3D Printing of Headsets and R&D Tax Credits

Formnext Germany

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As early as the 1800s, headphones were not normally sold to the general public and were instead large instruments that were used exclusively by telephone operators. It was only in the 2000s that headphones started to gain traction with the advent of technologies such as the Sony Walkman and early Apple products.

And then the market for superior sound quality expanded. Today, companies are involved in the process of 3D printing headphones and their components, covering an array of technologies and trends such as virtual reality and gaming headsets. Companies that are engaging in research and development efforts to explore 3D printed headphones and accessories are eligible for Research and Development tax credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Technological in nature
  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Elimination of Uncertainty
  • Process of Experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent.  On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax and start up businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

The Professional Gamer

There are certain headsets which are primarily used by casual and professional gamers alike. Primary criteria users look for in these headsets are comfort and audio. Microphones with good frequency response are also a sought after feature. One company, Cooler Master, launched a high-end audio headset designed for competitive gaming and virtual reality. It features a panel on the exterior of each ear cup, which can be removed by the user according to their listening requirements. Without the panels, the listener is able to hear lower frequencies with an emphasis on bass tones. Similarly, the panels themselves can be customized and 3D printed to the wearer’s liking.

Brain Enhancement

An Australian tech startup called HUMM Tech has developed 3D printed headsets that boost the brain’s performance, such as short term cognition, by giving electric shocks to those who wear it. The 3D printed prototype headset consists of electrodes that monitor the user’s brainwaves. As new technologies emerge and product design improves, these 3D printed headsets will be able to be printed easier and faster.

 Medical Field

Similarly, Imec and Deft University of Technology in the Netherlands created a wireless EEG headset that can sense a change in mood of the individual wearing the device. The EEG headset’s frame is completely 3D printed in one piece, which is then equipped with electronic components that are then coated with 3D printed rubber overlay. Although they hope to target the gaming market, because the headsets function like the EEG headsets above, the medical field could be using these in the future as well. Advancements in this technology provide opportunities for individuals who suffer narcolepsy and other mental illnesses.  

Customizable In-Ear Headphones & Stands

Have you ever wondered if you could purchase customizable ear plugs that would fit the everyday user? A company called Normal manufactures tailored headphones and ear pieces that are 3D printed.  Along with 3D printed headsets include the opportunity to print multicolor headset stands either to mount headphones on a desk or a wall.

Now, go one step further and imagine having an earpiece that is made to fit only your ear. OwnPhones, a startup company, combines the study of 3D printing and the human body to create earbuds that are customized for an individual wearer’s ear canal. The earbuds are created using photogrammetric technology which can make measurements from photographs. Using the size of a known object, the computer can infer the view and parts in your ear. Measurements are then able to be transformed into a 3D model, which can then be tailored to the user with different materials, colors and designs.

Top of the Line DJ’s

Did you see the headset that Morgan Page was wearing at his last concert? He was probably flaunting a pair of V-MODA headphones, made of steel, metal, fiber and plated with 14-karat gold. The company uses custom designed 3D printed parts that are fused together for some of their consumer electronics. These 3D printed parts include the shield set, complete with screws and a miniature magnetic screwdriver. People can choose exactly what they want with this level of customization.

V-MODA also produces luxury headphones and Bluetooth speakers.  In addition to a battery life that lasts up to 7 hours, the best materials are used to create a crisp sound effect. The speaker is manufactured with a glass fiber diaphragm and long coil drivers.

Teague 13:30

The 13:30 headphones developed by Teague Labs are 3D printed and can be made to be stylish ear goggles for the consumer.  The name is cleverly derived from the amount of time it takes to print them; 13 hours and 30 minutes. The device is able to be easily assembled by hand as the parts simply snap into place. The only components that need to be purchased are the speakers and wiring. The company is now experimenting to determine the feasibility of mass producing and distributing these headsets in the future. The CAD files for this unique design are available for anyone who owns a 3D printer.

Print +: DIY Headphones

Print + is a Dutch company that has crafted a “do it yourself” product line of headphones. The plastic components that make up the headsets are easily printable, while the non-printable pieces include the cables, speakers and cushions. The company presents their products as a fashion item where the consumer can design their own headphones by choosing from a variety of colors and prints. According to Patrick Schur, the founder of the company, 3D printing shortens the development cycle and increases the quality of the end result because more iterations can be constructed in less time. The firm has already realized that these standard parts are not only functional, but also provides the advantage of being user friendly, quick and flexible. They predict that in the future, perhaps they could print 3D earpieces.


When shopping for headphones consumers are concerned with getting the best sound quality and many enthusiasts have been exploring 3D printing technology to aid in these efforts. The ability to 3D print headsets goes beyond tech such as gaming and music, and instead opens the doors to newer applications such as within the medical and fashion industries. Today, companies, designers, and other individuals engaging in research and development of 3D printed headphones are eligible for Federal and State R&D Tax Credits.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below. 

Charles R. Goulding and Alizé Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed headphones.


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