You just received your custom in-ear monitors (CIEMs) and put them in; ouch, they just don’t feel right. Or they don’t seem to isolate like you thought they should. A sinking feeling goes through you as thoughts of sending your brand new custom back for a refit fill your mind. Do you really need a refit, or will you get used to the fit? This custom in-ear monitors fit guide will help you with a better understanding of what makes a good fit.
For first time CIEM owners, figuring out proper insertion technique is important. There are different techniques for inserting and removing acrylic and silicone shells, and finishes differ by manufacturer. Some manufacturers use a slick coating that acts like a lubricant while others don’t, resulting in difficulty for initial insertions. My first experience with most CIEMs has been that they are dry and difficult to insert, can hurt, and may not seal well. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually sized just right!
Improved initial fit with ear lubricants
Using an ear lubricant the first 5-10 insertions will help alleviate the dryness and form a coating on the CIEM which will improve both fit and seal, sometimes dramatically. There are plenty of aftermarket lubricants available, or Vaseline or even saliva can add lubrication and alleviate fit issues. When applying lubricant, make sure you don’t get any lubricant into the sound tubes or you can block the tube and affect the sound. Over time, your cerumen (ear wax) will lubricate the shell and make insertion easier.
Cleaning the shell with an alcohol wipe will remove most if not all of the lubricant, so be prepared to apply more if necessary. Using a hearing aid dryer for cleaning works well and won’t remove the lubricant.
Proper insertion and removal
There is a technique for insertion and removal of CIEMs, and acrylic and silicone shells should be handled a bit differently. The hard acrylic shell makes it easy and safe to use a twist in and twist out motion. The canal portion of the shell should be behind your ear canal, closer to the back of your head. Once the canal portion of the shell is inserted into the ear, rotate the canal portion up to fit into place. With acrylic shells, I usually use the cable for assistance in the twisting.
Removal is similar, but the opposite rotation direction. Pulling the CIEM out without the twist shouldn’t be possible, or if it is, it will most likely be painful. I do admit I usually start twisting the shells out by pushing on the top of the shell connector of the cable. Insertion and removal takes half a second and is much quicker than inserting/removing a universal IEM.
For silicone, the twist is still there, but I found a push during twisting helps seat the CIEM in my ear properly. Silicone shells are softer and will bend during insertion, and I don’t want to put pressure on the cable during insertion or removal, while I use the cable connector to assist in acrylic shell insertion and removal. Removal is just a twist, but make sure to grab the shell and not the cable.
Checking for a good fit
How do you know if you have a good fit: seal, comfort, and sound.
Seal: Just like the seal of a jar, door, or anything else, the CIEM shell should prevent the passing of air between your ear canal and the outside. Anatomy plays a role here, as everyone is different. Most people with a good fit can chew without breaking the seal, and laying down vs. sitting up can also affect the seal. But again, these factors are anatomy dependent. Sometimes CIEMs seal so well the seal needs to be temporarily broken just after insertion by a slight push or twist of the shell, removing pressure developed during insertion. If you have a vacuum when you insert the CIEM, you know the seal is good. If you can break the seal when chewing gum, you could probably use a bit tighter fit.
Comfort: While the sound is very dependent on the fit, in my experience, comfort also affects the sound. If a CIEMs is too tight it will hurt after some time. In my experience, there can be discomfort and then there can be pain. Discomfort goes away after a few days and doesn’t return as my ears adjust to the new CIEM while pain continuously occurs and often gets worse. I have been known to shave acrylic shells down with a bench polisher to alleviate pain, but I don’t recommend it as it may (will) void the warranty. Contact the manufacturer and let them know. There are typically three areas that can cause issues: the canal, the upper concha area, and the base of the canal. More information can be found below.
Sound: CIEMs offer a good amount of isolation, and you should experience a relatively significant amount of isolation when the CIEM is inserted. If you are used to IEMs, in most cases you can expect a greater amount of isolation. This is dependent on what IEMs you use and your anatomy, as well as your surrounding and focus. For example, I can listen for sounds with my CEIMs in and hear them, but when I am working, I hear nothing! Essentially, it should sound like something is blocking your ears.
CIEM fit issues
A perfect fit can often be achieved by making a great impression, but there are time when even a great impression doesn’t result in a perfect fit, with some minor fit issues. And, another thing to take into consideration is that your ear canal sizes can change depending on several factors, with the most common ones being weight change (and water retention/dehydration), being sick, such as having a head cold, and irritation.
