Shure E4 in-ear earphones More on Westone Custom Earmolds
In my March 2007 review of Shure's E4 earphones (p.118), I described my preliminary experience with the custom earmolds Westone makes for Shure's E2, E3, and E4 series of in-ear 'phones, as well as for Westone's own UM-1, UM-2, and the new "3" phones (which I plan to review).
Westone's earmolds are made from silicone material impressions of your ear canals made by your audiologist. Westone's literature suggests that the fit should be positive—when it's in right, they say, you'll know it. That wasn't my experience. The right side, especially, didn't seal well, and wiggled loose when I exercised. I had a replacement made for the right earpiece, but it was only a little bit better. The fit on the left side wasn't the greatest, either.
Turns out there was a good reason for that. "Westone recommends open jaw ear impressions taken to the second bend of the ear canal," Westone says at its website. "If you ask your hearing healthcare professional to take your impressions this way, we'll have the best possible starting point for crafting your monitors or musicians' earplugs." When I mentioned this to my audiologist, who is very experienced in most matters audiological but not in making custom earmolds, she disagreed. I'm not going to be listening to music slackjawed, she reasoned, so why should she take the impressions that way?
Why, indeed? When she called Westone to find out, she was told that Westone makes earmolds primarily for musicians who perform on stage, and musicians on stage often sing. That didn't apply to me, so we went with the relaxed-jaw approach. As I wrote in the March issue, I wasn't satisfied with the result.
But when I submitted that review, John Atkinson told me that both he and Wes Phillips had been told to keep their mouths wide open while the silicone hardened. "Maybe that's why yours didn't work so well," he suggested. So I set up another appointment with my audiologist, who, to indulge me, once again took a few minutes out of another day of helping hearing-impaired school kids.
Audiologists have rubber "bite blocks" that help you keep your mouth open without tiring your jaw muscles, but bite blocks aren't made big enough for my mouth. (No jokes, please.) So I opened wide and toughed it out as the silicone was injected and hardened.
I've been using the new earmolds for several weeks now, and I'm very pleased with the result. There's a nice, positive fit, they seal out outside sound, the bass response is strong, and, when attached to my Shure E4s, they sound great. As I wrote in my review of the E4s, the combination of Apple iPod, Shure in-ear 'phones, and custom earmolds from Westone falls well short of the transcendent musical experience delivered by the finest high-end gear, but for not too much money, it allows me to listen to music with pleasure during time that would otherwise be wasted—a major improvement in my days.
At $125/pair, Westone's earmolds are a real bargain by hi-fi standards, and satisfaction is guaranteed: there's no extra charge for remakes, for me or for you. Highly recommended—but open wide.—Jim Austin