Ultimate Ears Now 3-D Prints Their In-Ear Monitors, and I Got A Factory Tour

Doing things a new way can be scary, because sometimes the new way sucks. New Coke. New Metallica. New Jersey. But while the way forward is littered with the corpses of the unlucky and poor of judgement, a fresh path must be hewn nonetheless, and with some careful consideration and planning, you can successfully integrate new technology with the strength of experience and time-tested quality to make the same old thing better.

Such is the case with Ultimate Ears out of Irvine, California, a mere 25 minute drive from where I live. Pretty convenient when I was invited to take an exclusive tour of their factory/lab where they are now 3-D printing their in-ear monitors. I don’t know that anyone would have ever thought to improve their original process, which produces a mean IEM (I have the 7s), and yet with a little of that old elbow grease and 18 months of R&D they’ve found a way to make it better for everyone involved.

I’d never seen a 3-D printer in real life, only videos of the little home versions on YouTube, so I was not prepared for the refrigerator-sized laser powered liquid-acrylic bath printer that awaited me. This is the kind that SkyNet is going to use to 3-D print the Terminators. It brings into reality the IEMs that have been scanned in 3-D from molds made by audiologists all over the world, which are sent digitally and then edited in a CAD program and sent to the printer. They can also be 3-D scanned on site.

Not shown in the video (forgot to edit it in, whoops) is the warehouse holding 50,000 molds of ears. It wasn’t that big, because the molds are pretty small, but now imagine those same 50,000 ears being stored digitally instead, able to be called up at any time and printed out with no sanding, grinding, or cutting required. Just click and print. So if you lost your precious IEM babies, they can be exactly replicated with a very short turnaround. Very convenient if you’re on tour in another country, or if you live in another country.

Anyway, check out the video to get the rundown from UE Pro’s Mike Dias, who was my tour guide on this strange technological journey.

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As Editor-in-Chief of Gear Gods, I've been feeding your sick instrument fetishism and trying unsuccessfully to hide my own since 2013. I studied music on both coasts (Berklee and SSU) and now I'm just trying to put my degree to some use. That's a music degree, not an English one. I'm sure you noticed.