Formlabs, a 3D printing company, today announced a partnership with Sennheiser’s Ambeo division to create a way for those of us at home to order earbuds that come from the factory with custom, 3D-printed eartips that match the shape and contours of our ears.
Custom eartips that don’t require a trip to the audiologist, or a highly specialized, one-off fitting system like the Sonomax Eers, could be a very big deal, especially if it doesn’t add a lot of cost to the price of a set of earbuds.
That’s because how an earbud fits you affects not just its comfort, but also its sound quality.
It’s why most earbuds come with several sizes of silicone eartips in the box. If an eartip is too small or too large, it won’t provide a full seal with your ear canal. Getting a good seal is critical. If you’ve ever read an Amazon review that claims a certain set of earbuds have horrible bass, the odds are good that person did not try the different eartip sizes and probably just stuck with ones that came installed on the earbuds from the factory.
A good seal will also keep outside sounds from interfering with the active noise cancellation (ANC) if your earbuds have this feature.
And while custom eartips won’t prevent the feeling of fullness you get when wearing earbuds, and they also can’t overcome a poor earbud design, they can maximize your chances of a comfortable fit.
Formlabs plans to use a smartphone app to take a scan of your ears, which it will then use to create the 3D-printed eartips. Sony uses a similar technique to optimize the sound of its WF-series and WH- series headphones and true wireless earbuds.
The company’s Form 3B printers were used for the prototype eartips and Formlabs hopes to sell audio companies on the idea of buying Form 3B “factories” — basically stacked shelves with multiple printers on each shelf — to offer the same level of customization for their earbuds.
Formlabs is no stranger to this kind of mass-market 3D printing. It has collaborated with Gilette to create a razor with custom handles, and New Balance has used its 3D printers to create a lattice structure for the midsoles of its FuelCell Echo Triple running shoes.
If the project proves to be a success, it could usher in a new era where all earbuds — wired or wireless — ship with custom-fit eartips. That sounds pretty good to us.