Silicone goop, home fitkits, and dual-camera guns that fire lasers into your noggin. These are just a few of the tools used to make the most hardcore custom in-ear monitors imaginable. We went to Ultimate Ears in Irvine, CA to see how technicians make bespoke headphones for some of the world’s top recording artists—and how they’re working to bring that tech to a broader audience of music geeks.
We had the opportunity to go through the customization process for both UE’s consumer-facing CSX models, as well as its UE Pro models. They each offer different options, but across both lines, the precision and craft that goes into making these earbuds is mind-boggling. So maybe it’s unsurprising that they sound amazing. They made me hear details in some of my favorite songs that I’ve never heard before. (The Pro version goes deeper into your ear canal, so not only does it block more ambient sound, but the bass sounds noticeably fuller.)
All that excellence doesn’t come cheap: At the low-end, the UE 5 CSX sporting two drivers per ear starts at $500, while the top-of-the-line UE Live with eight drivers starts at $2,200. If you want to bling out your buds with a custom back and other detailing, you’ll have to pay extra too.
The process isn’t without its foibles. Though the CSX version is way more comfortable than the Pro model since it doesn’t invade so much of your ear, the fit isn’t quite as precise either. I had to have extra material added a few times before they sealed properly, and if I’d been a regular user who didn’t have technicians standing by to make corrections, the process could have required sending the buds back several times until they were just right.
Watch above for more on the magic of perfectly personalized headphones.