Custom IEM solutions with MiniDisc

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Custom IEM solutions with MiniDisc

Custom IEM solutions
Words by Mixdown staff

The reliance upon quality audio monitoring has become paramount in day to day operations for musicians, engineers and audiophiles alike.

For musicians, this once upon a time exclusively involved a well-tuned stage monitor blasting a performer’s preferred mix of source material. Getting this wrong could mean the difference between a flawless performance or one interrupted by squeals of feedback, a lacklustre performance and disgruntled performer. The speedy development of in-ear monitoring (IEM) systems over the past 10-15 years has seen a swift change to this standard of on-stage monitoring (particularly for bigger touring acts) – with the humble stage monitors becoming more and more obsolete – with performers instead opting for a customised in-ear monitor (CIEM) as their primary source for monitoring. Whilst the initial technology in this space was for many, already a vast improvement on traditional methods of stage monitoring or off the shelf,in-ears, but as we are well aware in the world of Professional Audio, there is always room for improvement.  

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I’m sure the majority of those reading will have had at least some experience with in-ear headphones. Most either come in just one sized earbud or perhaps a variety of several sizes of rubber cups to roughly match a user’s inner ear size – for a comfortable-enough fit, at best. For the most part these are fine for simple casual listening, but for critical scenarios where isolated and comfortable monitoring is paramount, such as performing on stage, FOH and monitoring engineers, a custom IEM system is often more appropriate. Traditionally, this involves a physical impression mould being taken of a person’s inner ear canal with physical impression material, a rather crude procedure may it be, but crucial in getting this type of personalised custom fit to be optimum. This serves both to provide a good fit for animated performers, as well as reducing outside spill, both protecting your hearing while providing optimal sound.

Custom IEM monitors

Lachlan Tsang of Minidisc explains: “Professional music artists, producers and FOH/monitoring engineers have some really important requirements over and above our traditional ‘audiophile’ customers. While both sets of customers demand accurate sound, it’s also really critical for professionals to get a product that fits comfortably and securely in the ear as they move around on stage. Your ear canal changes shape when you move your neck or jaw around, so this is even more important for vocalists. Sound isolation is another important factor, as reducing external noise will protect your hearing and allow you to listen to your own monitor feed clearly and without distraction.”


The benefits of this customised fit over a generic fixed size-earbud are substantial, producing a proper seal around the inner ear canal allowing true isolated sound – which is absolutely crucial for many performers and engineers. Not only significantly reducing extraneous noise from interfering with pitching and the perceived dynamics of a performer (particularly crucial for singers), custom IEM’s give a better overall mechanical performance when properly fitted to a user’s ear. This in turn produces significantly more comfort with more reliability and the ability to trust that what a user is hearing is indeed correct. 

As mentioned, traditionally getting a custom IEM mould is a slightly crude and rather invasive procedure, but over the past several years some particularly exciting advancements in the custom IEM sphere have emerged in the form of 3D scanning, with retailer MiniDisc based in Chatswood, Sydney being the first exclusive store in Australia to embrace this new and advantageous CIEM technology. MiniDisc’s store boasts unparalleled speed and the smoothest ordering process in the industry, the 3D model process allowing them to complete the ear scans and send them off within a sitting. Historically, this has required an uncomfortable physical mould to be taken, checked, before the physical moulds being shipped overseas for production.

“In 2023 Peter Ling of Auricle Digital walked into our store and opened our eyes to the benefits of 3D ear scanning technology for custom in-ear products.” continues Tsang. “Many of our customers want to step up to a pair of customs for the best in sound quality, comfort and noise isolation, but there has always been a lot of uncertainty and hassle associated with sending customers to get a physical impression from an audiologist.”

Teaming up with Auricle Digital, the process of getting a custom moulded IEM is tremendously easy, with the scan itself only taking around 20 minutes. But I’m sure (much like I was) you may be asking yourself, how exactly does this all work? 

Historically, creating a custom fit meant blasting foam or gel into the customer’s ear, the substance filling out the space, hardening and ultimately creating a mould of the inner ear. This is sometimes risky, the workings of our ears being incredibly fragile, the process usually being uncomfortable.

