Not all true wireless earbuds are created equal, and that couldn’t be more true for the Nuheara IQbuds. Simple music playback wasn’t enough for this startup. Nuheara sought to use the truly wireless platform to optimize hearing as well. That’s a tall order, bringing more complexity to an already challenging type of headphone. This synopsis run through the important details.
On the surface, the IQbuds package looks fairly typical for a true wireless earbud. That is, plastic construction all-around, compact pod-shaped earpieces, and battery-equipped carrying case. It goes to show that these are headphones first and foremost, with extra technology within. When you power them on for the first time, you’ll immediately recognize how these buds are distinguished.
- Great in-ear seal and ergonomic fit
- Tap-able controls work well
- Reliable Bluetooth connection
- Ambient sound customization via app
- Noise amplification is effective and useful
- Limited playback controls
- Carrying case is on the thick side
- Flimsy earpiece/case seating
- Noticeable hiss
- Relatively expensive
What it’s like to use
- Despite the comprehensive use of plastic, the earpieces and their carrying/charging case are well put together. The large use of a smooth and matte finish saves the device from feeling too cheap. Nuheara smartly uses glossy plastic for accents, and the earpieces sport silver lining for a little style.
- That said, a couple details cheapen the experience. The lid has a slight wobble and creak to it. Also, the earpieces don’t latch into their slots in the case (either magnetically or by a clip mechanism). They easily roll out of place. Fortunately, closing the lid secures them in place, but you’ll have to be careful when the lid is open.
- The magnetic that holds the lid closed is notably strong. It takes a bit of prying force with your nail to release it. Per our previous point, the jolt when opening can cause the earpieces to jump out of place.
- The capsule shape of the case isn’t the slimmest or most pocket-able design. It has plenty of girth (but reasonably) in height and width. So skinny jean users beware.
- The rear-placed microUSB port is how to charge. The case holds enough capacity to fully charge the IQbuds 4x over. The earpieces can run for five hours at a time, so that’s 20 hours of playback before the case dies.
- An array of LEDs on the case can be overwhelming, but it’s simple to understand. Inside, corresponding LEDs to each slot show when the buds are inserted and charging. The four at the front indicate battery level (green LEDs represent 25% increment levels) when you press the silver button. Additionally, you’ll also see a flash of red on the most left and right LEDs when you close the lid to indicate that the buds are in fact charging (and green when fully charged).
- Generously, Nuheara didn’t just include a 4-size set of standard, rounded tips, but also oval flavors. We didn’t have any problem finding a pair that fit just right.
- The earpieces have a bit of girth, but they’re adequately contoured for a tight fit in the ear. We had no worry whatsoever about them falling out, even when working out. But we observed slight fatigue after long listen sessions.
- Speaking about working out, the IQbuds aren’t technically certified with an IP ingress rating. Nuheara says that the internal components are coated with nano-proof water protection, so light sweat and rain shouldn’t be a concern.
- The flat, outer surfaces on both earpieces are touch pads for some controls. Nuheara is careful not to go crazy with numerous kinds of tapping. You get three actions per earpiece: single tap, double tap, or long press. Default functions are in place, but these can thoughtfully be changed via the IQbuds app.
- Touch controls on true wireless earbuds have historically left to be desired. That’s not the case here. The touch response has been immaculate for us.
- It is a little challenging to not touch the pads when donning the earbuds. You have to try to grasp them only from the sides.
- The big feature behind the IQbuds is their dynamic audio ability. That is, they sport microphones that can pick up different levels of ambient noise. This can be toggled on/off based on your situation (which Nuheara also created several presets for, like Office, Street, Driving, etc. environments). You’ll need the app for full control of the system.
- Furthermore, there’s the ability to filter one of the most important kind of outside noises – speech. This is helpful for being able to hear your coworkers or alerts while you’re out and about, without having to take the headphones off.
- The system essentially targets and amplifies ambient noise. It works almost like a hearing aid. It’s wild at first to hear noises that are normally subtle (like a mouse click or distant chatter) being brought forward. It’s unnatural (voices can even sound ghostly/echo-y in some instances), but the benefit is easily realized. You aren’t just able to listen to music without being closed off from the world, but you gain enhanced hearing and awareness of your surroundings.
- Music takes priority. Even if you max out the ambient noise dial, music will still largely drown it out. However, you’ll still be able to pick up the noise and tell what it is. You can quickly tap the earbud to pause the music so that you can listen.
- Alternatively, you can close the world off (either through the app or the quick “World On/Off” tap function on the earpiece). It’s not quite the silence of an active noise-cancellation system, but better than just passive sound isolation.
- The microphones are constantly working when the earpieces are active. If you happen to run your finger across them (partially covering the opening), you hear this startling scratching sound. Also, sometimes when closing the case, you’ll hear a brief high-pitched interference as the lid goes down. We don’t know what causes this. It can be startling to others around you.
- Many true wireless earbuds struggle with Bluetooth connectivity, but not so here. We don’t have any signal hiccups or drops to speak off, and range is how it should be.
- Nuheara talks up “high fidelity audio” when addressing wireless playback of the IQbuds. However, we don’t see mention of aptX (codec that transfers a higher than standard bit-rate). So we were interested to see how well the sound holds up to that claim.
- Starting with the good, we were impressed at the airy/openness of the general reproduction. The sound from the IQbuds is overall pleasant, articulated, and clear.
- The sound signature is also not significantly skewed. Its strongest range is the mids (particularly, vocals), but we’re looking more at a hump than a peak. The perception may in fact be due to the light bass. This headphone won’t suit bassheads. But while impact is light, the definition is there, just subtly captured.
- The treble is our least favorite range. It’s not bad, just average, exhibiting a similar laid-back and non-extended quality as lower-end headphones. The nice width of the drivers gives the treble a leg up, providing a hint of dimensionality and breathing room to an otherwise flat response.
- That brings us to the overall consensus. The sound of the IQbuds is enjoyable if you don’t have an analytical ear. At a nit pick, one would be able to tell that clarity isn’t the crispest, or that details and depth aren’t anything to write home about. Where output excels is in presentation. The spacious soundstage and catching dynamics is what sets it apart from others in this class.
- Low-level hiss often plagues wireless headphones, and we’re not looking at an exception here. It’s fairly average (maybe a little above average), so you’ll notice it between tracks and in quieter passages. But the music drowns it out when it gets going.
It’s tough for startups to achieve something solid on their first go, but that’s what we feel Nuheara has done with the IQbuds. They’re certainly not perfect, but have more going for them than not. Most importantly, the company didn’t forget that it has to make a well-functioning true wireless earbud first and foremost, and then build from there. Suffice to say, the IQbuds can stand on their own against the competition (albeit, not on price), and the neat ambient sound technology takes them a step further.
Price will be the determining factor. These are far from the cheapest on the block, at about $240. Here, you’re competiting with some of the best in true wireless earbuds, like the Bose SoundSport Free and Jabra Elite Active 65t. It will depend how valuable the dynamic sound features are to you. Only a select few have this capability.
Also See: Best True Wireless Earbuds