John Diles from EarPeace Technologies stopped by CNET to take impressions of my ears. The impressions were used to create a custom pair of LiveWires dual-driver earphones.
The first thing audiologists will do is inspect your ear to ensure that it's safe to make the impression. Next, they'll insert very tiny string-tethered cotton balls deep into your ear to prevent the impression material from going too far into your ear. Then comes the goop...
After just a few minutes, the gooey silicone material stiffens to a rubbery consistency. At this point, you might feel a little freaked out that your ears have been sealed off, but don't panic. Once the impressions are carefully pulled out, you can now look at the results and marvel at the bizarre complexity of the human ear (or be completely grossed out).
Because the coaxial socket can rotate 360 degrees, the design has a secondary advantage of allowing the cable to be easily directed--either back and over the ear, or straight down from the ears. The visible backplate of the LiveWires earpiece comes in several colors. The tan plate is shown here, but ours came in black.
Once the impressions are made, they get shipped off to the manufacturer. The impression is then turned into a mold, loaded with the earphone components, injected with a hard plastic, and polished smooth. The two double-barrel holes coming out of the earpiece are a result of the discreet channels linked to each of the two balanced-armature drivers (the woofer and the tweeter).
LiveWires use a unique mini-BNC coaxial socket to connect the standard stereo minijack cable to the earpiece. The big advantage of this design is that it allows cable to be detachable and easily replaceable.
The silicone impression material goes in like gooey caramel. It's like a prolonged 'wet willy'. Because the final product needs to fit into the folds of your outer ear, the audiologist really has to lay the silicone on thick.
Getting fitted for custom-molded earphones (or earplugs) seems like a big hassle, but the process is actually painless and quick. If you're ready to bite the bullet and invest in a pair of customs, the first step should be contacting the manufacturer of the earphones (in this case LiveWires) and getting a referral for an audiologist in your area. Going through the manufacturer will usually get you the best deal on the cost of the impressions (around $30, typically).