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Create your own noise blocking in-ear headphones

All > Tech > Hacks/Mods > Gadgets > Create your own noise blocking in-ear headphones by natetrue
We've all had the same thing happen to us while listening to music on our iPods at the Internet Café - in order to hear your music over the din, we have to crank it up so much that we are permanently damaging our hearing.

Sure, we could buy high end over the ear headphones to go over our ears in a one-size-fits-all fashion.

You can also get custom in-ear molds done at hearing-aid places for $100 that do the same thing as the ones in this tutorial, and are of higher quality.

But why pay $100 or even $200 for something you can make yourself for pennies on the dollar!? That's right, these noise-isolating, high-quality earphones will only run you $20 - and they're fully and perfectly molded to your specific ear shape (yes, your ear shape is unique!).

The process is simple - mix up some epoxy putty, jam it in your ear, let it mostly harden, take it out, drill holes for sound, and mount normal earbud speakers to them. Et voila!

First a short word before we continue.

WARNING - This tutorial advocates jamming things in your ear which are not made for earal consumption. Some people are allergic to epoxy (or develop an allergy after working with it) and may experience an allergic reaction that could conceivably involve a swelling of the ear canal and/or complete anaphylactic shock, maybe even death (hey, it could happen). You may also have a specific hooked form of ear that prevents you from removing the epoxy once it hardens. You might also, perhaps, have some sort of seizure epilepsy that makes you throw up uncontrollably when you stick things in your ear. Please consult your otologist before attempting this procedure. I take no liability for emergency room bills, ICU bills, coma support, or any other expenses incurred from actions resulting from the reading of this article.

Uh, now that you're sufficiently scared, let's move on!

Start with this wonderful compound, All Fix Epoxy. It costs $13 for these two containers plus shipping. All Fix Epoxy is a putty form of epoxy that hardens in an hour or two once you thoroughly mix the two parts together (1:1 ratio). Grab a wad of each (use slightly more of the thicker half - it makes it set faster). It's at this point you can mix in ink for a colored mold. Mix them together with your hands until they start feeling very gummy. If it starts crumbling or won't fold over any more, you've waited too long. Throw it away and try again.

NOTE - Do NOT use gloves to mix the epoxy. If you are allergic to it you will want to find that out when the putty is on your hands, not when it's in your ear canal.

Once the epoxy is thick enough, break a small piece off and set it aside (use this to find out when the epoxy in your ear is hard enough).

Wet your finger and moisten your ear surface (you can also use oil, or petroleum jelly). This is to make sure the epoxy doesn't pull too many hairs on the way out (or get stuck completely).

Put the rest in your ear, breaking small pieces off of your wad and pressing them around the bowl of your ear, making sure to cover the entire bowl-shaped area of your ear eventually. Don't push the epoxy into your ear canal too far - it should only go in about a quarter inch.

Let me repeat that. It is VERY easy to push the epoxy too far into your ear. BE CAUTIOUS. If you have any reason to suspect that you may not be capable of performing this procedure properly, do not attempt it.

You might want to consider this advice from my audiologist, Jesse Ferguson:
Make a ball of fluff (out of a cotton ball) and sew thread through it in a little loop. This goes in your ear first, down as far as you want. This keeps the material from going too far, and if a little piece gets stuck you can pull on the thread. Do not pull on the thread to get the impression out of your ear, though.

Here comes the fun part - find something to do with one ear clogged for about a half hour. Press the spare epoxy wad every once in a while. When it springs back to its original shape after you push it, it's time to remove the mold from your ear.

Work your jaw and pull at the edges of your ear to loosen the mold a little. You'll feel your ear fuzz pulling out with a gently painful sensation. The mold can still change its shape at this point so try not to push it around too much.

Fold your ear back as best as you can and get a grip around the edges of the mold. Pull very lightly and rotate it a bit, whichever way frees the mold best.

It is at this point where you find out whether you have that special hooked ear canal that I was talking about. Make sure EMT's are standing by.
Set your mold somewhere it won't be disturbed so it can harden overnight. Don't try to work it before that because it may become misshapen.
When the mold is hardened, check out the back. Odds are that it is not perfectly flat. Use a file or sanding block to file it down to a flat surface.

