To say that the process of creating a custom set of Uvero earbuds was mind-bogglingly cool is truly an understatement.
The Uvero’s are a new earbud line from Wakefield-based Lantos Technologies. The earbuds seek to solve the age-old problem of providing the perfect fit. The Uvero’s were born when Lantos, traditionally a medical devices company, decided to make earbud tips based on the custom earbud scanning and 3D printing process developed in MIT’s labs by acclaimed researcher Doug Hart. These tips are then attached to a Sensaphonics (known for their high quality in-ear monitors) earphone made especially for the Uvero line.
I met with Brian Fligor, the Chief Audiology Officer for Lantos Technologies, at the Uvero’s Burlington Mall storefront to undergo the futuristic process of creating earbud tips that are mapped to the exact shape of my ear canal.
Fligor’s childlike glee at where he has ended up in life is infectious to say the least. His reverence for the human ear is also unmatched.
“We take our ears for granted,” Fligor said, as we sat down to discuss the Uvero’s.
Our conversation covered a wide array of topics, including the expanding pie of the high-end audio market, the notion of “natural quiet,” the millions of people experience tinnitus and yes, the Uvero’s and their one-of-a-kind 3D printing process.
Prior to working at Lantos, Fligor was the Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he also started The Musicians’ Hearing Program as a small audiology practice with Lantos’ blessing. Now heading up the Uvero’s, Fligor is able to combine nearly all his interests by helping people listen to music safely and experience music “like virgins again”—not to mention he gets to blow people’s socks off by taking amazing, high resolution 3D renders of the inside of their ear canals.
So how how do they sound, feel, and fit?
The sound is very clean with enough punch in the bass to satisfy modern listening preferences. They feel extremely natural, almost like a natural extension of your ear and due to the accuracy of the scanning and 3D printing process, fit perfectly. When it comes to buying expensive earbuds—which are frequently hard to find in-person at a store—there’s nothing more disappointing than finding out that none of the ten included tips stay in your ear. The most expensive earbud in the world will sound pedestrian if it’s not secure and creating the necessary seal.
With the Uvero’s, there is essentially no chance of an ill-fit. With silicon tips that are literally the exact shape of your ear canal, finding the right fit is a matter of putting them in. Secondarily, it’s an interesting form of security, since no one else can effectively use them.
With a perfect fit comes impressive noise isolation which plays back in Lantos’ health-technology roots. With outside noise negated so completely, the need to turn the volume up to unhealthy levels is substantially reduced.
“Eighty percent of people in a noisy environment like an airplane listen to their music too loudly,” said Fligor.
Fligor further referenced a study he had conducted which showed that a fifteen-year-old who listened to music at harmfully high levels would age their ears to that of a fifty-five-year-old in only ten years of consistently of unhealthy listening. I probably should have been a participant.
The process of creating the tips was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever experienced. In short, a small deflated balloon fitted with a silicon tip housing a miniature high definition camera is inserted into your ear. The balloon is then filled with a liquid until it takes on the shape of your ear canal. Then the camera drives up and down your balloon taking in hundreds of thousands of data points while a 3D render of your ear canal is created in realtime. If you’ve never seen your eardrum in HD, I suggest it. The 3D render is then seamlessly sent off to a behind the scenes lab where it is 3D printed and perfected by hand. The end result: insane precision.
“Safe listening is all well and good, but it has to sound good,” said Fligor.
With that in mind, I tested out the earbuds in a variety of noisy locales including the red line, a fairly small airplane, and a windy beach. In none of these places did I experience anything except the music I had chosen to play. Because Uvero’s earbuds can get the sound so isolated and close to the ear, it is able to separate instruments pretty effectively, something that is usually only accomplished by multiple-armature (separate small speakers for bass, mids and treble) and more expensive earbuds.
With the Uvero’s, Lantos and Brian have created something truly unique. From the creation process to the end result, nothing about the Uvero’s is part of the normal earbud experience. At present, a fit this perfect is reserved for earbuds thrice the price of the Uvero’s ($269) and require a direct and “not entirely safe” injection of silicone into the ear. The Uvero’s promise a lot of things—precise sound, the ultimate fit, and a healthy way to listen—and deliver on them all.