Oct 17, 2016 | By Alec

Though it has taken some time, even the earphone industry is waking up to the possibilities offered by 3D printing and customization. Companies like Ultimate Ear have begun providing custom-fitting 3D printed earphones that perfectly align to the shape of your ears, and should greatly enhance the sound quality – perfect for the true audiophile. But Japanese company S’NEXT is taking things even further. They have just launched a limited run of 200 3D printed titanium earphones, which should provide a vivid sound field and the ultimate audio experience.

It’s the second installment of S’NEXT’s LAB earphones, and they are therefore called LAB II. However, they are also some of the most exclusive earphones in the world, costing a hefty 453,600 yen (or about $4300 USD). But for that money, you do get earphones with what could be the optimal shape for audio transfer – which can, they argue, only be realized by 3D printing. The LAB II further includes an integrated mechanical equalizer, that applies exactly the right amount of pressure on your diaphragm, preventing exterior frequency interference. The 3D printed mesh, moreover, adds a slight gap between the ear canal and the housing, which should create a natural, uninterrupted sound field.

But it doesn’t end there. A 15mm dynamic driving unit further creates a magnetic flux density that removes unwanted vibration, while an MMCX connector and a high-purity OFC Silver Court cable further support the sound field. These components have been made by Swiss connector specialists MMCX and should, the Japanese developers say, provide a very long-lasting music experience. While the cable plug on a regular pair of earphones breaks after being flexed a few hundred times, this LAB II has already easily withstood 5,000 bending movements – and they are aiming to reach the five million. All in all, the LAB II provides an audio sensitivity of 110dB / mW, while the titanium earphones weigh just 31 grams. Is this what perfect sound needs?

It’s a highly complicated and very impressive setup, and the Japanese developers quickly admitted that their high-frequency earphones could not have been realized without 3D printing. Especially the open mesh structures, which are thus not decorative but add to the sound experience, absolutely required metal 3D printing (in titanium layers of just 30 microns). And of course 3D printing also enabled to rapidly prototype the designs, which also helped them deal with heat deformation problems. “If the shape in question deformed during molding, our designer’s 3D data could be rapidly re-drawn, tested and 3D printed again,” they reveal.

While this alleviated design problems to some extent, the Japanese developers still struggled with the production of the mechanical equalizer – the thinnest part of the earphones at just 0.2mm. This component’s optimal shape was eventually realized through a collaboration with NDES (of NTT Data Engineering Systems), and is the only part that wasn’t 3D printed due to surface roughness. “Even though the powders are just 3 microns in size, you will feel the pain if you put it in your ear,” they explain. Chemical treatment further refined the overall surface quality of the LAB II, and should be very smooth to the touch.

But the results are truly extraordinary, with a relevant price tag to go with it. The LAB II earphones are released on October 22 in a limited run, though it’s currently not known if this is just a Japanese release.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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