I’ve been after some custom-moulded earplugs for a while. I thought they’d be super expensive, but it turns out that you can get amazing quality, very reliable, and very effective custom-moulded earplugs from an Australian brand — Earmold (yes, they spell “mould” the American way as “mold”, but it’s an Australian company and franchise).
I’m used to things being available only in the US, Asia, or Europe. So I was pretty happy to find out that Earmold is a small Australian company that has distribution points in most major Australian cities. On top of that, they often go to motorcycle race and track day events and sell (and fit) custom made earplugs there.
And for A$75 a pair for base-mode Earmold custom earplugs, I had to give them a try.
Background — Why Custom Moulded Earplugs, and what else did I try
I suffer from hereditary tinnitus. This means I have a kind of “white noise” in the background, and I have since I was a kid. It’s actually not something I normally even notice except when I think about it.
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But that “white noise” becomes a gentle roar after my ears have been abused by being a passenger in airplanes, or riding a motorcycle at high-speeds (even just freeway speeds).
After a long day in the saddle, exposed to mostly wind noise, even while wearing earplugs and with a good helmet (and even a windshield), the hissing in my ears will be so loud that it will be uncomfortable for me. I can still sleep — so my tinnitus isn’t as bad as that of many others — but it’s very distracting. It takes a day or two to fade away.
Suffice it to say that I also don’t want my hearing to get worse.
I’ve tried to help my hearing in a few traditional ways. I should mention these because people often say “have you tried xyz?”. Also, for people who have also tried these, it’s good to know how Earmold custom-moulded earplugs can be an improvement.
Here’s what I’ve tried:
- A quiet helmet — my helmet is one of the best-regarded helmets for being quiet. It’s a Shoei RF-1200, known in Australia as the Shoei NXR. Yes, I would recommend it again.
- Good earplugs that I use correctly — I’ve tried a lot of different disposable earplugs (which everyone should do) and settled on a type of 3M earplugs as the best for me. I moisten them slightly, twist and compress them, and push them right in. I’m sure I’m using them correctly
- Windscreen — I usually ride long distances with at least a windscreen. I’ve tried a few motorcycles that have massive windscreens that blow all the air over my head, like a 2020 Versys 1000. Those are cool but I’m not very interested in those motorcycles right now, it takes some of the romance away.
- AirPods Pro — I quite like using AirPods Pro with motorcycles for their noise-cancellation feature. They’re good to use with a flip-up helmet.
I thought there was no way custom earplugs could improve on the way I was using earplugs, but I was wrong.
Pros of custom-moulded earplugs like Earmold
There are three advantages of using custom moulded earplugs:
- They’re quieter — this should be obvious!
- They’re easier to put on
- They fit better with your ear
The top-line review is: wearing Earmold earplugs (or probably any other custom-moulded earplugs) is like being underwater.
It’s so good it’s like the square of wearing foam earplugs. Like twice as much sound deadening. It’s incredible.
Whenever riding at freeway speeds (100-110 km/h) with earmold earplugs, I am not bothered AT ALL by wind noise. It’s as quiet as riding a motorcycle which directs all airflow over your head, like the Versys 1000 I rode.
So the first and primary advantage is that they’re much, much quieter. I’m always surprised by how quiet they are.
The second advantage is that they’re easier to put on. You twist them in, make sure they’re secure, and they stay on. There’s no constantly squishing them back into the ear, or making sure you’ve wedged them down correctly.
Finally, they fit better with your ear profile. When you use foam type earplugs, they stick out a bit. If you haven’t inserted them correctly, there’s a risk that when you take put your helmet on or take it off that they’ll become dislodged. This is very annoying.
Downsides of custom-moulded earplugs
The cons of custom-moulded earplugs are
- They’re more expensive, though not much more considering how long they last (if they last 2-5 years, I might easily have spent the same price on disposables in that time)
- They’re a bit inconvenient to get (takes a couple of hours out of your day)
- You have to keep them safe and not lose them
Custom-moulded earplugs start at A$75 (as of 2021). You can also pay more and get wired music ones.
