to.
          2. I'm a sample size of 1 giving my personal experience without providing supporting evidence.

          My belief is that they
    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      Yea, keep the volume down if you must use earbuds.

      [John]

      • It is sad fact that when I am at the gym I can hear other people's music over my music when we are both wearing ear buds. That can't be good for the other person.
        • the sound that you hear is sound that is not going into that other persons ears, so it really isn't doing much if any damage at all - except for bugging you of course ahahahahaha.
          • So if there is that much leaking out then how much is staying in, or are some ear buds just that shitty. I have heard others' music from a few feet away but if I take my ear buds out and put them a few feet I can barely hear them at the volume I listen to music at.
            • by cduffy (652)

              Some earbuds are definitely awful at isolation.

              Used a splitter on a recent airplane trip to try to listen to music with my fiancee -- me with good earbuds, her with the ones that came with her iDevice.

              She couldn't hear anything at all at the maximum volume I was comfortable with -- and her hearing is far, far better than mine.

              • by ozydingo (922211)
                That's not directly related to the earbud quality though. Using a splitter, you're just putting two (well, four) resistors in parallel. The current will go mostly through the one with lowest resistance (lowest headphone impedance; it's listed on the packaging of some headphones). That's entirely relative between headphones and doesn't tell you much about how the devices perform on their own.
                • by cduffy (652)

                  Thanks for the explanation -- it's good to know. That said -- to determine the extent to which the splitter was contributing to the issue, I tried using hers standalone, and could only barely make out sound (had to cup my hands around my ears to reduce the ambient airplane noise).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:04PM (#42558363)

      > as someone who suffers from 24 hour shrieking in my ears

      Yeh - I'm married as well.

    • by Zaatxe (939368) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:44PM (#42558897)
      Tinnitus has a lot of causes. I had my ears tested for the constant hiss I hear in my left ear. After having my ears tested, we discarded the usual suspects (like a tumor in the auditory nerve or lesions in the internal ear), the doctor said that there are over 200 possible causes for tinnitus. The most common apart the ones I already told are: insuline peaks (caused by not eating for too long and then eating a lot of carbs), and teeth grinding. In my case is a combination of these two last ones. Besides grinding teeth while sleeping, I feel the urge of being biting something all the time (stress-related). When you bite with too much strenght, you press the auditory nerve, causing the hiss.

      Earbuds are not always your enemies.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Do you sleep with a mouth guard? That helps me "prevent" grinding. I still wake up with my mouth locked but the guard helps to distribute the pressure across many teeth rather that at a specific point.

        My dentist had it made for me after doing a mold and such.

      • I've experienced the hight pitch hiss from time to time (not very often, but I do get it) and got a hearing test done at a previous workplace. The test showed that I had VERY good hearing except for 1 specific frequency range (basically 1 column on the test paper). Apparently that frequency is commonly lost among concert band performers (I played trumpet in highschool). So yes, there are LOTS of ways of developing hearing loss, and not all hearing loss is the same.
    • by cundare (1141279)
      I've been hearing statements like this for years. There's no reason why in-ear buds would be more likely to cause hearing damage than any other type of phone. Think about it. SPL levels at the ear drum are SPL levels at the ear drum regardless of where the transducer is positioned. If anything, canalphones can help prevent ear damage by providing greater isolation from external noise, allowing one to hear the softer parts at a much lower overall volume level.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday January 11, 2013 @11:28AM (#42557895) Homepage

    I must have freak ears. Any ear buds I've tried either fell out after 5 seconds or hurt because they had to be jammed in so as to not fall out after 5 seconds.

    • These mold to your outer ear (conch), so there's no "jamming in" to the ear canal.

      Saying that, why the fuck is this on the front page? It's a fucking advert. Fuck you Dice Holdings.
      • by Nerdfest (867930)

        I find that any of the 'marshmallow' type buds already do this in a few minutes. Pull the earlobe down and forward a bit and poke the earbud in. In a matter if minutes it's softened up a bit and sealed quite nicely. I can wear them all day. The big advantage with the in-ear is that they block ambiant noise, so you can keep the volume quite low.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          It's hard to find good in-ear buds with foam tips instead of the annoying rubber ones.

          I have hated EVERY bud I've ever used with rubber tips - however Comply ( http://www.complyfoam.com/ [complyfoam.com] ) sells replacement tips that fit on a wide variety of buds. When used with Comply tips, buds are a TOTALLY different experience.