Next comes the hard (fun?) part.
Cut the ear canal protrusion down to about 1/4 inch if it's not already that short. Then sight the best direction to drill from there into the body of the mold.

Using a 1/16 inch drill bit, drill partways into the mold to where it would meet a secondary hole drilled from the other side. This takes a lot of spatial thinking so I hope you're up to it.
On the other side, drill in sequence:
- A 3/8" depression
- A 1/4" deeper depression
- A 1/16" hole that meets the other hole from the other side

Use a thin wire to make sure the hole is complete and all the way clear of drilling detritus.

You're almost done! Rip open a pair of cheap earbuds and attach the speaker elements to your new ear mold. I used Tub 'n' Tile caulking to hold it on there - it works pretty well.
And there you go! Just pop the original wires from the earbuds back on, and you're good to go with your new stylin' earbuds.

Sound quality is excellent on even the cheapest of earbud speakers because of the isolation provided. The sound is channeled into your ear and you'll find yourself using very low volume settings on your portable audio players - no ear damage for you, any more!

A couple of possibilities before we go:
- Skip the drilling and earbud stage for some excellent earplugs!
- Use two tealight candles and arrange it so that one melts the other still in its metal can. Wait for the wax to melt all the way (and then wait a little more, to get it really hot!), and dip the mold in there momentarily. Shake the excess wax off before it melts and you will have thin coating of wax on the mold. This will increase noise blocking, tighten the fit, and make it easier to put in and take out.
- You could also modify a Bluetooth headset to use the in-ear as its mounting point. That might make it more comfortable, but not make you seem any less snooty :)
- Mix in ink or paints (maybe even fluorescein) to change the color of the epoxy. Partially mix it for a tie-dye look!

That's about all for now. Check out my other creations for more awesome interesting crap!

More creations by natetrue

More creations in Gadgets


Comments:

Posted by jesse 7 years ago ( 18-Dec-2006 20:58:51 )

I beleive they should also conult their AUDIOLOGIST. And please PLEASE warn them not to put it too deep into their canal, the curve in many peoples earcanals CAN trap impression material and require surgery to have it removed...otherwise cool. AND set the impression on its back (with the canal pointing into the air) otherwise gravity may make it warp.

Posted by jontempleton 7 years ago ( 19-Dec-2006 09:40:36 )

This concept does work well. I've been using the little silicon "earplugs" that came with a jabra cell phone headset for this purpose, but they don't fit quite right. I've been thinking about doing something like this for a while, but I haven't found a good material . . . until now! Once you have these original earbuds made, you can then use them to make a mold using bondo, or some other hard substance that you can destroy later. Make lots of molds. Then if you ever lose or destroy these new earbuds you can make more easily using the molds. Plus, you can use other materials such as silicon or latex that may be more flexible, durable, more comfortable and has less chance of allergic reaction. You can also buld new earbuds with the headphones built right in for a seemless manufactured look. You have to include a small tube in your mold that you can remove later so you don't have to drill out the new earbud. Using the molds will give you a chance to try different things, practice and screw up a few times. But eventually, you'll have something that everyone else will envy. This is essentially the same process the pro's use. Cheap earphones will sound much better, but even slightly better earbuds will sound a lot better. I can't wait to do this myself!

This comment was edited at 2006-12-19 09:46:14


Posted by dwalk 7 years ago ( 19-Dec-2006 17:38:39 )

awesome, I really like the idea. I want to try to make these before Christmas with my dad. I also think the tip your audiologist gave about sticking a ball of cotton in your ear with some thread threaded through it. But make sure not to jam cotton balls in your ear too far either!

Posted by natetrue 7 years ago ( 20-Dec-2006 10:57:19 )

This just in - coat the molds (before drilling) with a thin layer of candle wax for a snugger fit. It also makes it easier to insert and remove them once they're complete.

You can also use minty scented wax for that minty fresh ear-scent!

Posted by griff 7 years ago ( 01-Feb-2007 10:59:13 )

I'm a musician and was interested in trying this out in order to make in-ear monitors
for stage performance. You can buy something similar on line for about $900.
(http://www.ultimateears.com/custom/UE-10-Pro.htm)
This is considerably less expensive and the results are identical.

