The Curse of Monkey-Eared People

Here’s my problem: I have freakishly small ears. Monkey ears, some have unkindly called them. I say it’s a problem, but they work perfectly well. I never worried about them until recently, when they’ve become something of an issue. Perhaps you’re thinking I got a pixie-cut, or picked up some heavyweight earrings? Nothing like that. No, I purchased an i-Phone.

My iPhone lets me download podcasts and listen to them while I work out at the gym, or go running with my dog. Fantastic. In theory. In practice, however — and I surely can’t be the only one with this problem — the earbuds that come with the iPhone simply do not fit my hobbit-like ears. If I push the buds very, very hard, I can just about get them in there, but not without pain, which is surely not how it’s supposed to be.

A few seconds later, as soon as I start running on the treadmill, one of them slips a little. I stop running to push it back in. I start running again. The other one pops out completely, falls down and dangles precariously at the end of its wire. Then the other one joins it. I give up and resign myself to watching truTV.

So began my quest. The most obvious answer seemed to be an old-fashioned headset, so I tried my boyfriend’s Bose Noise Canceling Headphones. Far too clunky, and they slipped off the back of my head as soon as I started running. By the time I’d finished my workout, my collarbone was painfully bruised, and by the next morning, I looked as though I’d survived an attempted garroting.

I tried a few cheap, lightweight headsets. They also slid off the back of my head while I was running. Anyway, I didn’t want to have to wear a headset. What about all the other people out there with freakishly small ears? What was their secret?

I went online. A Google search led me to Earjams, little rubber buds that clip onto your iPod earphones, adding friction and giving you “a snug and comfortable fit” — or so they claim. I tried all three sizes. The largest size was enormous — almost as big as my entire ear. The medium size was equally disproportionate. The smallest size didn’t even come close. Frustrated, I tried theZagg Z-budsallegedly suitable “for all ear sizes”. All sizes, it turned out, except monkey.

I even looked into the PodFitKit, which contains “a unique, moldable silicon material that, when fitted properly, becomes integrated with the iPod’s earbuds”, only to discover that the line has been discontinued. It doesn’t matter. The point of such products, I came to realize, isn’t to fit nicely into monkey ears, but to help you “hear more of your music and less outside noise.”

Basically, they’re all varieties of in-ear headphones (also known as canalphones), added on to the earbud. But if the earbud won’t fit in your sad little lugs in the first place, no addition in the world will make it stay in place, especially not when you’re jumping up and down. The very first time I used my EarJams they fell out and were immediately swallowed up by the Stairmaster. Good thing I didn’t fork out $1,200 for a pair of Ultimate Ears “noise-isolating custom fit personal monitors designed for emerging artists”.

I Googled some more. One person suggested back-of-the-neck headphones. I bought a pair. They defeated the point, relying on the earbuds to hold up the entire structure. Someone else recommended over-the-ear headphones. These worked for about a week, then the earpiece fell off one of them. I replaced it temporarily with a piece of twisted silver foil, but it came undone the first time I scratched my head. I was perplexed. All those people I saw every day in the gym, jumping rope, dancing and jogging. Didn’t any of them have monkey ears?

I pondered the matter carefully. If the idea of fixing one’s earbuds to one’s glasses occurred to me, I resolved, it’s probably occurred to somebody else before me, so I went to eBay and typed in “glasses earphones”. There it was: iShades. No, I’m not referring to iShades Apple’s futuristic new optical, wearable unit with video display and 3-D visualization, but a franchise knock-off: a pair of ordinary, over-ear headphones with the addition of a small a foam tube on each side.

These nifty little gems have now vanished from eBay, due — no doubt — to the dodgy product name, but they cost less than $5 and have changed my life. You simply slide the legs of your glasses through the foam tube covering with the plastic leg of the earphone, and voila! Music for my monkey ears. They’ve never slipped off, popped out, broken, or banged against my collarbone. Whoever came up with them — you lone, brave shady eBay entrepreneur out there — I salute you.

The only problem with the iShades—if I can go on calling them that without violating something or other—is that they only work if you wear glasses. Thank goodness I wasn’t cursed with monkey ears and 20-20 vision.

Our happy author displays her new monkey ear plugs.