The real promise of 3-D printing isn’t about manufacturing products for everyone. It’s about manufacturing products for just one person. Some people call this idea “mass customization.”
Normal is a new company that makes custom, personalized earphones for $199. With the Normal iOS and Android app starting today, you’ll be able to snap 10 photos of each of your ears, while you hold a quarter flat against your sideburn for scale. Then you’ll pick your color, cord length and other options, and send the order to a 3-D printer in New York. From there your new earbuds will be printed, assembled and sent overnight to your address.
The process takes as little as 48 hours, or perhaps even less if you visit the Normal factory store, which is planned to open in August in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood and operate as the Normal office, factory and storefront.
Normal’s motto is “one size fits none,” and its first product was chosen in part because earbuds are notorious for falling out when they don’t fit.
“Everyone’s ear is different,” Normal CEO Nikki Kaufman told Re/code. “In fact, your right and your left are different.”
Sure, personal audio equipment is not an ignored space. Apple just bought Beats for $3 billion. But Kaufman — who was previously on the founding team at the product generation startup Quirky, where her husband, Ben, is CEO — contended her product is just better.
Since each Normal earphone is a custom fit for each ear, “it allows for precise delivery of sound because you’re creating a seal that you don’t get on other products,” Kaufman said. “It actually makes the sound quality incredible.”
To be clear, I have neither used the Normal fitting app nor tried its earphones, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But Kaufman noted the alternative for getting a custom pair is “you have to go to a doctor, who puts silicone in your ear, then you have to clench your jaw for 10 minutes, then you spend thousands of dollars and weeks later you get your earphones.”
She described Normal earbuds as extensively smoothed, so they are soft to the touch. “The product costs $199 and it feels like a $199 product. It’s completely premium; the finish is incredible,” Kaufman said. “We audio test everything individually, we laser-etch the custom carrying case. Only your Normals will fit in your carrying case.”
Normal has raised $5 million in venture capital from RRE, Maveron, NEA, Contour, The Social + Capital Partnership, the Vegas Tech Fund and angels. We first covered Kaufman’s efforts in February.