Dec 7, 2014 | By Kira

Ultimate Ears, the industry leader in professional grade, custom molded in-ear monitors, has integrated 3D printing into their design and manufacturing process, improving the quality, fit, and turnaround time of their world-renowned audio aids.

While the specific product lineup is not new, the process of 3D scanning and printing the product is. Originally, UE 'hand poured' each pair of custom molded headphones. In order to do this, customers must visit an audiologist to get fitted for sound performance and fit to ensure the most tailored product possible.

To create the ear mold, the audiologist would place a string with a small cotton ball into the customer's ear canal, inject a pink molding material into the ear, and then wait for the mold to harden. It was then physically sent to the UE factory where a second mold was hand-shaped, resulting in a completely customized pair of headphones. This process could take up to 45 days from design to delivery.

An audiologist injects molding material into an EU customer's ear canal. Image via Gadget Review

Today, that turnaround time has shortened to a mere week. Once the audiologist has created a mold of the customer's ear, they can drop it into a 3D scanner to create a CAD, send the data electronically to a 3D printer, and, in a matter of minutes, print one-of-a-kind, professional grade headphones. The delivery process is now only 5-10 days. More importantly, 3D printing allows for absolute precision and near perfect sound quality.

In addition to being more time-efficient and precise, the company has managed to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by eliminating the need to physically ship ear molds to their factory for duplication.

Gadget Review's Christen Costa recently ordered a pair of the UE11s, which are specifically designed with a separate sub to enhance the low end and deliver a punchy, thumping bass, and describes them as more comfortable than the company's hand-molded UE18s. Since the UE11 is not a new product, it is clear at the 3D printing process is what made all the difference.

Ultimate Ears has been creating custom-molded and universal fit headphones for professional musicians since 1995, and as of 2008 became a brand of Logitech. Their mandate is to handcraft the world's highest quality in-ear monitors, and they claim that more touring artists use UE than any other brand.

This level of quality, however, comes at a price. The custom-made headphones range from $400-$2,000 USD, which may seem over the top for the average user, but for professional performers and audiophiles, it's a small price to pay to protect their hearing while getting nothing but crystal clear, breathtakingly accurate sound.

UE custom-molded ear monitors can be ordered using the company's website, which offers an interactive map to locate professional audiologists, as well as an exhaustive selection of custom colors, designs, and materials to choose from, taking the personalization process to an even deeper level.

While EU currently focuses on creating products for professional use, they also offer premium speakers and earphones for the consumer market. It's not hard to imagine the 3D printing process making custom-molded headphones even more accessible for average end-users, marking an end to the standard, poorly fitted headphones we're all too familiar with.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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