I only had one moment of terror.
"You'll feel your ear fuzz pulling out with a gently painful sensation. "
Apparently some of us have more ear fuzz than others. I had to exert a tremendous
amount of force in order to rip the fuzz out of my ears. Ow.
My new earbuds look like they're coated in blond velvet!

Aside from that arrrrrgh moment, they work very well. I mounted
a set of Koss buds and they sound very good -- Frequency response: 10Hz-20kHz
and very inexpensive: http://www.audio-discounters.com/spark-plug.html

If I did this again, I'd find some way to remove the fuzz from in and around the ear canal.
I'd also use plastic Q-tips and pack the epoxy around them that so its not necessary to drill
holes, just snip off the ends of the Q-tip.

Posted by bigd 7 years ago ( 08-Feb-2007 10:44:57 )

Are these truly noise-isolating? I think that with a dynamic speaker (like earbud style headphones) it wouldn't be. You would need to use a balanced armature receiver to have it truly noise-isolating.

Posted by natetrue 7 years ago ( 08-Feb-2007 11:00:56 )

Well, that depends on your definition of noise isolating. They block noise quite effectively (to my untrained ear, they knock off about 30-40 dB). At what level might you consider them to be "truly" noise-isolating?

Posted by bigd 7 years ago ( 08-Feb-2007 11:38:29 )

It's hard to say exactly how much they are truly attenuating without doing some physical measurements. Perceptions can be misleading. That being said, if you notice that you are significantly turning down the volume than with other headphones more power to you!

Posted by natetrue 7 years ago ( 08-Feb-2007 12:15:04 )

They're definitely a plus over normal earbuds. I'm not sure how they compare to over-the-ear headphones, especially the high-class ones, but the sound reproduction is excellent and I personally like how compact they are. If done properly you can sleep on them without noticing they're there at all.

Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 10-Jul-2007 09:24:41 )

Great instructions but insted of using the epoxy putty ive used something called Pollymorph,

http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/Polymorph

You can drill, sand, melt it and its smooth almost waxy to the touch and it sets in about 5 mins !!!
Will post some pics when I can !

This comment was edited at 2007-07-10 09:27:57


Posted by natetrue 6 years ago ( 10-Jul-2007 09:53:32 )

That sounds like a great solution. Let me know how it turns out, I'm wondering whether the molds would start sagging over time.

Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 10-Jul-2007 15:22:02 )

Ive just finished them and they are fantastic. The molds are solid nylon and are rock hard, when you make the inital casting in your ear, you get the part that is shaped to your ear canal, in my case about 15mm, which you trim down, i was unable to bend it, it was that strong. The only dificulty is drilling which produces heat and causes a little softening, so i used a sioldering iron with a spoon bit to scoop out the mold !!!, to fit my Shure e3's into it. The only way they are going to melt is if they are dropped into boiling water, maybe left in the sun for hours on a very hot day or your ears catch on fire !!!!
I found the beauty of this stuff is that if you make a mistake you can melt a bit on or smooth the edges with heat rather than spend ages fileing away.
The result is a 1000% better sound performance than the sleeves they supply and what I expected !!!!.
As soon as I get the pics off the camera, i will post a link but need to get a card reader that works with XD cards, stupid camera LOL
OBTW......All credit to you for the instructions......THANKYOU

Posted by natetrue 6 years ago ( 10-Jul-2007 20:30:54 )

I will have to get me some of that PolyMorph stuff. I just finished baking the wax off of my 'phones for a fresh coat of black paint to match my slick new iPhone. What do you think?
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Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 12-Jul-2007 02:20:58 )

Here are the pics


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Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 12-Jul-2007 02:21:47 )


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This comment was edited at 2007-07-12 02:24:26


Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 12-Jul-2007 02:22:29 )


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Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 12-Jul-2007 02:24:11 )

This is one of the casts before trimmimg ect....
Shame U cant add multiple images to a comment :)

Any questions please ask :)
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Posted by underclocker 6 years ago ( 30-Aug-2007 14:03:13 )

@fastass - I get it right until the finishing steps. How do you get your phones connected to the cast? Is there a reversable way to do that?

Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 30-Aug-2007 14:30:12 )

Hi, underclocker, I attached the headphones by positioning them on the casts, with the holes allready made, and then covering them in strips of heated polymorph untill compleatly coverd. It doesnt need to be thick as it sets hard.You need the strips realy hot, I used a lit candle to heat them untill they go clear and you start to see them bubble, then cover over the headphones quickly bit by bit. The reason I heated the polymorph using a flame is beacause you need the strip to melt into the existing polymorph cast, using hot water doesnt let this happen.
Hope this answers your question. :)
I have been using my headphones everyday since making them with no problems at all and the casts have not lost there shape :) :)
Need anymore help, just ask ;)

This comment was edited at 2007-08-30 14:34:41


Posted by underclocker 6 years ago ( 31-Aug-2007 22:13:46 )

Hey @fastass - thanks for your quick reply! That was great.
Now I am thinking about how hot the stuff must be at the moment you put it into your ears. How do you heat it until it is ready and then put it in your ear? I've been reading about the stuff audiologists do and have formed opinions about open vs closed mouth etc.
One thing that head-fi.org users are doing wrong is ignoring the topic of headphone acoustics. You can widen or narrow the tube or even make or horn or bell as it reaches the end in your ear canal. I'd say straight or widening a bit would be the best. I see yours looks very constant from the pictures you posted. I see some head-fi users look like their opening narrows. If it narrows, I think that some frequencies would have a standing wave that would tend to dampen some frequencies. For monitors (as opposed to hearing aids) this would be bad. They comment that they have to EQ it so it sounds balanced but this nylon stuff sounds like it may give me a second chance if I mess up the drilling.
Where can one pick up the polymorph stuff at retail stores?

Posted by fastass 6 years ago ( 01-Sep-2007 05:18:02 )

Hi underclocker, This website has all the details on purchasing Polymorph or in the US its called Freindly Plastic.
http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/Polymorph
Also there are the instructions for using it. It comes in beads that you put into hot water, I just used the water from a kettle, and this then makes it bond together, you can then squash it by hand , when you put it in your ear it is warm and is not uncomftable, it only takes about 5 mins to set. I do advise putting something in your ear canal tied to some thread, to stop it going too far !!!. I did not do this and as my ear canals are hooked you can imagine how much fun it was to get the mold out !!!!!!
I didnt drill the molds, insted I melted the mold with special adaptors you can get for soldering irons to scoop out where the headphone was to be placed. I then used a spare bike wheel spoke !!!, heated up to make a nice clean hole for the sound to travel down the ear canal part.
I supose its finding a way you find easiest, it took me several attempts toget the method right but its worth it :)

This comment was edited at 2007-09-01 14:06:05


Posted by backxslash 6 years ago ( 08-Apr-2008 12:07:18 )

Kinda feels like I'm necro'ing this thread, but still:

I finally worked up the nerve to (and cash) to make a pair of these things, and all I can say is that it's the best mistake I've made in a long while. I used putty style epoxy designed for "wood repair" to make the molds, and a spare pair of iPod earbuds. I can't comment on sound quality, but the noise blocking quality it fantastic. I've taken to using the only when I'm studying, or riding my scooter, or when I just want to ignore the world. I don't use them any other time because I can see people talking, but I can't hear them, and it makes me a bit nervous. Not cuz I think they're talking about me, but cuz I think someone might sneak up on me. I think I drilled the holes a bit weird though, cuz the sound through them is a bit treble heavy.

Posted by natetrue 6 years ago ( 23-Apr-2008 07:37:37 )

Glad to see this thread still has some life to it. I still use mine whenever I'm on an airplane or any other time I need to have perfect sound.

Posted by ejbragg 5 years ago ( 31-May-2008 14:34:06 )

Has anyone tried / thought about using a fast-setting rubber for these earbuds? I went to an audiologist a few years back and had them make me some custom earmolds for "musician's earplugs". They squirted a fast-setting rubber or silicon in my ear. Once it was set, they just pulled it out. At the time, they sent me home and called me back within a couple weeks for the finished product.