If you aren’t sure whether you want audio just yet… the good news is that any earplugs can have sound drivers (audio nerd speak for “speakers”) put into the earplugs later! You can send them in, or take them back in to do it. You just pay the difference in price — they’ll even factor in what you initially paid.
The second disadvantage is of course that you have to go to an Earmold distributor to get yours fitted. If you’re really keen, you can get an ear mould print, so you can order the “Lab-Flex” ones whenever you like.
Finally, and this is a big one, you have to keep your earplugs safe and not lose them!
The number one way people lose earplugs of any kind is dogs. Imagine your sad face when dogs chew up your $75 earplugs that it took you a couple of hours to go and get… now imagine how sad your face would be if they were $500+ sound-isolating drivers.
Keep them safe (and clean).
How to get Earmold earplugs
This is the hardest part. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just that it’s not as convenient as ordering online.
You have to contact Earmold (just go to the website and use the “Find an Agent” page). Find a distributor near you, make an appointment, drive out there and get them made.
Usually, they have appointments within a day or two (as long as you’re flexible with time). It doesn’t take long — about 45 minutes from start to finish. But there aren’t many places in a city where you can get them done, so it might take an hour to get there and back. Budget this time in!
Luckily the headquarters office in Brisbane is in quite a scenic part of the city, so I enjoyed the drive out there. Next time, I’ll go by motorcycle.
Insta-Mold vs Lab-Flex
One of the confusing things on the website was what the two main products are: “Insta-mold” and “Lab-flex”.
The short answer for “which one to get, Insta-Mold or Lab-Flex?” is if this is your first time, you probably get Insta-Mold. If you’ve got custom-moulded earplugs before, know Earmold very well, or just are sure you’ll be a long-term customer buying multiple ones… get Lab-Flex.
Basically, Insta-mold is the kind where they mould it directly into your ear on the spot. The Lab-flex product is they take a mould of your ear and send it to a provider to make you custom plugs.
I’ve summarised the pros and cons in a table.
|Pros||* Cheaper ($75 a pair)|
* You get it the same day
* Slightly better noise attenuation
|* Slightly more expensive ($110-130, with a few options)|
* Choice of a few types of material
* If you lose one, or want a headphones version, you can order it without going in
|Cons||* You have to go back to get new ones (if you lose one)||* Takes a few days to a week turnaround (made in their lab)|
Ways in which Insta-mold and Lab-flex are the same:
- Can be used to make any other product they make, e.g. earphones, Bluetooth earphones
- Lasts 2-5 years (just depends on how your ear canal changes, apparently they keep changing our whole lives)
Variations — Headphones, Bluetooth, and more
The base price pair of Earmold earplugs is $75. This is what I’d start with. It’s what most people start with!
But you can also get a variety of different type of custom-fit earplugs with audio capabilities.
The range is quite confusing. But in a nutshell, for motorcyclists, I think the best choice is “recreational stereo wires”, which are $219 (including the price of the earplugs. So it’s an additional $144 to equip your earplugs with audio).
These have a 3.5mm jack (no Bluetooth) and no microphone.
You’d then connect this to your Sena (or some other) communication unit, which you have to buy separately, usually for about $2-300 as well (or more for a very fancy one). Sorry! It gets expensive…
Why do suggest this combination? Because
- You can use the external Sena controls to adjust volume, stop/start, and take calls if necessary
- It gives you the option for a microphone with Sena’s noise-cancelling knowledge
- You can still use it as wired headphones with your phone (though you might need a 3.5mm dongle with many new phones)
There are a number of other things you can opt for that are not as good for motorcycling, like
- In-ear monitor drivers — these provide higher sound quality at a higher cost. But the benefit of that sound quality will be lost on you if you’re riding.
- Phone monitors — the same thing but with a microphone. But that mic will be impossible to use with a helmet, so I don’t recommend it.
- Bluetooth monitors — sounds useful, but wouldn’t be great using your phone’s screen while riding to take a call
- Musician monitors — You’d just be paying extra for sound quality that the wind and noise would destroy
If you’re not sure you need audio, start with regular earplugs, and you can always go back and get audio added later.