I had my ears 3D mapped by Sennheiser for custom earbud tips – and you should too
Given that I use and test audio kit for a living, it's a rare day in this game that I learn something completely new about my own onboard listening apparatus. But that was before Sennheiser's audiologists took their scanning apparatus to my ears.
Audio enthusiasts may have spotted that Sennheiser began offering custom-fit ear tips to refine the sound of its wired earbuds earlier this month in Germany – and as luck would have it, the company also offered me the chance to get my own set made, at the High End Munich 2023 trade show.
Now, I've tried Ultimate Ears' novel heat-to-fit earbuds and also I've looked into solutions from dedicated earpiece companies such as Avery, which require molds from audiologists. This involves material being syringed into your ear after something called a "block" is inserted, which must be placed into your ear, past the second bend in your ear canal (to avoid any issues with the material going any further). But this? This solution is over in minutes and it requires none of the above steps.
What happens is that I take a seat, and a pair of what I can only describe as completely open half-headphones (my own technical term) are placed over my head. Errant strays of my poor bleach-blonde locks are moved to one side. Then, the audiologist puts a tiny camera into my ear, the footage from which which I can see on a screen nearby. Simultaneously, a three-dimensional map of my ear canals is being created. I barely feel it, even though the camera goes deep into each ear – and yes, I casually commend myself on having clean canals devoid of ear wax.
Interestingly, the camera is even sent around my outer ear and into its external nooks and folds in my helix, bowl and tragus (something which has to be done with more of the setting material with traditional molds).
Of course, I'm not here to say which method is best or even the most thorough – I've just had the impressions done and am yet to receive my unique Custom Comfort Tips – but I can tell you that this was not painful, not at all stressful and involved nothing other than my ears, a camera, a laptop, a bit of headgear and a trained professional.
Analysis: new things are revealed about the depth and width of my ear canals, which bodes well for the future
And what did we learn, once the two images were made? Ear canals are not created equal – in fact mine are very, very different.
According to Sennheiser's specialists, my ear canals are "really short" on both sides but, contrary to my earlier self diagnostics (having used Ultimate Ears' automatic heat-to-fit tech), the bend in the canal of my right ear is actually "better and more nicely rounded" than my right – albeit a thinner canal, which explains why I often have to downsize twice when fitting earbuds in my right ear but only once in my left.
You can choose the color of your earpieces from a selection of 10 finishes (I chose blue) and even have your name or some other short text engraved on them!
These particular earpieces are intended for Sennheiser's in-ear audiophile-friendly wired selection, chiefly the Sennheiser IE 200, IE 300, IE 600 and IE 900 earphones. Given that even a quick glance at our Sennheiser IE 300 review or our Sennheiser IE 900 review reveals coveted 'recommended' badges from us, I cannot wait to try mine.
Again, the scheme from Sennheiser is in its infancy and it's still unclear whether it will make a global rollout. If the service does become available around the world, Sennheiser is not yet sure whether it'll arrive purely as an add-on feature when purchasing a new set of Sennheiser in-ear monitors, or how much it will cost.
All Sennheiser was willing to tell me on this is that the pilot scheme in Germany has been a huge success thus far – and the company is optimistic about its future. And positive feedback here is no small statement. Remember, this is audiophile territory, where incremental gains in sonic brilliance are hard-fought and listeners can be extremely picky.
As I said, I have just completed the process and am yet to test mine. But watch this space – the best earbuds (and even my Audeze Euclid and beloved Campfire Audio Trifecta) may soon be challenged in new ways.