Eartips and earpads: How do they influence the sound of the headset?

A fundamental point that few people pay attention to is the interaction between ear tips/tips/rubbers (in-ear headphones), foams/covers (in earbuds) and pads (in supra-aural and circumaural) with our ears. There are several aspects that cause the sound of our headphones to change. The characteristics can range from the size, for example, of the ear tips, to the diameter of their mouthpiece.

For this reason, people tend to buy different ear tips, foams and pads from different manufacturers when buying new headphones. With the change, it is possible to change the sound for better or worse. This modification will not only bring a slight change in the sound, it can significantly transform the way in which the sound reaches our eardrums.

However, what may work very well for me, may not work for another, as each individual has a different shape of ear, head and ear canal. That is, this is done through experimentation and findings of the user himself. Of course, there are some characteristics that coincide in terms of changes in sound, but not always the result will be exactly the same.

Eartips and earpads: what influence the sound?

It is important to keep in mind that the manufacturers, despite trying to make the best possible ear tip (tip, rubber) for the headphones they have developed, will be useless if there is not a good fit, a good seal, in your ear. If there is not a good fit, sealing, of the person’s ear canal, the sound will “leak” and we will have a significant loss of bass frequencies, making only the mids and trebles stand out. Hence the idea of ​​custom in-ear headphones, which do not have parts, as they are made from the mold of the user’s ear canal, or the idea of ​​trying different sizes of ear tips or even using ear tips from other manufacturers.

Generally, ear tips made of foam can provide a better sealing of the ear canal, that is, they deliver a good fit. As the bass depends a lot on this factor to “show”, people usually relate the foam ear tips to the bass, but it is possible to achieve the same effect with those made of silicone with more flexibility or that expand with the heat of the ear. Examples will be given below.

nozzle diameter

This feature applies to both pads and eartips. According to the opening you have for the passage of sound at the end (at the end of the eartip, which is closest to the eardrum), the sound may change. This is due to the obstacles that we have for the sound to leave the driver and go to our eardrums.

Nozzle diameter difference. Source: Victor Valeri

When the mouthpiece is more open, the sound is usually clearer, with a greater appearance of the treble and less presence of the bass. By being more closed, we have the opposite result. Depending on the headphones, we can, in certain cases, be able to better balance your sound just by adjusting this aspect.

Distance

This factor applies to foams as well as eartips and pads. Depending on the distance that the piece provides between our eardrum and the driver, the sound will behave in a certain way, being able to change when it is farther or closer. This is because along the way the sound will have different interactions with the surfaces, different reflections and different spaces to reverberate.

Height difference of eartips influences the sound.  Source: Victor Valeri
Height difference of eartips influences the sound. Source: Victor Valeri

This effect happens because the simple change of distance will change the time that the bass, medium and treble frequency waves will take to reach our eardrum, as each one of them has a different speed. That is, by changing this aspect, you will have a different perception of bass, mids and treble, in addition to changing the interaction space with the surface, as mentioned above.

Different eartip models.  Source: headfi
Different eartip models. Source: headfi

Fitting/Fit

The fit, or fit, is essential for any type of structure, whether foams, eartips or pads. If our ears are not properly sealed or fitted, the sound can change considerably. A great example of this is what happens with in-ear headphones, where if there is not a good fit of the eartips in the user’s ear canal, there will be a great loss in bass sounds.

Audeze angled pads.
Audeze angled pads.

In pads, the shape makes a lot of difference, because they have to follow the shape of the head (circunaural) or ear (supra aural) so that there is no leakage of sound. That’s why there are pads that are thicker in the back than in the front, precisely to follow the unevenness of our skull. A great example of this are the pads from the North American manufacturer Audeze.

material that is made

The material that eartips, pads, foams and covers are made from is another point that will affect the way sound reaches our eardrums. Depending on the material that is used in the piece, we will have different results in the sound of our headphones. And while most think this only applies to supra-aural or circumaural-type ear pads, it also applies to in-ear eartips and earbud covers or foams.

