Custom In-ear monitors are awesome for getting great isolation and sound from a small space. Their main downside is the incredible investment required, due in large part to the time consuming hand work and relatively small market. Still, it's hard to beat the great sound you get out of a set of well made custom IEMs. The size and ability to fit within the ear makes them great candidates for people who have space constraints. One big market that does not have a good solution for sound is the motorcycle market, along with every other group that wears a constraining helmet.
JH Audio is a relatively new company having just started a few years ago making aviation equipment, but has recently expanded into the custom IEM marketplace, but this does not mean they are not good. Founder Jerry Harvey has been working with sound equipment since his teenage years. After twenty years of working with bands such as Van Halen, Linkin Park, and KISS, he decided that his skill should be put to more use. After discussing with Alex Van Halen, he decided to start making a better in-ear monitor and created the first two-way design. In the mid 1990's he co-founded Ultimate Ears and was CTO and designer until his departure in 2007, which was since acquired by Logitech. At his stay at Ultimate Ears, Jerry designed the first 2, 3, and 4-way driver systems. He has since created 6 and 8 way designs at JH Audio.
After working with long-time associate Beth Orliss, owner of Hearing Dynamics, JH Audio has moved into another segment of the market: Custom IEM's for motorcycle riders. With Hearing Dynamics' exclusive sales agreement, they have crafted a twin-driver IEM for riders who demand the best in sound. The earpiece is countersunk so that it fits within the ear completely. Also, the cable comes out of the bottom of the driver instead of the top, like most custom IEMs.
So, how does one make a custom IEM you ask? Well, it's really not too complicated. First, you take yourself to a good audiologist. I had Beth from Hearing Dynamics make mine for me as she is both local and is recommended on JH Audio's site. I had a nice discussion with her and I truly think she cares about her customers. She will wait until you are 100% satisfied. Why else would she post her personal cell phone on her webpage with the only disclaimer asking you to use discretion with the time of your call. Also she loves motorcycles; she owns a chopper and a couple of other "fast" bikes. Back to the preparation! First, my ears were checked to make sure I would be able to support the silicone used to make the impression. After a quick check, I was given a foam "bite" piece to make my canals widen. Any scuba divers will remember this technique for equilibration. Then, in each ear goes what appears to be a little cylinder of foam with a piece of string attached. This is inserted deep into the ear canal with a tool with a light built in. Then silicone is injected until it engulfs the foam piece. It feels sort of like popping your ears but doesn't hurt. Three minutes later, it's all done. The mold is slowly pulled from each ear and then miraculously what looks like a worm attached to an oddly shaped rock is removed. This impression is sent to the lab and a little over a week later, your brand new earbuds built just for you are sitting in your mailbox.
Me, sitting and waiting for the silicone to harden in my ears
The mold looks like the color of a Smurf!
The product of a good audiologist
Continue to Part 2