I have found something on the web that looks similar and is made for the human body - it sets faster in warm temperatures, slower while you're working with it (keep your finger cold). Because the inside of your head is warm, sliding the rubber into your ear canal will cause it to set up faster - they claim within 5 minutes. Because it's a soft rubber, you can go all the way to the eardrum - and acoustically speaking, you SHOULD, actually, BUT being careful not to exert an uncomfortable pressure. When the mold sets up, you pull it out and snip off the end about 1/8" to 1/4" from the eardrum. Otherwise, wearing them will irritate your eardrums.

The reason for going all the way to your eardrum is that your ear canal works a lot like the inside of a speaker cabinet. If you restrict the canal, but leave a wide opening near the ear drum, that cavity will still resonate at low frequencies. The result is that the music may sound very bass-heavy, not attenuating the low frequencies very well, and yet attenuating the higher frequencies very efficiently. Such causes you to have to equalize the stereo system to compensate. Making the earbud as long as your ear canal reduces the bass resonance and all frequencies outside the earbud are attenuated much more evenly.

Now. As jesse commented earlier, there ARE people whose ear canals may actually be larger near the eardrum than anywhere else. So use caution. I would suggest pulling the first molds of each ear out slightly prematurely, just to check out the shape of the canal and make sure it wasn't too difficult to remove. If all seems well, then you'll have PLENTY left over to do again, several times - even if you order the smallest volume available of this stuff...

http://www.smooth-on.com/bd-update.htm

Posted by panther 5 years ago ( 17-Jan-2009 22:38:37 )

I tried making my own earbuds using this as a guide. Some of the things I did differently, and I think it worked well. I went to Lowe's and bought Elmer's 2-part epoxy ($19). I found it took a long time (about 3 hours) for the epoxy to get the consistency of chewing gum. I lined my ears with vaseline, to prevent them from sticking too much to my skin. I formed the epoxy into a "U" shapes, and wrapped it around the earbuds. Then I carefully put them into my ears, making sure the earbuds were blocking my ear canal. I stuffed the rest of the epoxy in around them, making a good fit. This I did in front of a mirror, to make sure it looked okay. I kept a small piece in a ziplock bag to test how hard the stuff was getting. Meanwhile, I listened to music through them, to make sure the earbud was positioned nicely. It took over an hour to get it thick enough to remove (like bubble gum you left on your bedpost overnight).

This method is great because it requires *no drilling!*. Also, it helps ensure the earbud is positioned exactly where you want it in your ear.

After, tried wearing them. They're really uncomfortable unless you do some sanding - so I did. In fact, my left ear got a small cut from it rubbing. I sanded off the hard rough edges. This helped, but still they didn't feel very comfortable. I bought some shiny green paint, and painted them with 2 coats. I thought this might help the comfort factor. See the pictures below - I think shiny paint makes them look great - like real commercial/professional earphones!

Finally I dipped them in wax as described above. This helped a lot. Unfortunately, one of the earbuds stopped working. I'm not sure if it was the wax-dipping, or the fact that they were old to begin with. Anyway, now that I've practiced, I will try again with new ones. One thing's for certain, they sound 10x better, and never fall out!

I also thought about using a product called "Plasti Dip" (http://www.plastidip.com/). You can find it pretty cheap on ebay. Not sure how well it would work, but might be easier to clean than wax.
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This comment was edited at 2009-01-17 22:42:44


Posted by willchamber 5 years ago ( 21-Jan-2009 20:09:38 )

Signed up to this site just so I could give you all a massive thankyou!! Used both the original and "fastass's" methods, and have one amazing set of earphones! Put cx300's in the polymorph mold and sealed it all up and smoothed away. A soldering did most of the work heating and scooping the area for the buds. Then I used it to seal it up by hearing strips real hot and layering them around them. Sound isolation improved and no lack of quality! SO much more comfortable now, with them now being over ear. A few coats of blue metallic paint and it's done! If I can get to a camera I'll post some pictures. Once a massive thankyou for giving me confidence to try this! Peace x

Posted by panther 5 years ago ( 23-Jan-2009 15:01:41 )

Me again. I tried this again, this time, buying a pair of Philips Surround SHE5920 earbuds. They costed $15.60 with tax at WalMart. Despite great reviews online, I found these earbuds lacked bass and sounded "tinny". Honestly my iPod stock earbuds sound better. Anyway, I made them into custom-fitted earphones as above. I recommend mixing a little paint with the epoxy so it's colored evenly throughout. Also, I did my "wax dipping" in a mug, instead on using tea lights. No picture this time because they look almost the same as my previous pair!