In the case of pads, we can have different types of fabrics, such as velvet, leather, plain fabric, leatherette, etc. Changing the material used will automatically modify the way the sound interacts with the surface until it reaches your eardrum.

Pads by Beyerdynamic.
Pads by Beyerdynamic.

In the case of eartips, we can have different materials used in different parts of the structure, to obtain better malleability where you need it and better rigidity where it is needed. With this change in the way they mold to your ear canal, we will consequently have changes both in the way the sound interacts with the surface material and in the curves that will form during insertion.

Sony washable foam eartip (left) and Final Audio silicone eartip right.  Source: Victor Valeri
Sony washable foam eartip (left) and Final Audio silicone eartip right. Source: Victor Valeri

In the earbuds foams and covers, we will have variations in their densities and roughness. This will cause the sound to change, causing a different result in the music you are listening to.

Size

The different sizes of eartips and pads are another aspect that many do not pay attention to, even leaving, in the case of eartips, the pieces inside the bag they came in, using only the ones that are already in the earphone. It is important to try all possible sizes of eartips, as this is the way to obtain the best seal or fit in the ear canal. This will significantly alter the sound that reaches our eardrum.

Recommended reading tutorial: How to best position in-ear headphones (in-ear or EMIs) in your ear

Sony hybrid eartips
Sony hybrid eartips

In the case of pads, there are also different sizes, although they do not come with the phone, being necessary to buy them separately. Depending on the size of the pads, we can obtain, for example, with bigger pads, a bigger soundstage, a more aerated sound. However, this will come at a cost, as it is often lost in bass impact with “extra large” pads.

In eartips, we will have a result similar to the example given above for the pads, but with the possibility of varying in size much larger, as in the case of in-ear headphones it is necessary due to the different formats of the ear canals.

How to know which eartip (tip, rubber) is compatible with the headset

Just analyze the diameter of the nozzle (nozzle through which the sound of the phone comes out) and the size of the eartip core.

How to know which eartip (tip, rubber) is compatible with the phone.  Source: Victor Valeri
How to know which eartip (tip, rubber) is compatible with the phone. Source: Victor Valeri

Conclusion

Our headphones can significantly improve your sound by changing eartips, foam/caps and pads. The interesting thing is that this can be done spending, most of the time, considerably less than changing a cable or an amplifier. See, for example, through the frequency response graph below, the difference in sound by changing the eartips on the Campfire Audio Andromeda in-ear headphones between Sony Hybrid (green line), Comply Foam (black line) and JVC Spiral Dots (Red line):

Frequency response graph measuring loudness difference between eartips.  Source: Franklin
Frequency response graph measuring loudness difference between eartips. Source: Franklin

It is important to emphasize that what you see on the phone is not always the ideal, the best, so that you have a good sound for you. That is, it is totally valid to try to change the parts mentioned above and cables as well (of course, with care not to spend “horrors” and get a good cost-benefit).

Observation: There are several models of eartips or pads from the same manufacturer. Each one can fit differently in different earphones, and there are different shaped heads and ear canals. That is, do not judge a brand only by a model, always research the characteristics and how it behaves with other users.

Anyway, take a risk and allow yourself. Research and try to find good solutions from other manufacturers to make your headset play better than ever.

List of ear tips and ear pads indications

In order to help you choose the ideal ear tips and ear pads for your headphones, here are some indications of manufacturers/brands for you to research about.

List of eartip indications (for in-ears):

  • Azla XELASTEC (special silicone that molds to the channel with body heat)
  • Comply Foam (foam that when squeezed, expands and molds to the ear canal)
  • Final Audio Type-E (silicone)
  • JVC Spiral Dot EP-FX9L (silicone)
  • Sony hybrid EP-EX11 (silicone)
  • SpinFit (silicone)
  • Symbio Eartips (silicone on the outside and foam on the inside, achieving greater durability and insulation)

List of earpad indications (for both over-ears and on-ears):

  • brainwavez
  • dekoniaudio
  • yaxi
  • zmfheadphone

This article is made in partnership with the High-End Headphones Group:

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