When I bought my radio setup, I was on a budget, so I went with the foam-tip setup. They worked just fine and I used them for a season or two, but they were starting to show their age, and they were dirty from use. It was time to renew them.
Rather than gluing on replacement foam buds, I found an option on the Sampson Racing Communication website to go from the foam tips to custom ear buds. Because I already had the wire portion of the headset, which includes the transducers for each ear, it would only cost $102 for the custom setup. If you start from nothing, the custom setup is $193. Since I live in the same city as Sampson’s headquarters, I headed over there to get fitted.
The process isn’t difficult. The kit comes from Sampson with everything you need, and it works best if you have someone to help you. The first step is inserting small foam cubes deep into your ear. If that sounds scary, realize that the foam has a string attached so you can pull them out later. Push them in reasonably deep with a Q Tip.
With the foam inserts in place, take the catalyst and the hardener from their containers and then mix them up in your hands, rolling them like clay. Once you get the mixture to an even consistency and color, roll it into a cigar shape and insert it into the syringe. It’s important to do this quickly, especially in a warm climate because the catalyst and hardener tend to “go off” quickly.
“What happens is you get someone who plays with the materials and they blend it all together,” said company president Shawn Sampson. “Well, if they play with it for a minute or two, guess what? It goes off before they even put it in their ears. So, what we have to tell customers all the time is if you’re going to do this, mix it up, put it in the tube and do it right away. Don’t fiddle around with it.”
The idea is to get it into your ears when the material is still the consistency of, say, caulking. The heat from your ear will begin to cure the mixture quickly. If you’re in a cold environment, the curing process slows down. Either way, it feels a bit weird having this goo injected into your ear, but the system works.
Tell whoever is helping you to insert the syringe into the ear canal and to be sure to fill the ear fully. Once both sides are full, you can press the material into your ear to create a good impression. The warmth from your fingers also helps cure the material. Once the material has cured, tug on the strings connected to the foam inserts and pull everything out.
At that point, it’s out of your hands. You take the impressions, and the transducers and ship them to a specialist in Central Florida that makes the custom ear buds and sends them back to you.
“So, we send them a mold of your exact ear canal,” Sampson said. “It goes to the vendor. They take it, reverse-engineer it, put transducers into it and send it back to you.”
For best results, here are some pro tips. If it’s above 75 degrees when you do this, put the catalyst and hardener in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before you take the impressions. That will buy you a little time to get the material mixed properly. Also, when the material is in your ears, don’t talk, and keep your jaw closed.
It also helps to put a little of the mixture in the cap of the case the syringe comes in. That way you can see how quickly the mixture is setting up. Also, when you remove the syringe from its shipping container, throw the container away. Some people have mistakenly put the catalyst mixture in the case rather than the syringe, and that doesn’t work.
Pack everything and ship it out in the prepaid medical device box, which is included in the kit. Then, watch your mailbox for your custom headset.
“The process is simple,” Sampson said. “It takes about two weeks on the West Coast and about a week on the East Coast.”