Launched on Kickstarter, the Print Plus DIY Headphones kit was 18 months in the making. Read our verdict on the design, build and audio quality.
These Print Plus DIY Headphones are totally unique. How unique? Let us count the ways. Firstly, with the exception of the electronic components and the cushions, they’re entirely 3D printed. And we assembled them by hand (that’s why they’re called DIY).
Secondly, the material they’re printed with is at the cutting edge of additive manufacturing. We submitted the STL files to an exclusive pilot program from online printing service Shapeways, where they were fabricated with brand spanking new HP Multi Jet Fusion technology.
The HP Multi Jet Fusion material is tough, light and flexible. With its potential for material produced at speed, cost and quality, it could revolutionize industrial 3D printing as we know it.
Thirdly, the design has been completely customized. The DIY headphones are selected from one of six different designs, then coupled with one of 21 different colours for the cushions and wiring.
Throw in the choice of material and color for the solid components (as above), and you have a pair of headphones which are utterly distinct from anything else out there.
So how do the the Print Plus DIY Headphones sound? Do they do justice to, say, listening to Abbey Road by The Beatles? And what’s the build quality like? Should you invest your time and precious shekels in making a pair? Read on and find out.
UPDATE 15/06: Print Plus have been in touch to say they’ve cut the price by €10 euros and are bringing back the missing prototype design. Result!
We’re rather happy with the Print Plus DIY Headphones. In kit form, perhaps it looks underwhelming. Bare bones, even. Just a tidy stack of circuit-boards, wires and fabric.
But once you add your 3D printed components to the mix and assemble the product, the end result is something special. Both the audio and build quality is great, and these are headphones that we intend to use daily.
Moreover, there’s a heartening story behind the product; a small team of creatives have persevered through their supply-chain struggles and delivered exactly what they promised on Kickstarter. So far as we can see no corners have been cut. In fact, value was added in the process.
There’s certainly scope for Print Plus to expand this concept to other simple consumer electronics. Perhaps a portable radio, a clock, or a flashlight. But even if they choose not to, they can already congratulate themselves on blazing a trail for other 3D printing companies to follow.
So let’s begin at the beginning. The Print Plus DIY Headphones first emerged as a Kickstarter campaign way back in September 2015.
The pitch was simple: “Great sounding headphones designed to be customised, repaired and upgraded. 3D print them yourself or locally via 3D Hubs.”
Enough people were convinced of the viability of the project that funding was successful; 572 backers pledged €28,834 in total (nearly three times the €10,000 original goal).
It was here that the real work began, however. The original delivery dates for the campaign were for March 2016, but this proved overly ambitious as supplier delays and design iterations led to one delay after the other.
There’s also been a radical shift in headphone design from standard 3.5 mm audio jacks to Bluetooth and (in Apple’s case) Lightning connectors. But the transition to this new technology has not been so swift as to render headphones with audio jacks obsolete. Not yet, anyway.
Fast forward to May 2017, and the kits were finally released to the wild. We received ours around this time, but instead of making the components on a conventional fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printer we opted for something different.
We had the STL files fabricated on a HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer through a early access pilot program with Shapeways. The cost of this fabrication came to around €100, which is an insane amount of money to spend, but we chose to do this because the viability of the new material is worth exploring.
Now that the campaign obligations have been settled, Print Plus are selling their kits direct to the public.
You can purchase a DIY headphone kit for €45 euros. That seems a little steep, nearly three times as much as the early bird pledges from the Kickstarter; time will tell if the market is going to support this price point.
UPDATE 15/06: Print Plus have now lowered the price of the DIY headphones kit to €35 euros.
In the current version of the Print Plus DIY headphones concept, there are six different designs to choose from. These range from traditional styles, to futuristic minimalism, then more outlandish bubble and low-poly cans.
Over the course of the campaign, the number grew from five designs to seven, before finally settling on six. Print Plus have been pretty good at sharing prototype (non-final production) STL files at every stage of the project.
That meant you could go ahead and make a pair of headphones at home, minus the electronics and cushioning, to test for fit and feel. We knew from the outset, for instance, that these headphones were going to be big. Folks with smaller heads may struggle!
To our disappointment, our favorite design of the seven was dropped for reasons which haven’t been made clear. Nonetheless, it’s been fascinating to follow the progress of each new iteration. The DIY headphones have grown from being a high-falutin’ concept to an actual physical product. And backers have had ringside seats.
UPDATE 15/06: Print Plus have told us they’re bringing back the missing prototype design. Yay!
