Earbuds are one of those technologies that still come loaded with annoyances. Cheap ones are almost always bad, with a terrible fit and atrocious sound. Expensive ones offer better sound quality, but often times they can fit just as poorly as the $10 or $20 pair they're meant to replace. But a new company called Revols has just launched a Kickstarter project that promises to change this, offering the luxury of custom-fit Bluetooth earbuds for about $200, all while compressing a typically months-long process into 60 seconds.
If you've never worn custom-fit earbuds, think of it this way: they're like upgrading to sleeping on a memory foam mattress after a lifetime spent on a slab of concrete. But they're also not just a comfort thing. When your earbuds are molded specifically to the shape of your ear, they isolate the sound, which means you can hear the music better at lower volumes.
Custom-fit earbuds are expensive, and the process is a chore
The problem is that the process of making the custom molds is still an arduous one. It involves finding and visiting an audiologist, plus paying for (and waiting through) a time-consuming fitting. After that, you're stuck waiting for weeks before you finally get your earbuds, which is a lot of time to reflect on the hundreds (or sometimes, thousands) of dollars that you've just spent.
It's precisely this process that Revols wants to upend. The Canadian startup has come up with a clever way of removing most of the cost and just about every one of the steps, instead offering an unmessy, at-home solution that leaves you with truly custom-fit earbuds after just one minute. And while Revols isn't the first company to try this — a handful of others have been going at it for years, and there are a number of DIY hacks are just a few Google searches away — it's the only one that doesn't seem to come with severe caveats. There's no heating or shaping special material, and there's no mixing gels or solutions.
Instead, the process of fitting the Revols earbuds is almost unbelievably simple. But based on a demo here in our office, Revols' take on the custom-molding process really does work as advertised. The rubber earbuds are squishy out of the box, and they fit and fill your ear very easily. (They're filled with some sort of gel which — along with the process itself — is the type of proprietary stuff CEO Daniel Blumer wasn't keen on sharing.) Once they're in your ears, all you have to do is tap a button in the companion app to start the hardening process. The earbuds start to heat up — something that Blumer says is more to give users a sense that the process is working — and in 60 seconds they harden up completely. It was all a bit magical, to be honest, and it's the kind of idea that you could see the company licensing to any number of industries in need of custom-fit ear protection if they can't make the consumer-facing Kickstarter succeed. (They, of course, have a few patents pending.)
The process really seems to work
The heating sensation was strange but nowhere near too hot, and it actually took a few attempts for me to remove the earbud once it was formed, which is what you're looking for in a custom-molded fit. It's a bit hard to tell the difference between the unmolded and the molded earbuds at a glance, but you can see a number of subtle differences on closer inspection. In your hand, though, there's no mistaking the two. Once the hardening process is done, the earbuds are rock solid (but still covered in a comfortable rubber casing). Revols says this mold will last for years, and I couldn't break it or get the shape to change, no matter how hard I pushed on it during the meeting.
The smartest thing about Revols might be that the headphones are more than just a custom, comfortable fit. Once you've completed the process, you'll be left with an extremely capable pair of around-the-neck Bluetooth headphones. They'll have 8-hour battery life, which is great, and there's even a spot on the cord where you can snap an extra battery on for 6 more hours if you need it. Each earbud has a directional mic, and in the app you can adjust how much noise from outside world winds up in the audio that you're listening to.
Revols is also promising premium sound thanks to a partnership with Japanese electronics company Onkyo. But the team hasn't yet put any of this final audio technology into a working pair, which means I can only really speak to the custom-molding process. They're not the sleekest earbuds you'll ever wear, either. The Revols earbuds are big, and even though there's a nice, chamfered metal finish to them, they're not the low-profile earbuds many of us are used to.
What happens if you do it wrong?
The biggest question is: what happens if customers do it wrong? What if you didn't apply enough pressure during the molding process, or what if you lose one of the earbuds? The last thing you want after you've spent a few hundred dollars and waited half a year is to make a mistake and wind up with headphones that don't fit. Blumer says the company wants to sell extra earbuds for cheap, somewhere around $10 or $15, but there's no particular plan in place just yet. He made it clear that this is a priority for the company, but a bigger and more clearly defined safety net would be nice.
Revols launched its 60-day Kickstarter campaign today, and early backers will be able to secure a pair for $169. Once those are gone, the headphones will cost $199. Should they meet the $100,000 goal, the company plans to ship finished products by June of 2016.