Thanks to technology, in-ear monitors (IEMs) feature among the most popular listening devices individuals opt for personal music listening. Although significant advancements are apparent through the past decade, we can all agree that there is room for improved sound quality and comfort. This article aims to expound more on the science behind headphones to find out how to select the perfect ear tips for an ideal listening experience.
In-ear monitors, also known as earphones, aim to recreate a personal listening experience which some headphones or speakers cannot recreate. However, comfort and sound quality are two important factors in governing the quality of the listening experience. A good seal within the ear canal is often necessary for improving IEM performance as well as isolation levels.
The design and external build of IEMs show that it intends to correctly fit into the ear canal, creating a personal music experience for the user. Using one is not a challenge to most. However, the real test comes in achieving excellent noise isolation and a comfortable fit. With this knowledge, it follows that ear tips and the correct seal play a vital role in the overall performance of an IEM.
Modern manufacturers and suppliers include an extra set of default ear tips in every purchase. The ear tips mostly share a standard design but their sizes are different. As a buyer, it would be wise to experiment with the best configuration from the available options. Pick a size that comfortably fits in your ear canal while achieving an effective seal.
According to local research, most users who try out IEMs do not enjoy their first experience. It may come from the fact that not all people feel safe sticking something into their ear. However, many people often do not achieve the optimal fit. They may also not know that ear tips generally do not extend far into the ear canal. The image below shows a variety of IEMs (B-D) and earbuds (A) within the ear canal; even those with triple flange (C) tips are still situated within the first third of the auditory tube.
How do IEMS Work
Although an in-ear monitor might appear simple on the outside, there is a lot to its inner workings. IEMs use drivers to deliver sound to your ear canal. They transform electrical signals to sound waves which propagates towards your eardrums and is interpreted by the brain. IEMs have different driver types and can include those with balanced armatures, dynamic, planar magnetic or even fully electrostatic designs.
Balanced armature drivers are often used for their miniature size and easy implementation. They have the perks of increased efficiency, a generally clean frequency output and rapid response. However, they generally do not achieve the same natural bass response as a dynamic driver. Dynamic drivers render sound output via a diaphragm attached to a voice coil and magnet. The sheer element of moving mass gives them a great bass response with ability to cover a wide frequency range. However, they are more susceptible to distortion compared to the balanced armature driver.
Planar magnetic drivers combine a diaphragm with conductive traces sandwiched by sets of magnets. They marry the advantages of moving mass with low distortion. Although utilised in various audiophile headphones, they are rarely used in IEMs due to their expense and difficult implementation.
Electrostatic IEMs contain a thin diaphragm suspended between stators. They are excellent for a detailed and extremely low distortion sound giving them their unique characteristics. As with planar magnetics, however, they are quite expensive and very difficult to implement. Our review of the Shure KSE1200 system covers this fully electrostatic IEM in more detail.
Ear tips are the most underrated components of IEMs despite their importance in sound delivery and comfort. They are the interface between your ear canal and the earphone. Since ear canals are unique to every individual, what works for you might not work for others. For this reason, there is a minimum of three extra tips included in every earphone purchase.
Individuals who understand their role in one’s listening experience are most likely to enjoy their listening experience. This section holds information on the importance of an ear tip in an IEM and a guide on how to select the perfect ear tip.
Types of Ear Tip
Single Flange Silicone Ear tips
The single-flange silicone ear tip design is the most common model used. An excellent example of earphones under this category is the standard ones issued after buying a phone. Their popularity and appeal are derived from their simplicity and compatibility. Unlike other types, they can fit in most ears, and their maintenance requirements are meager. For hygiene purposes, we recommend washing it frequently as special cleaning precautions are non-existent.
Single flange silicone ear tips come in soft and hard cores. Despite coming in two configurations, there is not much difference. According to local research, the only determinant of comfort and delivery is one’s taste and preference. The effect the core has on sound is minor and hardly noticeable.
Under this classification, the user receives average comfort and sound isolation strongly dependent on its size.
Double Flange Silicone Ear tips
Stacking two single-flange ear tips will result in a double flange silicone ear tip. They feature equal sizes, and only the design and exterior outlay differ since there are two curves. A plus side to using these tips is their adaptation capabilities to one’s ear canal.
The ear canal is not straight. It means that the ear tip will need to follow its shape for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Double-flanged tips are practical in this scenario as its two exterior pieces can bend better than a single build. It makes up for better and improved isolation and comfort during your use. It is the main reason why these models are firm favorites to most audiophiles.
Most ear tips that fall under this class are soft-silicone, justifying their premium comfort delivery. In some brands, the double density innovation is integrated with the building of double-flange ear tips. They use silicone with soft flanges and a hard inner core.
Triple Flange Silicone Eartips
Triple flange silicone ear tips are the most prominent models and the last step of silicone ear tips. Adding an extra level to double-flange silicone ear tips will lead to this model. Their make should allow maximum comfort delivery and quality sound, hence their inclusion in earphones explicit to musicians and sound engineers.
Although they are of premium quality, not everyone finds them convenient. As we said earlier, everyone faces a unique experience. What most see irritating is its sitting position in the ear canal. Since the exterior build consists of three layers, the ear tip will lay deeper in the canal, which may cause some discomfort or even pain in those susceptible. Trying various positions and angles may alleviate this however.
Foam Ear tips
Foam ear tips are the most common alternative to silicone tips. Audiophiles seem to grow fond of this catchy trend organically, and testimonies offer increased comfort and isolation in contrast to the silicone tips. The only disadvantage associated with foam ear tips is their high maintenance cost and even higher price tag.
