3D-printing gives Normal earphones a tailored fit
By Paul Ridden
July 9, 2014
If you enjoy music on the move, there's a very good chance that you've been troubled by earphones popping out of your ears just as you're getting into the groove. There are high-end earphones or professional in-ear monitors available that require the buyer to pop along to an audiologist and go through an uncomfortable custom fit process to ensure the buds won't keep falling out as you run through the park or jump around the stage. Or you could look into having a custom set of earphones made. This is precisely what Normal founder Nikki Kaufman did, but the significant cost and long shipping delay she encountered prompted her to find another way. She came up with a way to tailor each pair of earphones to the wearer using a free mobile app and a 3D printer.
The process by which one obtains a pair of tailor-made premium earphones appears pretty straightforward. Using the Normal iOS/Android app, buyers line up each ear for a photo using a smartphone's camera. A coin (a US quarter) is placed near the ear so that the Normal software can determine scale. Then it's time for personalization of the earphones themselves.
The company reckons that there are over a thousand possible configurations, including a choice of colors for the earform caps. Once an order is placed and sent over an internet connection to Normal's "ear magicians," the company prints out the custom caps, adds a soft-touch coating, assembles the components and ships out the personalized units in as little as 48 hours.
The ABS/PC alloy driver housing is designed to face the concha, while the 3D-printed earform cap hooks under the antihelix, in a similar way to the Bose StayHear tips. Normal says that a "personalized fit means the earphones stay comfortably in place, guaranteed." It's backing that up by offering to produce another set free of charge or refund payment if a customer is not completely satisfied with the fit or audio quality.
Normal says that users can look forward to top notch sound quality, though we'd have to hear them for ourselves to comment further. What we can tell you is that the earphones feature 14 mm neodymium dynamic drivers, have a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 109 dB per mW sensitivity, a total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent, and 32 Ohm impedance.
The 1.13 m (3.7 ft) or 1.6 m (5.25 ft) cable includes a three-button device controller that's said to work with any smartphone (to play, pause, adjust volume or answer a call), and there's a gold plated 3.5 mm jack to plug into your audio player of choice.
The Normal earphones are priced at US$199 a pair, and come supplied with a laser-etched carry case. They're available in the US only for the moment, but international shipping is being considered.
You can watch the somewhat creepy promo video below.