The most irritating, widely experienced issue with earphones is that they're made for the "universal ear." The one-size-fits-all approach works for many, but leaves others wondering if they'll ever find a pair that fits their ear. While brands like Ultimate Ears and Etymotics offer custom-made, studio quality solutions, the service comes at a price that again isolates most consumers. NYC's Normal aims to bridge the gap, with a buzz-worthy bit of technology. Customers use a well-designed, easy-to-use mobile app to effectively scan their unique ear shape (or "earhole," as Normal loves to say), which is then translated into a 3D-printed earphone. This process can either be done remotely or starting this Saturday, 9 August 2014, in-store at the Normal NYC factory storefront.
Thanks to clever engineering, Normal has done away with the need to physically take a mold of your inner ear in order to create a custom fit earphone. All that is needed rather, is a quarter (used for scale) and their mobile app. Once a panorama-style ear image is taken, the app creates a 3D rendering of your soon-to-be earphones. From here, the user is free to chose the finer details that will grace their completed set. From selecting the cord color to that of the 3D-printed fitting (that attaches to the standard driver and housing), the app allows you to further customize the already custom process.
As for how they sound, our test pair produced crisp, clear sound in a comfortable housing. With a 14mm neodymium dynamic driver in each ear bud, our Normals performed well at a range of volumes, though the bass was best at lower volumes. The fit didn't create a complete seal like that of Ultimate Ears, but for the price ($199) Normal is far and away a promising option. The finishing on the 3D-printed fitting component is soft to the touch, ensuring the earphones are comfortable to wear. And, of course, the smartphone-friendly cord with volume control and mic is handy as well. As a special finishing detail, the case is also custom made to perfectly fit your pair of earphones and ensure the best protection possible.
While the app is the avenue through which most will interact with Normal, the "Factory" (designed by HWKN, creators of Architizer) deserves a proper introduction as well. Located in NYC's burgeoning Chelsea neighborhood, the modern, cheeky space boasts 10 Stratasys Fortus 250mc 3D printers, accompanied by a wide assortment of ear-themed accouterments. Here, with the help of specially trained "fitters," customers can witness earphones go from mobile imaging to printing in a matter of moments.
The Normal "Factory" flagship will open to the masses tomorrow, Saturday 9 August 2014. For a closer look at the intimate process and inside the new storefront see the slideshow.
Images by Josh Rubin