Normal uses 3D printing to bring custom earphones to the masses

The brave new world of 3D printing is still in its infancy, but we’re already starting to see the possibilities of the burgeoning technology take shape (sorry, couldn’t help it). One prime example comes from a new headphone company called Normal, which today unveiled an innovative 3D-printing process that allows users to create custom in-ear headphones from the couch.

CEO and founder, Nikki Kaufman, created Normal to remedy a persistent problem with in-ear headphones: a bad fit. As any owner of in-ears can attest, the difference between a good fit and a poor one can have an enormous affect on sound quality. Unfortunately, human ears are oddly shaped, and it’s very difficult to create a standardized size that will work equally for all users.

Typically, manufacturers tackle the anatomical issue with multiple design styles, or a variety of little silicone and foam tips, attempting to shoehorn plugs into your canal to create a tight seal. But the most effective solution, custom-designed earpieces, has only been in reach of those with the time and means to seek out an audio professional for custom molds, and then pay a heap of cash for tailored manufacturing.

Normal aims to change all of that.

For $200 — about what you’ll pay for standard in-ear headphones of the premium variety — Normal will send you a pair of earphones in as little as 48 hours that are carefully crafted for those unique little holes in your head. The earphones come in a variety of colors with an inline remote and mic piece, and a custom laser-engraved carrying case. Tax and shipping are also included in the price.

So how does Normal get your ear size? Your smartphone, of course. The company offers a free app to download, which walks you through the process of taking pictures of each ear, and sending the data out to Normal’s New York offices for manufacture. Just how accurate a design the company can create from a pair of inner-ear selfies remains to be seen. But Kaufmann, Normal’s head honcho, has a background in 3D printing as a founding member of Quirky, a design firm that makes everything from air-conditioners to charging stations.

To offer a top-tier product, Normal also hopes to pair a great fit with great performance. Normal’s site claims that each custom shell is stocked with premium components, including a 14mm dynamic driver, a CNC anodized aluminum housing and outer cabinet, and a “bass tube”, all of which are promised to create “warm chords, sharp podcasts, and crisp conversations.”

It’s a bit of a gamble to throwdown $200 on a product that doesn’t really lend itself to a trial scenario. However, if Normal can pull off even a meager majority of its bold claims, these new custom cans could be a bargain. If you’re convinced, you can pre-order your tailor-made Normal earphones at the company’s website today. Shipping for the first pairs of Normals is slated for August.


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