Posted by frantab 5 years ago ( 05-Apr-2009 14:50:26 )

Hi, I´m going to make them from Polymorph, but my question is, how many of Polymorph did you use. If I buy 100g of it, will it be enough for both molds?

Posted by fastass 5 years ago ( 06-Apr-2009 11:08:03 )

Hi Yes 100g of it will be plenty, also if you make a mistake you can remelt it as many times as u want :).
If you need any help just ask :))

Posted by anneruns 4 years ago ( 10-May-2009 20:03:24 )

I joined this site just say thank you and this was pretty awesome project! ....geee, i should be doing homework!! I did it a little differently. I recently became deaf, because i had tumors on my auditory nerves... so in-ear-noise-blocking-headphones won't do me any good.... I used a putty epoxy that sets a bit faster and it was cheaper too ($5 at Lowe's) to make an ear-mold for my Auditory Brain-stem Implant. (similar to a cochlear implant) that is different from a hearing aid, so basically the optional earmold attachment is to make it feel more secure and not be paranoid about the $6,000 sound processor falling off the side of my head! like you said, I can get a custom ear-mold made for around 50 to 100 dollars, but this was a fun! haha. i made 4 of them!! the first turned out like hell, but the rest look really cool. i made them all on the same ear, because i have one implant, and my other ear is useless ....other than for holding up sunglasses! I also made them in different colors with paints and dyes, stuff i already had since i am an art student.

Posted by anneruns 4 years ago ( 10-May-2009 20:11:42 )

okay, here is the picture that i meant to attach on previous comment...
1st - (not shown, bc it didn't turn out well)
2nd - silver w/ tad blue tint and a yellow smilie face
3rd - blue with tiny green polka dots
4th - blue/green/white swirly tie-die look

fyi- i had no danger with ear canal because both of my ear canals were sewn closed off after i had surgeries to remove tumors on auditory nerves. so the ear goes in about half an inch, then it ends. if ur ear is like normal, this activity can be very dangerous... so, its probably still best to have a professional do it.

i still have to do the drill part for small tube that ataches to the implant. i dont have drill here but know where i can use one.

homework time!!
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This comment was edited at 2009-05-10 20:13:27


Posted by natetrue 4 years ago ( 25-May-2009 09:00:07 )

Those look great, anneruns. I love the colors and designs!

Posted by lesliev 4 years ago ( 29-Dec-2009 11:59:03 )

IMPORTANT - BURN RISK! PLEASE READ THIS!

Hi Nate!

Thanks for this great article! I have tried this and it works well, but you need to add some VERY IMPORTANT information at the top: some epoxy solutions get really REALLY HOT when they set. Pratley Quickset White Glue (http://www.pratley.com/DIY_Adhesives.htm) sets in about 5 minutes and gets hot enough to cause serious burns.

I narrowly avoided really serious damage to my ear because I mixed way too little and so made the mould in two pieces. The first mix was very little and just coated my ear - and was really hot but seemed to cool quickly and didn't burn. The second mix was a lot more - enough to fill the ear, and it really burned! If it wasn't for the earlier mould protecting me, I would be in the emergency room now. If anyone does a whole ear in one go they will get very serious burns, and since the stuff is so sticky and runny, they will not be able to remove it, it will just go on burning.

Nate, please put up a major warning at the top! A person needs to mix the amount they are going to put in their ear OUTSIDE the ear and feel how hot it gets. I think the faster the epoxy hardens, the hotter it will get while hardening.

Posted by geordienz 3 years ago ( 26-Apr-2010 02:24:27 )

Great thread!
I was going to fit my mold with noise-canceling buds, making sure that I don't accidentally cover the little microphones. Would this be overkill, given the noise-blocking properties of the mold itself? Thought it might be useful for allowing sounds I WANT to hear, such as someone talking to me, or a car horn, or whatever.

This comment was edited at 2010-04-29 04:17:36


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