The DIY Headphone Kit comes in a small black box. The packaging is neat and compact, and well designed.
Tucked away inside are two cushions, a headband, and cables (with standard 3.5 mm audio jacks) selected from a range of 21 colors. Also present is a smaller box holding a pair of speakers and a single button remote/microphone.
It’s worth nothing that the single button remote and microphone was originally going to be an optional extra in the Kickstarter campaign. The generous folks at Print Plus decided to make it a standard feature, perhaps in a tacit recognition that the vast majority of headphones are typically paired with smartphones.
There’s also a flyer tucked inside for a new PLA filament from Polymaker called PolyMatte. Print Plus are recommending you use this material to print the headphones; indeed, you can also buy the components premade in PolyMatte direct from Print Plus for €35 euros.
But the primary freedom is there for you to fabricate the headphones using any material, service or technology you prefer. We’d be curious to see how the DIY headphones look when made on an SLA (stereolithography) 3D printer, for example.
The assembly instructions on the Print Plus website are very easy to follow. In just 23 steps, you go from a handful of separate components to a working pair of headphones.
The interesting thing is how well it all fits together. This hearkens back to the design process that backers have been privy to from day one. Some features have been constant, while others have been added or removed as refinements.
The individual speakers slip on and off the headband with ease, while the speaker covers and cushions screw down onto the speaker housings for a snug fit.
Of course, longer-term testing is required to determine how durable the whole unit is going to be. But on the initial impressions it’s a sturdy, robust build that inspires confidence.
Part of this is to do with the material used for the DIY headphones, we would guess. In other words, how good or bad the final result feels is entirely up to you!
On the down-side, our DIY headphones ended up being a little heavy. Prolonged use may lead to fatigue. This is perhaps because we used a different production technique on STL files optimized for FFF. If you’re making your own pair at home, you may want to experiment with infill to get the right weight.
Also, we were disappointed to note that the headband cushion has already started fraying at one edge. We’d like to explore how to replace this component without shelling out for a full kit all over again.
Ah yes, the audio quality. Despite the innovation of opening up the manufacturing process, none of this would stack up if the sounds produced by these DIY headphones wasn’t up to snuff.
If the sound produced is tinny and nondescript, the whole enterprise amounts to a mere novelty at best, and a massive waste of time at worst. Neither outcome is desirable.
Happily, we can attest to the sound quality as being excellent. We tested the DIY headphones by playing a series of FLAC (free lossless audio codec) files on both an Android smartphone and a PC. We also tested it with Spotify on an iPhone.
The FLAC files were the albums The Warning/Hot Chip, Abbey Road/The Beatles, and Currents/Tame Impala. They were picked because we’re completely familiar with them already, having played this music on a range of headphones and speakers over many years. We could quickly discern if the songs sounded wonky or different.
In fact, the opposite was true. The bass through the headphones is deep and profound, and we can hear subtle details we’d never noticed before in songs we’d heard a million times already. That’s pretty amazing, to be honest.
Now it’s highly probable that for around €45 you could buy a set of headphones or earbuds that offer better audio quality. But it’s reassuring that after going to the trouble of printing and assembling your own DIY headphones, the experience of using them is altogether decent.
UPDATE 15/06: Print Plus have now lowered the price of the DIY headphones kit to €35 euros.
We also tested the line-in microphone on a phone call or two. It just works. The person at the other end of the line could hear us clearly. Ditto for hearing the conversation over the headphones.
Nothing to do with audio quality, but still relevant; the line-in remote also functions as it should on both Android and iOS. One button to pause the music, two buttons to skip to the next track.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the Print Plus DIY Headphones have had a long, torturous journey from crowdfunding campaign to finished result.
It’s been 18 months, and tracking the project’s progress in that time has seen a few doubts about whether it would ever be delivered. A bottleneck with suppliers for the headphone cushions was especially frustrating.
But hey, the pledges for the campaign were so low, it was a risk worth taking. And anyone with a passion for 3D printing has a stake in the success of this concept; the idea that you can make something complex and useful that is a pleasure to use. It’s the dream that we all share!
So we’re impressed and pleased with the finished result. The Print Plus DIY Headphones look good, feel good, and — most importantly — they sound pretty damn good.
Perhaps you could buy better sounding headphones for less money, but that’s not the point. The point is that you assembled them entirely by yourself, in the style of your choosing. And it was all made possible through the magic of 3D printing.
License: The text of "Print Plus DIY Headphones Review: Pump Up the Volume" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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