          I have a pair of Skullcandy Titans with Comply tips - they deliver amazing bang for the buck. (I know some people have very negative opinions of Skullcandy, but you have to admit, they do offer

          • by Nerdfest (867930)

            I like these [futureshop.ca]). They actually have a higher end one on clearance [futureshop.ca] (being replaced with something with a ridiculous name). The ones on clearance include both foam and silicone tips, but as I mentioned, the foam ones mold nicely. I'd recommend the clearance ones if you can still get them, but I haven't tried the ones that replace them. I already picked up a supply of them when the price dropped frop $40 to $10.

            • Thanks for the tip, I just grabbed a couple of the HA-FX67 (and some Comply [complyfoam.com] tips thanks to another poster). They, and their predecessors the HA-FX66 have pretty good reviews. I want something decent, but more portable and less precious than my headphones. This fits the bill :)

              • by Nerdfest (867930)

                No problem. I picked up a couple of pair as well. I thought these were a decent value when they were the original $40 price. I hope their replacements are as good, but I'm okay for quite a few years with my backup stash now.

          • That may just be what I'm looking for. How long does a pair of those tips last?

            • by Andy Dodd (701)

              Officially I think they say something like 3 months... I think I've been getting 6-9 months per pair. Depends on how clean your ears are. ;)

          • by Pubstar (2525396)
            Skullcandy is more about image than sound quality. I stay away from them as much as possible. I use UE 3 way ear buds with custom ear molds and Allen & Heath monitor headphones at home... But I do a lot of music production, so I need $200 headphones. For my cheap pair I use at the gym, I got a pair of $20 sony buds that sound better than $50 Skullcandy, but they are a but too heavy on the lows for my taste.
    • for example:

      http://www.howtogeek.com/57481/how-to-make-custom-silicone-ear-molds-for-your-in-ear-monitors/

      • I was just thinking about trying something like this.. In the video he says hard plastic is more comfortable (hard to imagine, but I'm assuming it's true) You could try that Sculpey polymer clay that hardens when you bake it in the oven. They sell it in most arts and crafts type stores. It's harder to work with, but it won't set while you're working, and it can be drilled and sanded after it's cured. You'd also have to figure a way to hold the earbuds in, because you obviously don't want to bake them at

    • I've had incredible success with Klipsch ear buds [klipsch.com]. They have an oval, not circular shape, so they actually fit in your ear without discomfort. It's actually kind of shocking that most ear buds rely on the "cram them in and hope they stick" design.
  • DIY available now (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @11:29AM (#42557897)

    You can roll your own custom fit ear buds for about $10 using moldable ear plugs: http://makeprojects.com/Project/Custom+Fit+Earbuds/199/1#.UPAvIKwyAtc [makeprojects.com]. Not perfect, but a lot cheaper than the professional versions. Makes for a much more comfortable in-flight experience.

    • I'm pretty certain that this is the same stuff that they make gum-shields out of. I wouldn't be surprised if you could do the same thing with some of that material an an awl.
  • I never understood why people were content to drop ~$300 for a PMP every few years but then skimp on headphones which should, in theory, outlast any media player. Man up and get the real thing: http://www.jhaudio.com/ [jhaudio.com] http://ultimateears.logitech.com/ [logitech.com] http://www.westone.com/music/ [westone.com]
    • Anything by Beyerdynamic is good IMO. Personally I use some DT-231s which are now about 10 years old and still sounding good. :)

    • by xaxa (988988)

      Even when I'm wearing headphones, I often want to hear what's going on around me, whether it's "the destination of this train has now changed", "excuse me, do you have the time", or "what you fucking looking at?!". Or, for that matter, "the captain has switched on the seat-belt sign".

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Or, for that matter, "the captain has switched on the seat-belt sign".

        I have no need to hear such annoyances during a flight. I keep my seatbelt fastened when seated because I know that not all turbulence can be predicted, and even a good ride report from an aircraft on the same route ahead of you doesn't mean it won't happen to you. Of course, being a pilot I tend to know such things.

        I'm also probably listening on the aircraft audio system, and that announcement is fed into the headsets directly. This is why I find the sometimes-enforced policy of turning off noise cancell

    • by Pubstar (2525396)
      My UE 3 ways in ears are still going strong after 7 years. I've fine through 2 cords for them, but the headphones themselves are still going strong. Worth the $250 I spent on then.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      Because if it's a portable player. No one cares about audio quality when they're jogging or doing the laundry. If I want to listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor I will do it at home.

      Also, $300? Try $50, unless you're stupid enough to buy Apple.

    • I never understood why people were content to drop ~$300 for a PMP every few years but then skimp on headphones which should, in theory, outlast any media player.

