Nuheara IQbuds BOOST Review: Solid Performance And Unique Features
Nuheara IQBuds BOOSTJanuary 8th, 2019
When Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs was diagnosed with cancer, his son Reed Jobs made full use of Stanford university's oncology labs to study gene sequencing for pancreatic cancers. Jobs, as any father would be, was insanely proud of Reed, and commented to his biographer Walter Isaacson, "[O]ne of the very few silver linings about me getting sick is that Reed's gotten to spend a lot of time studying with some very good doctors. His enthusiasm for it is exactly how I felt about computers when I was his age. I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning, just like the digital one was when I was his age." (If only somebody would tell Apple this)
Today I've got a product that sits right at the center of this intersection. The Nuheara IQbuds BOOST is a nifty pair of earbuds that borrow from the industry's preferences of a 'bean' shaped design. This design is present in several products including the Crazybaby Air 1S and you can read us gushing over the 1S' design here. However, their design doesn't mean that the IQbuds BOOST is for every day or for fitness conscious users. The buds are designed for folks with hearing impairment, and to that end, they serve their function well, if with a few inconsistencies.
Nuheara IQbuds BOOST - Hardware And Specifications:
The IQbuds BOOST are a premium product and their price range is beyond what the average user is generally willing to spend for his/her true wireless earbuds. Nuheara's premium earbuds will set you back by a sweet $499, while the less premium IQbuds will set you back by $199. Additionally, Nuheara also allows users to purchase a single bud in case you lose one, and a single IQBud BOOST will cost you $239. Pricey yes, but bear with me.
Starting off from connectivity, the IQbuds BOOST is Bluetooth 4.2 compatible, and they support A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution), AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control), aptX and aptX Low Latency Bluetooth Profiles. The first three allow the IQbuds to receive and play audio from their Bluetooth source. aptX and aptX low latency, on the other hand, ensure that audio quality isn't lost when it's streamed wirelessly to the IQbuds, by streaming audio at 352kb/s.
Keep in mind that for aptX to work, both the source and receiver need to support the framework. So while Apple's MacBook users are in luck, iPhone users aren't as iOS doesn't recognize aptX, and instead, it uses the Advanced Audio Codec (AAC). However, the IQbuds BOOST does not support AAC.
On this note, I'd have loved for the IQbuds BOOST to feature aptX HD, but Nuheara is forgiven for the time being as the tech is yet to make it on true-wireless earbuds. aptX latency ensures that the audio being streamed by your earphones is in sync with the video playing on the screen of the device that you're using.
Moving towards the battery, each IQ Bud BOOST earbud is powered by a 120mAh cell. The buds themselves are hefty (measuring 21mm x 25mm x 15mm), and if you've got small ears then be sure to use the correct eartip. Otherwise, they will prove uncomfortable after 3 hours of use. The IQbuds BOOST's case is large too, and it isn't designed to be squeezed inside the pocket of your jeans. This case has a 1140mAh battery and will let you charge the IQbuds BOOST three to four times before giving running out of juice.
Nuheara IQbuds BOOST - Usage, Experience And Thoughts:
Overall, the IQbuds BOOST is a great pair of earbuds. Sound quality is great, especially when paired with Android devices that support Qualcomm's aptX. The buds themselves are easy to use. Both of them feature a touch control interface on their outer part. Tapping and holding the left earbud's interface for five seconds makes the IQbuds BOOST initiate a Bluetooth connection. After you've connected, a single tap on this bud pauses or resumes music or video playback. You can customize this interface through the IQbuds available for Android and iOS. (A word here for Android users: Make sure that your gadget is up to date software-wise or you'll witness connection problems.)
Since the earbuds are designed for users with hearing impairment, several of their features are unique and will not be needed by users with normal hearing. A large chunk of the IQbuds BOOST's features are designed to work with Nuheara's IQbuds app. In fact, for users that are tech-illiterate, the app will also play a big role in letting them set up the IQbuds BOOST for initial use, as Nuheara provides few instructions inside the earbuds' retail box.
The IQbuds BOOST is very efficient at noise cancellation and drowning out ambient sounds, provided that you use them right. Their heft is an advantage at this end, as it'll allow you to properly 'screw' the earbuds inside your ears. Once you've managed this, the two digital MEMS microphones per earbud set out to work and filter out ambient noise and conversations using Active Noise Cancellation according to the settings set through the IQbuds app.
Nuheara's app has seven different modes that filter out different ambient sounds based on your environment. These modes can be fine-tuned through the app, and you control whether the IQbuds BOOST focus on ambient sounds or on speech. For example, in the mode dubbed as 'Home', the IQbuds BOOST will drown out all ambient noise and focus only on speech. With the mode dubbed 'Street', the earbuds will strike a balance between ambient sounds and speech. Nuheara's app has a 'Focus' feature that lets you choose whether to focus directly on the sounds in front of you, or on sounds/speech all around. One irritating problem with these is that the earbuds play a lot of static white noise when Speech input is reduced while using Nuheara's app.
During the first two weeks of my testing, I used the IQbuds BOOST without customizing them through the IQbuds app. Then, after I tested my hearing using the app's NAL-NL2 prescription hearing test from the National Acoustic Laboratories in Macquarie University, Australia. This framework is used by hearing aid companies, and it measures responses for different frequencies and balances speech with loudness. After I used Nuheara's app and adjusted the earbuds to different NAL-NL2 parameters, the difference in ambient sound input was clearly noticeable.
