Ultimate Ears is among the top purveyors of in-ear monitors (IEMs), which are a big step up in quality compared with most earbuds. But what intrigued me about the company’s booth at CanJam SoCal 2017 was Ultimate Ears eFit, a new way to create custom ear molds for IEMs.
Earbuds and generic IEMs use more-or-less hemispherical tips, which sit in your ear canals and form a seal that blocks external sounds from mixing with the reproduced sound. But that seal is less than perfect with generic tips. For the best possible seal, you need tips—or entire IEMs—that have been custom-molded to your ears. Up to now, that has meant a trip to the audiologist, who squirts goo into your ears, waits for it to harden, then removes the molds so they can be used to manufacture tips or entire IEMs that conform perfectly to your ears.
I’ve had custom earplugs made using this process, and it’s not pleasant. But the Ultimate Ears eFit process offers a much better approach. A technician puts what looks like a pair of headphones on your head, but instead of earcups, it has two marked white circles, each of which surrounds one ear. Using a handheld camera probe, the technician scans each ear to build a 3D model of its unique contours in a computer. Two cameras on the probe align its data with the marks on the white circle around each ear, and a 360° camera in the probe’s tip scans the outer ear and into the ear canal.
While I waited for my eFit scan, I listened to Ultimate Ears’ flagship IEM, the UE 18+ Pro, which lists for $1500. This beauty has six balanced-armature drivers per ear—two low-frequency, two midrange, and two high-frequency—with a 4-way passive crossover that includes two staggered high-pass filters. The overall frequency response is spec’d from 5 Hz to 22 kHz (no tolerance given), and the noise isolation is said to be -26 dB, though it’s not specified if this is with custom or generic tips.
I played the Eagles’ “Hotel California” (live version) from a Questyle QP1R portable player. The sound was very bright, even with the largest generic tips, which should have provided the best seal under the circumstances. However, when I pushed them farther into my ears with my fingers—presumably tightening the seal—the sound improved dramatically. Clearly, the seal makes a huge impact on the sound, and a custom-molded IEM provides the best possible seal.
Currently, Ultimate Ears offers eFit scanning at 35 of its dealer locations in large metropolitan locations worldwide. To see if there’s one near you, use the Dealer Locator on the company’s website. Otherwise, you can go to an audiologist and have impressions made the old-fashioned way. Both options are equally effective, but the eFit scan shortens the time it takes to make custom IEMs—and it’s way more comfortable!