      Headphones are like sunglasses. In theory, that $100+ purchase should last for years. But in practice, I manage to break them within a few months of purchasing them. I have yet had any headphones that were not lost/broken for more than a year. And who the heck still spends $300 on a PMP? Unless by PMP you mean a phone or a tablet. In that case, I imagine that most people don't spend all that much time listening to music through headphones on the device, and that the sound quality improvement from expe

  • by EdZ (755139) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:01PM (#42558327)
    Compared to existing ear-bud moulding services, that require you to visit an audiologist to have moulds of your ear canal made, then send them to the company that produce earplugs with the correct fittings from your headphones:
    Pros:
    - Cheaper
    - No need to visit an Audiologist
    Cons:
    - Self-fitted, so there's a possibility of Doing It Wrong (if you do not use sufficient caution is putting something you have just heated into your ear)
    - Press-fit into your pinnae, so they will not fit as deeply and securely as headphones moulded to your ear canals
    - Fitted to your pinnae, not your ear canals, so inferior sound isolation
    - Will only function with their proprietary headphones, rather than you supplying your own
    • Yeah, unlike every other Foam/Rubber tip replacement that work with almost all earbuds out there this is for Decibullzshit headphones only. I'll stick with the foam tips ($15) that I picked up at Radio-Shack; still have 4 sets - they wear over time, but a single pair (pkg of 5) lasted a year or more.

      Also appears to be primarily apple-only, as the "remote" is for the iphone. Awesome way to kill sales.
    • I have had custom silicone moulds for my earphones for almost 10 years and it was one of the best investments I've ever made. The earphones are Etymotic ER4P's and the moulds were made by the Dutch company, Elacin, following the traditional route, i.e. having deep canal impressions made by an audiologist. Elacin work closely with Etymotic, so made moulds to specifically fit their earphones: while I don't see this particular service offered on their website anymore, my experience with them was that they're

  • You can do this with a 50/50 mix of corn starch and clear silicone. There are several refinements of this idea around the internet, here is one [instructables.com]. What works even better IMHO is to use the moulded material to make the plugs stay in your ear, then a foam material (cutoff foam earplugs) on the tips to maintain a tight seal.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:23PM (#42558611) Homepage
    It takes a couple of minutes to make ear plugs, or to custom-mould it around ear buds. It's really easy, you will get it right first time, and there's no need to dick around nuking it and trying again. This product fills a market that doesn't exist.
  • My local library sells quite decent sounding earbuds for its computer users for a buck. Thats it, one buck. And you know what, they sound quite good to this 50+ neckbeard. I buy a couple at a time, have a drawer filled with backups. I treat them careful so as to not stress the connections, but when they eventually break or get lost, I'm not upset, I grab another pair. Life's too short to be worrying about expensive earbuds, just my 2 cents.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I mostly agree, but I've found on planes having a set of noise cancelling headphones to block out the drone of the engines and wailing of babies really helps.

      Then again, I bought those for $10 from one of the airlines, so we're not talking overly expensive.

  • by PPH (736903) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:30PM (#42558705)

    Do not insert head into microwave with earbuds already inserted.

    On the advice of our legal staff who also consult on ladders.

  • How about no (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:32PM (#42558719) Homepage

    This looks nice for people who can stand earbuds, but I'd just go for old-school headphones.

  • by ISoldat53 (977164) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:33PM (#42558737)
    It's the other end I have problems with. Why is the ear bud connection to my iPod strong enough to pull the iPod out of my pocket when it gets hung up on something but not strong enough to keep the iPod from popping off and landing in the toilet?
  • And this is news, why?
  • A couple years ago I bought some brand of earbuds that came with multiple foam/rubber covers of different sizes. The smallest size fits best for me than the one-size-fits all buds I've tried because I have freakishly small ear canals.
  • Sounds like it could be.

  • It looks like they're using "Shapelock" plastic -- this is marvelous stuff. I got 2 kilos of the generic (polycaprolactone plastic beads) a while back, and it's great for all kinds of projects. I haven't used it for earbuds, though.

    Don't leave it in your car on a hot day, though... it will melt. (I found that out with the "windshield washer jet cleaner" I made using it.)

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday January 11, 2013 @04:42PM (#42561631)

    ...have earbuds you can heat in your microwave, then shape and reshape as often as you like to fit perfectly in your ears.

    I'm having trouble fitting my head inside my microwave oven...

  • My job requires me to spend a lot of time with stuff in my ears: Headsets, earbuds for music, bluetooth for phone calls... They would always fall out or not isolate well. Then I found out about custom ear molds. You go to an audiologist (same guy who makes hearing aids) and they put this putty like stuff in your ear which hardens after a couple minutes and takes an impression of the ear canal and area just outside your ear. Then you send that impression off to a place that makes custom ear molds and you tel

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