I was privileged to go to Advanced Communications Solutions (ACS) last week and meet founder, inspiration and Managing Director Andy Shiach. ACS is a specialist in soft silicone custom in ear monitors and hearing protection and after 25 years they have established a name as a world leading manufacturer of earphones.
Custom earphone solutions
I was lucky enough to go through the process that ACS use to deliver their custom earphone solutions. Although the process was particularly hi-tech with 3D scanners, printers and CAD (computer aided design) computers smoking away under the processing power required I was struck by the familial atmosphere, smiles and hands on finishing and polishing required to deliver the beautiful products on offer.
The process begins on receipt of a personal ear impression taken of the customer’s ears by post. These moulds are assigned a bar code and then 3D scanned electronically into the system with blue for the left ear and red for right.
Then the technology moves up a gear with a hand-crafted 3D design made to incorporate the drivers, crossovers and micro cables required to deliver the sound. The CAD designer also must think about how the silicone mould needs to be constructed so when injected, there are no holes or blemishes. The individual ear impressions are obviously quite small and detailed, so a larger ‘brick’ is created of several pairs of moulds for the 3D printer.
After this complex design process, the 3D printers kick in. At £100,000 a piece they are leading edge and effective. I noted there were two new 3D printers being commissioned to speed up the product cycle.
Following the 3D printing a relatively labour-intensive process begins where the silicone (of any chosen colour) is injected into each ear impression and this is allowed to harden, this is the final in-ear bud that needs treating, branding and then having the drivers installed. AES use Knowles© balanced armature drivers to ensure reliability and performance.
After the buds are moulded, the 3D printed cast is simply peeled away, by hand, and then cleaned with a pressured air blast before going to have the fitted drivers. The drivers can range from a single to an astonishing five driver solution in the earphone at ACS.
In a separate inert room, the drivers and crossover are inserted. A treatment is put on the buds and a laser printer brands the buds in seconds. After this there is extensive testing undertaken across the range to within single figure dB levels and any failure results in the buds being rejected to ensure the highest standards.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to see one of the product development benches where new products were explored amongst a sea of soldering irons, printed circuit boards and testing equipment.
I had the opportunity to chat to Andy about the new products ACS has on the horizon. There is a cable upgrade coming to the new ranges with silver lined 100% copper cables coming soon. They will be wrapped in a new outer sleeve and will incorporate a new connector, improving on the existing connector.
A new ambient passive product is coming, which enables outside noise to filter through without compromising the in-ear seal, the problem being when you lose the seal in your ear you lose the bass. The new product allows outside noise in, reducing it by around 15dB but ensures the best playback. The new product sounds to me like ‘open backed’ in ear monitors.
After a very pleasant morning, not five miles from where I live, I left ACS reflecting on the relaxed yet professional atmosphere and on the customer service values Andy talked of that deliver a world leading technology product range.
Find out more about ACS on their website here.