Great Sound, Great Experience, Good Amplification Support, NuHeara IQbuds2 MAX a Review
I have reviewed a couple of NuHeara devices on these pages over the last few years and I was looking forward to having a go with their latest devices. The new devices did not let me down, outstanding sound quality, better connection to the phone, that customised sound experience and the addition of active noise cancelling means you can turn off the world when you want to deliver silence. Although getting them out of their charging case is a pain in the ass, more on that later, these devices are a step up from their original offering for many reasons. I think they are an ideal situational device for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss but feel they only need help occassionally. Finally for a little over 300 of your favourite currency they offer outstanding value for money. I like them a lot, let's talk about the IQbuds2 Max.
The new buds have a new and improved design that adds Bluetooth 5.0, Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) and better sound. Like the original IQbuds, the new IQbuds2 MAX are capable of enhancing your hearing offering amplification based on the NAL prescription. On top of the amplification, the earbuds use artificial intelligence to filter background noise and emphasize voices. And of course, you can customize your hearing profile using Nuheara’s EarID mobile app, which uses their own hearing evaluation to customise your settings.
The new buds come with larger 9.2 mm drivers that offer better sound quality than the original. Having said that, the original was no slouch considering they are wireless earbuds. NuHeara has also added more onboard processing power, and the ability to enable active noise cancellation. The new support Bluetooth 5 means a better connection, slightly less power drain and the ability to get further from your phone without breaking the wireless link when listening to audio. Here is a quick feature run-down:
- 12 channel processing
- Wide Dynamic Range Compression (WDRC)
- Directional microphones
- 7 manual program options via the app – 4 stored on the device
- Bluetooth 5.o compatible
- Hybrid Active Noise cancellation
- 8.5 hours of hearing processing time
- 5 hours of music playback time (world off, streaming active)
- NMFi ear-to-ear connectivity
As expected, the earbuds arrived in a well-designed package, consistent with what you might expect with any premium electronics. The new charging case is really nice, it is flatter and wider than the original case, much easier to slip into a pocket without much bulk. The case will charge your buds and hold three extra charges. If you are using the buds just for their hearing aid abilities, that means technically, you have thirty-two hours of use between the buds and the case.
If you are using them for streaming, you have twenty hours of use between the buds and the case. The buds come with a tray of different sized ear tips which helps to ensure a proper fit for a range of ear canal sizes. The tips are both silicone and soft foam (Small, Medium and Large) and they have a pepper pot design to help catch wax and make sure it doesn't intrude into the speakers. Changing the ear tips is a simple task and there is a demonstration video on the accompanying App.
The buds themselves are marked for left and right and putting them in your ears is pretty intuitive. The buds fit securely in place in your ear once you have the right size ear tips and I would imagine they would be hard to shake out if you were exercising. Sorry didn't test that for you because I am committed to being a fat lad. Removing the buds from the ears is straightforward as well. I think the size and shape of the earbuds make them easy to insert and takeout even if you may have dexterity problems. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean taking them out of the case is easy.
As I said, I like the design of the new case, it adds much less bulk to your pocket when you slip it in. But for me, the only real issue I had started here. Placing the buds into the charging case is made simple by a magnetic system that really grabs the buds and sets them in the right position to charge. This is where the problem lies, the magnetic system is pretty strong and it means that actually getting them out of the damned case is an exercise in gymnastics and swearing. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but there was a lot of swearing!
After a while with them, I worked out a kind of two movement way to get them out with ease. They don't lend themselves to just grabbing and pulling, although that may be a fat finger thing? Anyway, I get my thumb under them, raise them up towards the top of the case and kind of twist and pull. That movement which took a while to work out gets them out easily. Use your right hand for the right bud and twist clockwise and your left hand for the left bud and twist anti-clockwise and voila!!!!!
Why am I harping on about it? For most people who will be attracted to these devices for both their earbud functionality and their hearing aid functionality, this won't be a problem. I think these devices will generally appeal to a younger population who are looking for situational help and for people who may own hearing aids and are considering some sort of back up or device to listen to music. However, the difficulty taking them out of the case may cause issues for an older population who are looking for a cheap alternative to hearing aids. Anyway, it's something that I think NuHeara should consider. Having said that, I do love the new case design.
The Personalized Sound Experience
Firstly you need the IQbuds app which can be downloaded for both iOS and Android. This allows you to personalize your sound experience. The app offers you a simple tutorial of pairing your new buds to your phone and then allows you to customise the listening experience, as well as modifying the tap controls found on the buds. You begin the customisation process by answering some questions, such as whether you have had a professional hearing test or wear hearing aids, and just as with earlier versions of the company’s buds, you use the Ear ID hearing assessment, for the actual customisation of sound to your hearing loss.