Typically there is a set time for sending a CIEM back for a refit, so it is important to address any issues as quickly as possible. If you have any obvious severe fit issues, you should contact the manufacturer after trying a few steps listed below. If you have minor fit issues, your ears may or may not adjust to the new shell. Common fit issues include the canals being too large, small, long, or short, the upper concha area not fitting right, or a poor sound tube angle. Let’s look at some of the fit issues and how you can deal with them.
Canal too large: This can cause either pain or discomfort ranging from immediately to after a good deal of time such as an hour. If it hurts right away, chances are you will need a refit. If it hurts after some time, your ears may adjust and the pain. Discomfort is something that will go away for many people, but not always.
Canal too long: This will feel like there is something poking the inside of your ear that shouldn’t be poking, or could even prevent the shell from seating properly inside your ears.
Canal too small/short: This will lead to a lack of bass and possibly tonal issues. An easy way to check is to push the shells in your ears deeper with the palms of your hands while turning shells a bit to constrict the size of your ear canal. If the sound improves and you hear more bass, the canal is too small.
Canal not at the right angle: If the sound tubes are not at the correct angle, this will affect the sound ranging from a bit to a lot. A tell tail sign of this is the sound is muffled or lacks a part of the frequency spectrum in one or both ears. To check for this, look up and down and move the shell around in your ear to see if the sound gets better. Try to identify when they sound best and contact the manufacturer. If you can get another set of deep impressions, you may be able to see where the issue is located. The more you can communicate to the manufacturer, the better their ability to fix the issue.
B) Cymba (AKA Upper Concha bowl):
Cymba area sore: In my experience, this doesn’t go away over time and the area needs to be shaved down, which generally requires the CIEM to be sent back. It is possible to fix minor issues by using sandpaper.
C) Base of the canal:
If the base of the canal isn’t properly aligned with the angle of the canal, the fit will suffer as one part of the shell will either not sit at the correct angle, causing pain, or the canal will not create a proper seal.
Sound tube angle: sometimes the sound tube angle is oriented at a weird angle, or it doesn’t fit the natural curve of your ear canal. This can lead to sound issues and possible issues when inserting/removing a CIEM.
When fit properly, Custom IEMs offer extreme comfort and exceptional sound. When they don’t fit properly, the sound and comfort suffer, and the chances of you using and enjoying them decreases. If there are issues with your CIEM, get them fixed ASAP as the short term hassle will be worth the long term benefits.
Fixing acrylic CIEM shells without sending them back
CIEMs usually have a refit period that typically ranges from 30 to 90 days, and if you have fit issues within this time, it is recommended to work with the manufacturer for a free refit. If you have had your CIEMs for quite a while and have issues due to the canals being too small or losing a seal during movement/singing, look into Comply Custom Wraps.
If your CIEMs were manufactured in another country, or if you are a hands on type of person, you have options to fix a poor fit. You can find a local audiologist/lab to make the adjustments for you or you can fix them yourself. There are some audiologists that can fix your issues in their office, but many will require the work to be done in a lab, and often it is difficult to find a local lab or get the lab to work directly with you. Audiologists should have experience fixing fit issues with hearing aids, so a similar procedure should occur, but there are differences between a hearing aid and a CIEM. It is best to work directly with the person doing the work and be cognizant of their experience level and what they plan on doing before they do it. Your best bet is to communicate with the CIEM manufacturer to ensure they will still do a refit if the local audiologist isn’t able to fix your issues first.
If you are a hands-on person, you can get high grit sand paper, a bench grinder, and some plastic polish to reduce areas that are too tight and get a better fit. I have used this method, and while the fit became perfect (and the sound improved), the finish wasn’t quite as good as the original if examined closely. If the shell is too small, it is possible to build it up with clear acrylic nail polish. I recommend organic nail polish as the regular nail polish I initially used irritated my ears. Make sure to clean the shell well before applying nail polish and apply many thin coats, making sure the nail polish dries completely between applications. This is a time consuming process, but if you can get a better fit and save the time and money of shipping a CIEM back, it may just be worth it. Another method is Blu Tack, which can be used to fix large discrepancies.
To learn more about what makes a good and bad ear impression, read Ear self-impressions for custom in-ear monitors – what you need to know.
Written by average_joe