An angled, aerial photo of the Massdrop x Noble Kaiser 10 Universal Pelican carrying case open to reveal all included ear tips, an ear tip cleaner, and drawstring carrying pouch.

Memory foam ear tips are more comfortable than silicone but less durable and tend to attract more dirt and earwax.

You just bought a new set of earphones and can’t wait to listen to them, but you put them in and they… don’t sound great. Fear not: it’s unlikely the earbuds are bad, and more likely that the default ear tips just don’t work with your ear anatomy. Ear tips significantly impact audio quality, because a good set of tips will seal to your ear canal and block out background noise. This improves bass reproduction and your brain’s ability to perceive sound (in this case, music playback). So, make that initial investment worth it and pick up a pair of specialized tips.

What you should know about premium ear tips

Sound isolation makes a difference. If you want to dig deeper, make sure to check out our in-depth article, but if time is of the essence, know this: Ear tips that are too small won’t form a cogent seal. This degrades both sound quality and comfort. Though wiggling ear tips seem fit for torturing Tickle Me Elmo, they’re in no way conducive to good sound quality.

Related: Ultimate headphone buying guide

What’s more, the same can be said for ear tips that are too large. In this instance, they just slip out of your ear. Finding the appropriate style of ear tip takes time and is well worth it. After all, why invest the money into premium earbuds, if you’re not going to figure out how to get the most out of them?

What types of ear tips are there?

The Bose Sport Earbuds true wireless workout earbuds outside of the open charging case; the earbuds are facing belly-up so the StayHear Max ear tips are in full view.

The Bose Sport Earbuds‘ StayHear Max ear tips may not look the most comfortable, but they most certainly are.

  • Standard: The lowest common denominator of ear tips. This style is typically pre-installed, especially at the consumer level. RHA provides listeners with ten pairs of options (ranging in style and material); yet, the company still showcases its standard, dual-density silicone ear tips, because they please the majority of listeners.
  • Bi-flange: These are more invasive than traditional ear tips. Though they take some getting used to, they provide excellent sound isolation and are fairly easy to pop in or remove at a moment’s notice.
  • Triple-flange: Speaking of invasive, triple-flange ear tips may feel like they’re excavating your ear canals (relative to standard tips), but they provide all the same benefits as bi-flange ear tips and isolate you even more from your surroundings.
  • Wingtips: These are pretty much reserved for workout earbuds and are usually an optional add-on to the separate silicone ear tip. However, that’s not always the case (see: Jaybird Vista). Wingtips rest against the triangular fossa and form a secure fit to combat vigorous movement.
  • Custom: If you have the budget for custom-molded ear tips, it’s worth trying out. These will transcend any previous ear tip experiences that you’ve had. Since they’re molded to your ears, they’re supremely comfortable. However, you may writhe in financial discomfort.

Aside from this, there are size variations to account for. For each style option available, you can typically find them in at least the usual small, medium, and large, not to mention my favorite T-shirt size, “smedium.”

Some ear tip sleeves are more durable than others.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 extra ear tips on a black table.

Sony provides plenty of ear tips, ensuring you’ll find the proper fit.

Just as there are different styles, there are also different ear tip materials. Sure, there aren’t as many options here as there are with clothing textiles, but it’s nice to have some liberty in choosing what fits you best.

  • Silicone: This is the usual suspect for ear tip construction. It doesn’t isolate sound as well as foam, but it’s comfortable and washable. Plus, silicone tends to be more durable than its foam counterpart and more affordable. There are varying grades of quality with silicone ear tips. The Panasonic ErgoFit includes cheap silicone ear tips that feel much less premium than what you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
  • Foam: If you’ve been around the block, then you’re likely familiarized with Comply. The company has made memory foam ear tips accessible in the consumer audio market and are frequently recommended here at SoundGuys. These are a great value and noticeably improve sound quality. Comply accommodates a wide range of use-cases for their ear tips. Whether you play sports, need quiet time, prioritize comfort, or want something specific to true wireless earbuds, Comply has you covered.

Do different earbuds require different ear tips?

Finding the right ear tips: The Bose SoundSport Free earbud next to the RHA MA750 Wireless, neither have ear tips; both have nozzles shown.

Not all earbud nozzles are the same size, making it hard to find a compatible premium ear tip.

If you’ve ever looked closely at your earbuds without the ear tips on them, then you may have noticed that there isn’t a universal standard in earbud-nozzle diameter. Some are narrower than others, so you’ll need to do a little research to ensure that the core of your premium ear tips fit around the earbuds. Typically, a quick visit to a manufacturer’s website will do the trick. Comply walks users through finding compatible ear tips via its “find your fit” module. This is a basic, step-by-step process that guarantees compatibility.

As you can see, there are a few variables when it comes to picking out the right ear tips for you. But like any good recipe, once you understand all of the ingredients and what pairings work, the final product is that much more enjoyable. All it takes is time to define how you plan on using your earbuds and figuring out what style and material seem the most fitting. Then it’s a few clicks to make that sound-altering purchase.

Next: Best earbuds you can buy

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