Broken IEM Driver? Relax. It Could Just Be Air Pressure.

Hmm. Part of the mix is missing in your right earbud. Did one of the 73 drivers in your IEMs break? In the high mids, perhaps? Maybe. And the more drivers you have, the bigger the possibility might be. But it could it be worse. Are you going deaf in one ear? Maybe. But let’s stay calm. The likelihood is that you’ve just got some wax or air pressure built up in your ear. Hopefully, the following article will prevent a few audiophile suicides: Broken IEM Driver? Relax. It Could Just Be Air Pressure.

Broken IEM Driver? Relax. It Could Just Be Air Pressure.

Disclaimer: We, at MajorHifi, are not audiologists. We’re not even primary care physicians. So, please don’t trust us with your health. If you’re suffering from serious hearing loss or pain, please see your healthcare provider.

Bad Driver or Dysfunctional Eustachian Tube?


There are a couple of different ways to tell if you’re experiencing air-pressure build-up. The first sign is obvious, so forgive me: You may simply feel an uncomfortable force in your ear, similar to the pressure you feel on an airplane. Or maybe the sound around you is muffled in one ear. 

But what if you’re unaware of any pressure or clogging? That is, you’re not suffering discomfort, and there’s no obvious muffle when you’re going about your daily life. But when you’re listening to your IEMs, the balance seems skewed to the left or right. Broken driver? Or did you damage your eardrum when you when you put your player in you pocket and accidentally turned up the volume dial? $%^&balls. Hopefully, it’s not that.

A Good Test

Take off your IEMs, and stop making yourself crazy. Block one ear with your finger as sing “la la la” in the high mids. Then, block the other one and do it again. Does one “la la la” sound clearer than the other?


Doctor of Audiology, Andrea Hannan Dawkes, says, “The most common cause for ears to feel clogged or plugged is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction…The Eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the middle ear and serves to protect, ventilate and drain the middle ear when necessary to keep the air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum.” Earwax, congestion, sinusitis, allergies and changes in altitude (as well as more serious issues, such as infections) are all possible causes of this dysfunction. And if the air pressure between you inner ear and outer ear is not equalized, you’re missing out on the music, people.


The Ol’ Blow and Yawn Trick

You’ve probably done this before on the plane when the atmospheric pressure causes an imbalance in air pressure between the outside of your eardrum and the inside. Pinch your nose and blow (But not too hard or too often. We don’t want any hate mail or medical bills). Then let out a big yawn. You might hear a couple of pops, and the sounds of your environment may become clearer. You may start to hear frequencies that you couldn’t before. Ineffective? Okay, if that doesn’t work, try this.

The Miracle of Flonase

You can’t separate the ear from the nose. Now, after a “la la la” test, I realized I had a mildly clogged ear. So, I went to the doctor, thinking I had ear wax build up. She said my ears were clean. Then she asked me if my ears popped or clogged when I blew. And indeed they did. So, she said, “try Flonase.” Now, I’m no shill for Flonase, but this product worked for me like a charm. Also, let me add that I don’t have allergies, and I never thought I had sinus problems…Until I snorted this thing. Suddenly, I could feel air hitting parts of my sinuses that I never knew existed. After 30 minutes and one Ol’ Blow and Yawn Trick, I was clean as a whistle. And music has never sounded better. So, even if it’s not Flonase, try a decongestant. (But don’t take the decongestant every day).

Make Sure It’s Not Wax

If you didn’t have my luck, you might have some wax build up. Your GP can take a peek to see if it’s blocking your ear drum. If it is, he or she will send you to a specialist, who will clean out your canals with long, surgical sticks and tweezers. Relax, it feels good.

Also, my doctor recommended against using peroxide, Q tips or any “flushing” concoction to clean out earwax. It can create extra problems and even infections if you have something more serious going on.

Worse Case Scenario

If you have a 12 driver IEM, a failing driver isn’t uncommon. And as my grandmother used to say, “Mo drivers, mo problems.” Luckily, companies like 64 Audio, who stuff thousands of drivers in their IEMs, usually have a solid warranty period and are likely to be responsive. So, just use your Apple EarPods while you’re getting your real earbuds fixed.

2nd Worse Case Scenario

You’re going deaf. Listen, if you’re a musician or you remember Woodstock, it’s almost inevitable. And unfair. Like smokers in the 60’s, you didn’t know the consequences. You were just having fun. Here’s the thing. There are tiny hearing aids available these days, which are barely noticeable. Westone, the famous American IEM company, makes them. And though your IEM days may be over, you’ve still got over-ear headphones with low impedance for on-the-go use. Get yourself some roomy Beyerdynamic cans and rock on.

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Gabby is a composer, songwriter and music producer who has worked in the music, film, and commercial industries for too long. You can hit Gabby up at