I created titanium housings through CNC machining as an alternative to the titanium 3D-printed housings used in LOAK-PROTOTYPE, and conducted sound tests.
The test earphones are made of the same wood and tuning as the LOAK-PROTOTYPE01 (LP01) Snakewood and 02 (LP02) African Padouk demo units currently on hand.
The titanium-bodied earphones (LOAK2 Titanium prototype) are shown in the photo above and are slightly greyish compared to the LOAK2 (stainless steel body).
The sound of two different earphones with the same tuning was compared.
In terms of appearance and build quality, it’s evident that LOAK2 Titanium (prototype) from this test outperforms. The precisely machined housing follows the design accurately without any distortion or uneven surface finish. In contrast, the 3D-printed housing, due to its manufacturing method, cannot achieve a perfect circular shape as designed, resulting in slight distortion and uneven texture on the surface.
As expected, there are noticeable differences in sound between the two titanium housings. Even though both are titanium, there is a hardness difference between 3D printing and machining, as indicated by the manufacturer, and this difference is reflected in the sound.
The 3D-printed housing earphones produce a smarter (tighter) sound compared to CNC-machined ones. The sound contours are distinct and the response feels quick, creating an open and spacious sound with good clarity. However, there is a slightly stronger presence in the high frequencies.
On the other hand, earphones with CNC-machined housings have a slightly softer sound, and the sound lines feel slightly thicker. Especially in the mid-low range, there is more fullness. While the high frequencies are a bit milder compared to the 3D-printed version, the spatial depth seems to decrease, and the sense of openness in the sound is weaker. Additionally, the sound is a bit slower and smoother than the 3D-printed version, maintaining an overall unified feel.
Initially, I perceived the difference in sound between the sharp and solid 3D-printed housing and the soft and mild sound of the CNC-machined housing as a matter of personal preference. The difference in sound is minimal, akin to choosing between the highest hardness of snake wood and rosewood in terms of wood selection.
However, after repeated listening, it became clear that earphones with 3D-printed housings sounded more refined and sophisticated, with nuances of sound resonance, gloss and tension that are difficult to capture in a frequency graph.This aspect is challenging to articulate, closer to a subjective feeling of being impressed or not.
Given the slight difference in sound, which may not be apparent without direct comparison, and considering that some aspects can be covered by wood selection, the disparity between the 3D-printed and CNC-machined housings may be more of a matter of personal preference. However, focusing solely on “sound quality,” the comparison between these two earphones suggests a difference in superiority beyond personal sound preferences.
Conclusion (as planned, subject to change)
To be honest, due to the inherent instability in the 3D-printed earphone housing as a manufacturing process, I had planned to discontinue the use of 3D-printed housings for earphone production. However, after comparing the sound, I am now reconsidering. If I can reduce losses and improve yields through design revisions, it may be possible to continue (although the price will undoubtedly increase). I intend to explore this through trial and error with manufacturing partners.
Nevertheless, the CNC-machined titanium housing has excellent finish quality and a balanced sound, so I plan to finalize it as the LOAK2 with a titanium body.
In accordance with the plan, once the current stock of 3D-printed housings is depleted, I am considering temporarily suspending orders for LOAK-PROTOTYPE. Since the stock is not large, those who prefer the 3D-printed version may want to consider it sooner. While I will continue to explore the possibilities of 3D-printed titanium housings, the price will undoubtedly increase, and the production of the next batch is currently undetermined, so please consider it early.
LOAK-PROTOTYPE03, ahead of schedule, will be discontinued for the production of the 2nd batch and marked as SOLDOUT.