Aside from their cost, one of the most inconvenient aspects of custom earbuds is that you need to go to an audiologist to get a custom mold of your ears, which not only takes time, but can cost up to $150. Sonomax looks to cut out the middleman with its eers PCS-250, a $299 do-it-yourself kit that takes about five minutes for you to make your own pair of custom earbuds. But how do they stack up against professionally made earbuds?
The Sonomax eers PCS-250 comes in an orange box with everything included. The actual earbuds are connected to a plastic headband contraption that bulges out on either side. Each earbud is essentially a small bladder that gets filled with silicone, so you don't have to worry about liquid filling up your ear.
The right side is marked with red tabs, and the left in blue. After applying a gel to both tips, we placed the device on our head, and inserted each earbud into our ears. We then flipped the tabs on either side, and the earbuds filled with silicone, conforming to the shape of our canals. After waiting for about 5 minutes, we then removed the headband, and detached the earbuds, and were ready to go.
We liked that we didn't have to go to an audiologist for a fitting, which can cost anywhere from $50 to $150, and then have to wait up to two weeks for our earbuds to arrive. The tradeoff is that the PCS-250 don't fit as deeply or snugly as the other custom Altec Lansing A1 or Ultimate Ears in-ear reference monitors. As a result, they don't block out as much sound as other custom earbuds. However, we liked the bit of plastic that directed the wires over our ears, something that we wish were included with the A1s.
We also like that there's a button on the PCS-250s to pause and advance tracks, and a microphone to answer calls. What you don't get are in-line volume controls.
The PCS-250 have two drivers in each earbud, and have a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, which is a bit more limited than the Altec Lansing A1 (16Hz-20kHz) and the Ultimate Ears (5Hz-20kHz).
To test the PCS-250s, we listened to a variety of lossless tracks, from classical to hip-hop to classic rock and jazz. While audio was on a whole clearer than generic earbuds, it didn't come close to the A1 or Ultimate Ears.
Overall, we found audio to be slightly muddier across all ranges than the pricier custom earbuds we tested. Compared to the Altec Lansing A1, mid tones weren't as clear, and the bass was a little heavier. This can be attributed to the second driver on the PCS-250, which emphasized lower-end tones more, but at the expense of crispness. For example, the bass line during the chorus on Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" was more present, but lacked the punch and definition on the A1.
On "Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z's vocals were brighter and more present on the A1, another result of the latter earbuds having just a single armature. This isn't a criticism so much as a statement of fact, but we felt like the bass weighed down songs just a bit too much on the PCS-250s.
More subtle sounds, such as the sound of bows hitting strings in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, were harder to hear on the PCS-250s than other custom buds. On Billy Joel's "Piano Man," the guitar strums were barely audible on the PCS-250, but could clearly be heard on the A1 and Ultimate Ears.
Sonomax also makes a $199 version, the PCS-150, which have a single driver, instead of the two in the PCS-250.
Sonomax deserves credit for trying to make custom earbuds more affordable for the masses. The company's do-it-yourself method cuts out at least $50--not to mention a two-week wait--and its dual-driver PCS-250s are $200 less than Altec Lansing's A1 single-driver model. We prefer the sound quality offered by the A1s, but if you're willing to put in a little bit of work, the Sonomax eers are a pretty good value.