Here’s Scientific Proof That Some People Just Can’t Wear Earbuds — And How to Solve It

By Derrick Rossignol January 09, 2015

The first earbuds were patented in 1891, and they have been a royal pain in the ass ever since.

A large minority of people knows this, but they’ve been mostly silent on the subject. The tides are turning, though, and a new class of products is letting everyone in on the secret: The biggest problem with earbuds isn’t the constant tangling — it’s that they don’t fit every ear. Observe:
The issue: The trouble with earbuds is that they’re designed as a one-size-fits-all product, but that’s not how human ears work. As Brian Fligor, the chief audiologist for 3-D ear-scanning firm Lantos Technologies, told Slate, our ears are “as unique to you as your fingerprints,” so a cookie-cutter earbud design often doesn’t cut it.

“Even within one person, your ear canals are not symmetric,” Fligor told Slate. “I do informal polls and about a quarter of the people I talk to say earphones don’t fit them.”

It’s such a problem that even the New York Times wrote about it. The trouble is the two main types of earbuds available today aren’t cutting it for most listeners. The on-ear variety, like Apple’s ubiquitous white “EarPod” earbuds, are meant to be comfortable and non-invasive, but tend to fall out at the slightest jostle. The in-ear type, the ones with the rubber bulb that goes deeper into the ear, are supposed to stay more in place and provide better sound quality but are prone to hurting people’s ears.

But thankfully, a few companies think they have the answer. People with abnormally sized ears don’t need to suffer any longer.