Are custom IEMs worth the money?
Custom headphones, headsets, and of course, in-ear monitors aren’t that new to the market. Listening gear with very specific, personalized, and customizable features has been out there for decades, but there are obvious reasons why it never managed to cut through the noise of mainstream mass production and consumption – price being the most notable one.
Namely, any custom headphone, headset, or in-ear monitor pair is more expensive than their more traditional counterpart, mainly because custom cans are supposed to fit a smaller group of people with identical ear canals (or at least as similar as possible) whereas universal monitors, headphones, and sets are meant for pretty much everyone.
Now, today’s question is not whether or not custom IEMs are pricey or downright ludicrously expensive; it’s whether or not custom IEMs are worth the buck. We’ll break down some of the most notable benefits and drawbacks of in-ear monitors for your convenience, but it’s up to you to decide whether they’re too expensive or just about adequate for your wallet.
Main Benefits of Custom IEMs
Superior Noise Cancellation
There are dozens of differences between custom and traditional in-ear monitors, but the most notable one is superior passive noise cancellation. Namely, custom IEMs are meant to offer a perfectly snug fit, leaving very little room for any sound to get in through means other than through the monitors.
This will certainly feel strange to most people, especially listeners who’ve never encountered noise cancellation features before. The music listening experience paired with high-quality noise reduction becomes more personal, but also more captivating, resembling that of a well-produced concert in terms of sonic fidelity.
Universal in-ear monitors are precisely that – they’re meant to cater to the needs of the majority of people. Most IEM models are available in several standard size types so that people can choose according to their personal preferences.
However, this introduces a lot of guesswork, as you’ll need to measure the dimensions of your ear or simply guess what model will fit you best. The one redeeming quality of universal IEMs in this respect is that better models often feature multiple (complementary) sets in different sizes.
However, this usually means that you’ll have one pair that you can actually use as a go-to for a comfortable listening experience while the other sets are practically useless.
Custom IEMs rely on surgical precision when it comes to size and fit. You will need to visit an audiologist who will craft special earmolds, which the custom in-ear monitor company will use to manufacture a model that fits like a glove.
Leading brands are currently in the progress of simplifying the earmold-crafting process, so it’s safe to say that we’ll be able to get our custom in-ears faster and cheaper.
Improved Sonic Performance
All custom IEMs are classified as boutique in-ear headphones. They’re expensive for a reason, which is providing all-around quality and performance. All custom in-ear models are outfitted with unique drivers proprietary to the brand that manufactured them, which are well-renowned for exceptionally balanced soundstages and raw power.
Drivers are, obviously, the driving force behind any headphones, and the ones supplied to custom IEMs are normally well-rounded to the point that they are perfectly suited for both casual and critical listening.
Furthermore, top-tier brands in this department also provide apps that allow you to customize the soundstage of your buds on the fly, which means that you don’t need to search far and wide for practical EQs, noise gates, and filters.
The aesthetic component of in-ear buds and monitors is arguably insignificant compared to actual performance. That’s one of the reasons why budget models look pretty much the same. However, that’s not the case with custom IEMs.
Custom-made in-ear monitors look as expensive as they actually are. All models sport unique designs and exquisite hallmark feature that sets them apart from all other in-ears, budget, universal or otherwise.
Perfect for Musicians
Live performing musicians nowadays heavily rely on in-ear monitors as opposed to the old-school way of having an angled speaker monitor in front of them. Professionals need to hear every tiny sonic detail that’s happening around them, and more importantly, they can’t afford to worry about in-ears running out of battery or even worse, falling out mid-song.
That’s why renowned musicians use custom IEMs. These are simply better sonically and more reliable overall. If you consider the fact that they’re also durable enough to withstand years of use, they’re worth every cent in this particular case.
Main Drawbacks of Custom IEMs
Hefty Price Tags
We’ve mentioned it a few times already, but the most obvious drawback of custom in-ear monitors is price, making some models even more pricy than the most expensive earbuds on the market.
. They cost a small fortune and aren’t as available as universal headphones and universal IEMs.
Furthermore, the main reason why their value is disputed is exactly because of their hefty price tag. We can argue whether you can find a better-sounding piece of music listening gear for around a grand, or a stabler set of headphones with a more customizable soundstage, but the answer would be ‘yes, you can’.
However, the price-to-value ratio of custom in-ear monitors shouldn’t be taken at face value; we should look at the full package. Their sturdiness, comfort, sound, ambient noise reduction, and reliability all contribute to their expensiveness and ultimately value.
Audiophile Sound Quality
What’s one of the biggest benefits can also be perceived as a flaw through a different lens. While audiophiles crave high-fidelity sound, casual listeners may not even notice the subtle nuances that custom IEMs bring to the table.
Furthermore, the type of music you’re normally listening to plays a bit of a role when determining whether or not custom in-ear monitors are worth the money. Classic pop and blues songs, for example, are relatively simple, and you’ll probably be able to enjoy them on any kind of headphones.
Rock, jazz, metal, and to some degree electronic music even hides a plethora of details and nuances in the mix that can only be uncovered with proper noise cancellation and a finely-tuned soundstage, both of which custom IEMs boast.
Senior editor for Ultimate-Guitar, passionate about good music and quality gear. Bassist. King Crimson fan. Travel enthusiast. Compulsive buyer of Bose headphones and old Fender amps.