The Ear ID assessment appeared to me to be a bit faster than it was in the past, however, it is quite a while since I ran it. Initially, it monitors the sound environment to make sure it is not too loud for accurate results which is a fantastic idea. It then runs through a test of 6 frequencies, in each ear: 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, 3000 Hz, 4000 Hz, and 6000 Hz. The test only offers sounds between 20 and 70dB which means it is only of any use for someone with mild to moderate hearing loss.
That's a pretty thorough test, it's hard for me to tell how accurate it is because it doesn't show a typical audiogram, however, the sound the test produced was crisp and appeared to give me the amplification I needed where I needed it in practice. The buds utilize the NAL-NL2 fitting formula which is perhaps one of the most popular fitting formula used in hearing aids, to customize the sound following completion of the Ear ID process. The NuHeara products as far as I remember are the only ones available on the market to do so and it is this that makes them a mixed hybrid of hearing aid and high-end audio product. That and of course the intelligent noise reduction and directional microphones.
That Sound Quality
There are 7 different manual program settings available in the app, and they offer distinctly different strategies for differing sound situations. The noise reduction used by the system is pretty excellent with steady-state noise, that's sounds that don't really change their noise profile. So engine noise to a certain extent, maybe the background hum of an air conditioner or fridge, that type of thing. The directional mics appear to function pretty well also, giving you a better focus to the front and helping to attenuate the sound from the sides and behind.
The seven preset programmes are:
Each sound preset offers slightly different strategies based on what they are trying to achieve. However, you are still in full control as you can use the SINC setting to balance ambient sound and speech even more and the World EQ to balance treble, high-frequency sound, and bass, low-frequency sound. You can also turn on or off the directional microphone functionality.
The overall quality of sound was excellent and listening to music offered a pretty rich and high-fidelity sound, with deep bass and crisp treble. Phone calls were also excellent, I could hear callers with ease, and even better, they could hear me clearly as well. The “World Off” feature–which turns the outside mics on/off–is useful when on a call or streaming music, to reduce noise from the outside world.
I have always liked the device’s tap controls which you can modify within the app itself. There are three tap gesture, a single tap, a double-tap and a long tap. They are pretty easy to get used to and with mine, a simple double-tap can be used to connect with the digital assistant on my phone. It is a feature that can connect to the assistant of your choice, be it Siri or Google. I used it with my Samsung Galaxy 8 and had no problem with accessing the Google assistant.
The tap controls can differ from left to right bud so for instance, I set up play/pause, volume up and next track on my left bud and world on/off, Google Assistant and change location (change preset programmes, on my right bud. You can set it up whatever way works for you and it is this customisation of function that I really love.
Depending on which programme preset you choose, each earbud uses three microphones (up from two on the previous models) and sophisticated audio processors to analyse the ambient noise and suppress some sounds while amplifying others. Which is at its most basic level, what a hearing aid does.
I used the earbuds in Driving mode in the car and it offers quite a remarkable experience. It really does attack that steady-state noise of the engine and it makes the speech of others clearer. Having read a review of the devices from a guy named John Davidson of the Financial Review, I decided to give it a go while outdoors near a busy road. He was right, when used on a busy street, you'll hear all the ambient sounds of the street and then, over the course of perhaps 10 seconds, you'll hear the traffic noise fall away, leaving you only with other sounds, like footsteps. I was quite impressed. The person I was with was easy enough to hear as well and their speech was quite crisp.
The home mode is pretty cool, it gives me the support I need at home to be able to hear her indoors giving out about me from the sitting room while it attenuates some of the background noise at it presents itself such as a kettle boiling etc. I used the restaurant mode when I was in a busy shopping centre, slightly adjusting the SINC and bass and treble balance and I have to say it offered enough support to help me continue a conversation with my companion with ease. while that not exactly be a restaurant situation, with the current pandemic, I think it will be the closest I get to a restaurant for a while.
The Final Verdict
These are great devices, and for a little over 300 sterling, they are great value. The audio produced is at least as good as earbuds costing double or even treble that. They provide really good support in varying sound situations for someone with a hearing loss and are at least as good, if not better than modern basic hearing aids. I have to say, my overall experience was excellent with the devices, they basically did what I needed while also offering an excellent phone and audio experience.
Of course, they stuff up your ears, so occlusion is a bit of a problem. But even for me, who hates occlusion, it was manageable. I really think these are an excellent solution for someone with some hearing problems who are looking for a situational device. They are also an ideal general wireless earbuds solution for anyone who is looking for that. I am going to try to do real ear measurements with the devices, but it is a bit difficult because they don't produce an audiogram. I can do the measurements using my audiogram, but that isn't necessarily a fair comparison.
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Posted by Geoff
Geoffrey (Geoff, anything else makes him nervous) Cooling is an Irish hearing aid blogger and has been involved with the hearing aid industry since 2007. He has worked in private practice dispensing hearing aids and as a manufacturer's rep. He has written two books and they are both available on Amazon. He loves technology, passing on knowledge and is legendary for many other things, primarily the amount he curses, his dry and mischievous sense of humour and his complete intolerance of people who are full of themselves. Please feel free to connect with him.
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