A few months back, I wrote a review of my new UE Reference Monitors. They sound fantastic and as far as I can tell, are very accurate. Besides the strides UE is making in terms of audio technology, they are also investing in a great new manufacturing process. Earlier this year, I took you on a photo essay tour of their shop. At that time, most everything was being made by hand, including the shells. Fast-forward to the present and things have changed. Rather than casting a mold of the impressions of an artist’s ear, then creating the shell in that mold, they have gone all 21st century.
The process still begins with an impression of the inside of your ear, but from there, it’s all very high-tech. A 3D scanner creates a 3D model of the impressions in short order. The 3D model is fed into a proprietary software package and the same technicians who once sculpted physical molds are now doing the same thing, only virtually. After about 20-30 minutes of tweaking the model, it is ready to print.
Again, using a proprietary process, a laser cures a very thin layer of resin at a time. They tell me each layer is about .1 mm thick. The shells are created on a platform full of holes that sits in a bath of the resin. The laser cures a layer of each shell (they can do up to 40 at a time), and a bar pushes a fresh layer of resin over the whole thing. The laser fires up for another pass and the whole process repeats, .1 mm at a time until the shells are ready to be pulled.
After a little clean up, they are placed in a UV curing oven to fully cure the shells. After minimal buffing and polishing, the shells are ready for their electronic components. The whole process now takes just a few hours.
UE is installing 3D scanners at various offices around the world, which means that an artist could get a set of impressions in say, Japan, and the scan can be sent almost instantly to the Irvine office and a set of monitors made in a few hours.
Mike Dias, Sales Director at UE, told me that the goal is to cut the turn around time down to 1-2 days. The 3D process is a big step in making that happen. Because it’s repeatable and predictable, waste is reduced, as is re-work. They’re not quite to the 1-2 day goal, yet, but the process is quicker than ever. The fit of the monitors is also improved; something I can vouch for. My RMs fit even better than my UE7s that were made a few years ago the old way.
It was cool to watch the shells being made. I’m a sucker for new technology and love to see advances making things better. You can see the whole line of UE monitors at pro.ultimateears.com.