In order to create these 3D digital scans, the wizards from Auricle Digital use a specialised scanner which uses light to essentially map one’s inner ear, creating the 3D image of the inner ear which instantaneously creates a digital file of the user’s inner ear – pretty wild stuff! Not only is this pretty awesome to watch, but there’s a wealth of practical benefits to this new and exciting method.

Auricle Digital

Speaking to Peter Ling of Auricle Digital, he explains “The 3D imaging I use isn’t exactly new or the only solution, however it is the leading 3D ear imaging technology. I think the most notable parts are safety. We have removed the limited risks of injury while trying to support CIEMs. 

This also lowers the bar of how uncomfortable you must be or become in order to take up what CIEMs have to offer. We hope to open the door to many people who for whatever reason might not want to experience what many consider a quite invasive process to access the benefits of a CIEM.”

He goes on to explain that the 3D modelling is even more accurate than previous methods, stating “capturing an ear shape more accurately means that the product performs much closer to its intended concept.”

With physical impressions, the impression materials can have a tendency to expand and change ever so slightly when setting. Not only this but due to the ear canal being put under pressure from the impression material whilst the mould is being made can cause the shape of the ear to change slightly too. Whilst it might be argued these changes are minute and shouldn’t make a difference, they are big enough changes that the custom moulds sometimes don’t fit properly when they come back from the manufacturer. This means a proper seal isn’t created from the inner ear canal to the open air, leaving you open to loud, damaging on-stage sound as well as compromised signal.

Secondly, due to the 3D scan procedure using light to capture the impression rather than physical material, the experience is significantly less invasive. Aside from the obvious comfort benefits, this also contributes to the custom mould being more accurate again. As the inner ear canal is at rest (without being put under physical pressure), the inner ear canal won’t change in shape due to physical stress or pressure. Also, the lack of physical impression material being used alleviates any chances of potential variables happening there. 

Lastly, the immediacy of this scanning technology means the digital scan and file can be processed by Auricle Digital and sent to a CIEM manufacturer the next day. The customer also has the option to receive a copy of their 3D scan for an additional fee. Due to physical impression not needing to be sent in the mail, a much tighter end to end turn around is possible, with MiniDisc even offering rush job options for an additional fee. With the scanning procedure itself only taking around 20 minutes and being digital multiple copies can be sent to multiple mould manufacturers if required or can simply be used at a later date, effectively alleviating the need to pay for another physical impression to be made down the track.

Speaking to Auricle’s collaboration with MiniDisc, Peter said “… we share common values in getting it right for a customer, [it’s] more efficient for everyone. This has translated into maximising value for the customer by testing ‘if we wouldn’t accept it for ourselves, we cannot expect our customers to accept it,’” he said.

“This applies to everything they do from products to service and experiences. That shared customer focus has helped shape what I do so that we can sustainably bring together a much less complex process for a customer to enter into CIEMs or widen. This really shows up in how many different CIEM manufacturers customers have been able to choose from at MiniDisc and consistently being able to deliver the same successful experience.”

With a handful of leading IEM manufacturers such as 64 Audio, FIR Audio, Ultimate Ears and Unique Melody now accepting 3D digital scans for their custom IEM’s, it’s fair to say 3D scans are indeed the exciting new advancement in the space. Aside from the shaving off time from end to end procurement of a system, the physical and performance benefits are really quite incredible. With MiniDisc being at the forefront of offering this exciting solution to their customers and providing an overall streamlined experience with multiple demo units available to try in-store, it’s an exciting time for custom in-ear monitor users. With plans for pop up instals in VIC and QLD, be sure to keep updated on MiniDisc travels via their website. Minidisc’s Pro website is also the first dedicated website in Australia to offer end-to-end delivery for CIEMs, to make the process of choosing and ordering a CIEM even easier for professional users.

Thinking to the future of custom in-ear monitoring, Peter explained “I see it growing possibly exponentially, as the custom economy gets easier for people to access there will be more innovation and applications to be explored.” he explains.

“Every ear is different and the number of variables in CIEMs is increasing so there will always be an opportunity to tailor unique things for different applications including many people who craft their own, whether there is a supportive or sustainable market for each one is another question, but I’m excited to see new ideas.”

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