Comply was the first company to introduce foam tips to the market. Their extensive research on sound properties spun out of 3M in the audio industry across headphones and earplugs. According to the study, the jaw’s position determines the ear canal’s shape. It means that your tips have to adapt to jaw changes to remain firm and secure. The foam makes for the ideal material to craft such tips because of its soft and flexible attributes. It is relatively cheap to manufacture and can easily change shape to accommodate displacement.
Foam ear tips adapt better to the ear canal’s shape, which is the main reason for their outstanding isolation abilities. Nothing makes for quality sound than when there is complete noise cancellation, which these pieces offer. Comfort also comes from this particular attribute since they eventually take the canal’s shape without digging deep.
The maintenance routine for foam ear tips is more detailed in comparison to silicone alternatives. You may need to replace them after a period of 2 – 4 months before they lose their optimal memory foam properties (although this varies with body chemistry and wax). They also tend to lose their elasticity and shape after frequent use. Replacement is not the only option available as you can try and make them last longer.
Cleaning them in a water-soaked cotton bud will clean up the dirt and wax, increasing its product life. Comply offers different variations of foam ear tips including comfort, isolation, sport & sport premium.
Finding the Right Ear Tips
Finding the right ear tip for your earphones is often underrated. Generally, small tips will not form a stable seal in the canal, while large tips might cause discomfort while inside the ear canal. Scenarios like this degrade the sound quality and comfort, which creates an unpleasant listening experience for users.
Taking your time to look for the ideal configuration is worth it. You will get to enjoy premium sound quality and comfort from even the most straightforward designs. Here are some aspects to consider when finding the ideal ear tips.
Ear tips come in various styles and models, each featuring unique traits tailored to suit different individuals. The main reason for the different varieties is to accommodate individual tastes and preferences. Here is a bullet list of some common styles available in the market.
Standard styled ear tips are the most common in the sound market. The style is factory installed to meet the general consumer needs. It attracts users with friendly prices and average building materials and components, which pleases most listeners.
Bi-flange tips take on a more traditional approach to ear tip designing. Although one takes some time to get used to them, they still make for efficient and dependable sound qualities. The good thing about them is that they provide additional sound isolation and are easy to pop in or out.
Triple-flange tips dig deepest in the ear canal. Users describe their experience as an ear canal excavation. Despite this, they provide more benefits compared to bi-flanged and allow for premium isolation. Musicians, producers, and other sound industry players prefer their attention to every range of detail.
Wingtips are explicit to workouts and sometimes act as an add-on to silicone ear tips. They rest against one’s triangular fossa, firmly maintaining its position through the entire session. Regardless of your movement patterns, these wingtips guarantee to hold their position and keep the canal sealed. They are often very useful for IEMs which tend to fall out.
One may also opt for custom ear tips that are tailored according to the user’s specifications. Since their make is based on your ear canal structure, you can expect extreme comfort and sound quality. However, most individuals cannot stomach its price tag.
It would be wise to consider what works best for you among the mentioned tip styles. You can enquire from friends with previous ear tip experience or, better still, experiment and get what works best for you. Snugs are one such company which offer this custom tailored ear tips for universal IEMs.
Ear tips are of different materials. Even though the options available are not numerous, each has its attributes and gives the user liberty to choose the best fit. This section shows the various materials used in the manufacturing of ear tips.
Silicone is the most common ear tip construction material. Its comfort and isolation properties are enough to satisfy the average sound enthusiast. Concerning foam, silicone lasts longer and is moderately priced although foam may be more comforting. SpinFit is one company which produces wide-ranging silicone ear tips for different IEMs.
A useful patented technology which has helped in sound reproduction is SpinFit‘s swivel axis. This allows sound to redirected towards the eardrum as opposed to frequencies indirectly aimed at the ear canal. The result being unadulterated sound with enhanced frequency extension and IEMs as they were intended to be heard. SpinFit‘s product range includes single-flange and double-flange tips of various sizes which serve audiophile IEMs, wireless monitors and even the Apple Airpods Pro.
When it comes to manufacturing ear tips, foam is a premium material. Comply is among the major brands that pride its brand on manufacturing quality foam ear tips. Their products are easily accessible in the sound industry and show noticeable improvement in sound delivery. IEMs featuring the ear tips in question perform exemplary irrespective of the application.
Tips to Getting Earphones Fit Properly
Knowing how to fit your earphones correctly in your ear canal is crucial to your listening experience. In-ear monitors wrongly seated in your ear will cause significant discomfort and awful sound. Here are some aspects to consider for your earphones to fit correctly;
Pairing your earphone with the correct size of ear tips is the key to enjoying your personal listening experience. The tip size chosen must be comfortable to your ear. We recommend trying out various alternatives and picking the best fit. Your left and right ear may slightly differ in size, meaning that you will have to test each of them separately. In most scenarios, they use different sizes.
Position of the Ear tip
For the perfect sound, the tip needs to seal the ear canal. By doing this, you block out all external noises and focus your eardrums on the sound from your earphones, creating a personal listening experience. We recommend pushing the tip gently into your ear until you feel the proper seal. If the process gets painful, try pulling your ear’s outer rim for comfortable positioning.
To know whether the tip is seated correctly, a drop in ambient noise will be felt. If listening to music, the bass will deepen as well as other ranges.
From our article, we can conclude that there is much to consider before deciding on the perfect ear tips. Selecting those perfect ear tips will certainly pay dividends where comfort, isolation and sound quality are concerned. All too often, users stick to stock ear tips and miss out the benefits with which third-party ear tips bring to the table. Such tips may also increase irritation, discomfort and put consumers off the IEM altogether. Hopefully, this guide curates some accessible tips on how to choose the best ear tips and enjoy the quality sound your IEMs deserve.
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- The Best In-Ear Monitors (IEMs of 2021)
- Audio Frequency Explained
- 5 Headphone Driver Types Explained In Depth