Using the IQbuds BOOST is facile and effortless. Simply pick the earbuds and place them in your ear. After you've done this, the World mode will automatically turn on. Remove the left earbud from your ear and sound will stop playing in the right one; bring it closer to your head and playback will resume in your right ear. This is the courtesy of the buds' NFMI (Near Field Magnetic Induction) at 10.6MHz.
My experience with the IQbuds BOOST was initially mindblowing. After turning on 'World' - a mode that lets in ambient noise while listening to music or streaming videos, I could hear the tiniest of sounds, from finger tapping to whispers. The effect is surreal, and you've got to try the earbuds out yourself to understand how being able to listen to even the smallest of sounds is simply fantastic.
The IQbuds BOOST proved to be an excellent companion for this tech writer when he covered the launch of Oppo's Reno and Reno 10x Zoom. During the launch presentation, excessive music effects during the gadgets' launch presentation were blocked out perfectly by the IQbuds BOOST. And when I needed to listen to the presentation for specifications, turning on World mode allowed me to list down the necessary details shared on stage without having to remove the IQbuds BOOST from my ears.
Additionally, the earbuds were a good companion in crowds as they automatically focused on the right conversations and blocked out the unnecessary ones. At this point, it's important to note that this was achieved without using Nuheara's app, and the IQbuds BOOST separated conversations in front of me on their own and without the aforementioned Focus setting.
At this point, a comment on the pair's audio output quality is needed. The pair are at par with sub-$200 true-wireless earbuds in terms of quality delivered. My love of base, however, requires slightly heavier tunes from the IQbuds BOOST, but since the earbuds are not designed for luxury, I'd give Nuheara a pass here. The earphones also perform well during VOIP and cellular calls, with both audio input and output being crystal clear. However, one aspect that Nuheara should improve on is the IQbuds BOOST's connectivity - these have the tendency to drop the connection at ranges greater than five feet. Nuheara's designed the buds to work with a smartphone, so I'm certain that this objective is the reason behind the weak connection.
Moving towards their carrying case, it will let you charge the pair four times maximum. The case is also required for updating the IQbuds BOOST's firmware; a fact that we're confident contributes to its heft. It also allows you to check the battery status of the earbuds and itself through the led indicator lights. A short press of the silver button on the front shows whether your buds are charged, and a long press shows the amount of battery remaining in the case.
Sadly, the case lacks in an area where cases for other true-wireless earbuds do as well. Placing the IQbuds BOOST inside this case isn't easy. In the unit that I received, it's impossible to place the right bud correctly so that it charges. Instead, every time I put the right earbud inside the case, I have to remove the silicon eartip so that the bud fits right and charges.
Battery time for the earbuds will vary. If you listen to music only and do not use the World mode, they will give you a solid four hours and thirty minutes. Use them with World mode on and with voice calls and they will give you approximately three hours and thirty minutes. Fifteen minutes before the earbuds shut down, a female voice will subtly inform you about the low battery by stating 'Battery Low'.
Of course, even if their battery is dead, the IQbuds BOOST's solid form ensures that they serve as excellent earplugs - albeit very expensive ones.
Conclusion & Final Viewpoint:
To conclude, the Nuheara IQbuds BOOST is full of features you will not find in any other true-wireless earphones. They lie at the intersection between biology and technology mentioned at the start of this review by letting users improve their hearing and interact with gadgets at the same time. Battery life is good, and save connectivity problems, we were unable to find any other issue with the earbuds. They're also IPX7 certified, so feel comfortable with a bit of moisture.
One factor for them that will put off a lot of users is their price, but given the amount of tech that Nuheara has squeezed into them, and the company's small size, this price is justified. We'd have loved to go into detail about this tech, but Nuheara's representatives were unavailable to provide us the details. Nuheara also needs to focus on making them more ergonomic by perhaps making the earbuds' stem shape in delicately to their overall body. This will ensure that wearing them for extended periods of time isn't painful. Additionally, the company needs to reduce white noise output when speech input is reduced through the IQbuds app.
You'll be able to purchase the IQbuds BOOST through monthly installments as well, and the buds are also placed on the Australian government's hearing services plan. Nuheara desperately needs to improve the buds' case, as a defective product at this price range is shameful and unacceptable as it serves to draw attention away from the IQbuds BOOST's myriad of strengths; the biggest of which is the ability to conduct conversations while listening to music at the same time at low volumes.
All in all, the IQbuds BOOST is a great product, and if Nuheara improves their ability to finetune ambient conversations while the buds are playing audio, then this product will definitively stand itself out in the market. It's a good solution for users who want to balance the level of ambient noise that they're receiving and the use of NAL-NL2 for this purpose is commendable. We're looking forward to a successor that refines the IQbuds BOOST's design and improves on its audio quality so that regular users do not have a reason to skip them over as a purchase.
A great product to balance ambient noise and audio/video playback in a truly wireless package.
- -Unique features
- -Ambient noise balance with audio playback is great.
- -Good battery life.
- -Good pairing and NFMI connection.
- -IPX7 certified.
- -Short connection range.
- -White noise accentuated when speech input is reduced.
- -Difficult to allign charging pins in case.