Review: InEarCentral.com IEMs
May 15, 2014
article & images by Nick Salazar
One day, I stumbled upon a website with a very interesting offer. They'd take your favorite set of earphones, and for about $125, they'd transform them into custom IEMs! It was the perfect solution. The website is InEarCentral.com, and if they could make good on their promise, I'd have found exactly what I was looking for. These could be the perfect headphones, and a LOT cheaper than anything else on the market. I couldn't resist giving it a try, and placed an order. The first step is getting a mold of your ear and ear canal. The company gives you two options: they'll send you a kit to make your own impressions, or you can go to an audiologist and have them done professionally. If you go the latter route, you can tell InEarCentral NOT to send you the impression kit, and they'll give you $10 back on your order. In order to be thorough, I tried both. The audiologist impressions only cost me $30, and I originally thought that was a small price to pay for having them done by a professional. But honestly, the finished impressions turned out about the same, and doing it myself was MUCH faster. It took about 20 minutes to do the impressions myself, compared to about 10 days to get the audiologist appointment and make the impressions. So I sent InEarCentral.com the impressions that I had taken myself. And about six weeks later, I got my custom IEMs back in the mail.
The custom IEMs were absolutely beautiful. They looked exactly like my original molds, but were made of translucent plastic, with the custom colors I had designated. There is a fairly huge bank of options you can choose from in terms of colors, additive finishes, designs, etc. You can really make these things look however you want. I kept it pretty simple: my right monitor is translucent orange (of course), and the left one is clear. This makes it really easy to see which is which, at a glance. What's really cool is that because they're translucent, you can see all the electronics inside.
So how do they make these? Simple. No, actually it's incredibly complicated. But the basic idea is that they take your original headphones, and very carefully dismantle them. Then they take your ear impressions, and (after a very complex process) create a hollow plastic shell in the same shape. That shell will contain the earphone electronics you sent to them. They very carefully insert the electronic components into the shells, and create holes in those molds to channel sound from the electronics right into your ear canal. Then they seal everything up, and you're left with a single, solid unit that fits perfectly into YOUR ears, and really has nothing left that could break. My earphones were based on the Shure SE530, which have a special set of ports for the removable cables. InEarCentral.com faithfully put these ports onto the new shells, so they work exactly the same as before. As I said above, the result is absolutely stunning.
Fit and Fitment
One thing that every newcomer to the world of custom IEMs has to learn is just how to put these things on. You think it'd be incredibly simple, right? After all, they were molded to YOUR ears, so it should be very straightforward. Unfortunately, it just isn't that intuitive. The funny shapes are different from any headphone you've ever used, and you'll have to learn the "feel" of how they need to go in. Once they're in properly, however, you'll know it. The feeling of a fully-sealed IEM in your ear is unmistakable, and it just feels right. You'll instantly sense that the monitor is seated perfectly, ready to deliver exquisite sound while shielding you from the din of the outside world.
What's more, these things work perfectly for running (and cycling, if you are so inclined). Other headphones tend to slip out as you sweat, because their fit relies on friction, provided by the slight pressure of an expanding piece of foam or rubber. Custom IEMs, on the other hand, rely only on the shape of your ear for their fitment, so sweat has no effect on the fit.
The problem is that, unfortunately, not everyone gets a perefect fit every time. The process of making molds is an art as much as it is a science, and in the process of creating the shells, which involves several casts from the initial impression, to a mold, to a plug, back to a mold, and finally to the final shells, the fitment can sometimes change by just enough that it's no longer perfect when you get the final product back. And this is where InEarCentral really shines.
When I first got my custom IEMs back, there was an unfortunate little problem with my new wonderphones. Something sounded WRONG. I was getting some kind of weird, asymmetric sound from the two different sides. In my case, fitment was NOT the problem. Fit and the seal were both perfect, but the sound was just odd somehow. I emailed Rob Reyna, who owns the company and does most of the work himself, and told them what was going on. It's very important to note that at this point, I was merely a customer. I hadn't told Rob anything about TriRig, or the possibility that I might write this review. And that's why it should mean a whole lot when I say that the customer service at InEarCentral.com is absolutely AMAZING. They have a policy of doing at least TWO completely new refits for FREE. This is true whether you have a fitment issue, like IEMs that won't properly seal, or if something about the sound isn't to your liking. They'll redo it, no questions asked (well, except the question of "what would you like to be different?"). Rob and his team obviously put a LOT of work into making their customers satisfied, and for a product at THIS level of customization at THIS LOW a price, that's absolutely incredible. After a little back-and-forth, I had my revised IEMs back. They were PERFECT.
Features + Sound Quality
Compared to the original headphones I sent in for customization, the sound I got from my custom earphones was basically the same as the source headphones they were made from. That makes intuitive sense, but it's good to know. After all, the phones have been completely recased, and that could have had a significant impact on the resulting sound. Fortunately the sound is still excellent. Some people report hearing better sound once their favorite buds are converted into custom IEMs. I didn't. But for me, the change in fit, and the comfortable fit throughout a long workout or flight was alone worth the price of admission. These things fit in my ear perfectly, because they were made just for me! I have frequently worn them for 5+ hour stretches without feeling any fatigue or ear discomfort. It's just incredible. And I can't say enough about the customer service of InEarCentral. I could not have asked for better service, a better product, or a better overall experience. In fact, I went ahead and ordered myself a second pair because of how much I loved the first. You can see both pairs in this review. The first set is solid clear and solid orange in color. The second set has those same colors, but I also went for carbon fiber caps.