AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to earphones or earbuds, a custom-fitted solution is typically the best way to go, as it provides the tight, secure seal that fans of in-ear devices crave.
But getting a custom pair typically requires shelling out hundreds of dollars, plus a trip to an audiologist to take a cast of your inner ear. You don't see many people besides professional musicians and hardcore music lovers with custom earbuds. Lantos hopes to change that with its $269 Uvero earphones.
Lantos keeps costs reasonable by using a proprietary Aura 3D digital scanner. The mold resulting from the scan is used to create soft silicon eartips made by a 3D printer. The earphones produce a tight seal, matching the unique shape of your ear canal, that blocks ambient sound, providing natural noise isolation. The seal also prevents sound from leaking out of your ear, which would usually result in shallow bass or, worse, the user cranking the volume to hearing-damaging levels in an attempt to compensate.
Here at SXSW 2016, I had my ears scanned by Dr. Brian Fligor, Uvero's chief audiologist, to create a review unit of the earbuds. The device used to peer inside my ear looks similar to the otoscope you'd find in a doctor's office. However, the tip of the scanner expands and contracts inside your ear, mapping more than 100,000 physical points.
I got a front-row seat to a tour of my ear canal on a nearby computer monitor. Once the camera came in view of my eardrum, the doctor retracted the camera and started expanding the tool's tip. I felt a fair amount of pressure, but the process wasn't painful. It took about5 minutes, while a trip to the audiologist would have taken up to 45 minutes.
Once the tip was fully expanded, I saw a host of red and black dots plot out the nooks and crannies of my outer and middle ear on the monitor; those dots were transformed into a digital image of my ear canal. The process was repeated on my other ear.
Lantos doesn't limit its technology to the Uvero line. The company also makes $99 custom tips for Apple EarPods, Bose SoundSport earphones and earbuds from a few other companies. It's a pricey proposition, but it beats the hassle of trying to deal with the one-size-fits-all solutions most earbud makers bundles with their products.
Now that my ears have been scanned, Lantos will 3D print my ear tips and fit them onto the earbuds, which each use a single dynamic drive to produce clear highs and mids, and deep, throbbing bass.
If I had been in the company's headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts, the whole process would take 3-5 business days from start to finish. But because we were in Austin, TX, I can expect to receive my review unit in a couple of weeks.
I'm eager to test the Uveros against their non-custom counterparts. But for now, I'll admire the curves of my rather shapely ear canals to help pass the time.