We recently had the change to test out Nuheara's new IQbuds Boost. In fact, we spent an entire month with them.
Are they the ultimate hearing buds? Can they compete with more traditional personal sound amplifiers?
Check out our full review below.
The Good: Great design, quick and simple charging, and easy to use completely wireless earbuds that also double as sound amplifiers.
The Bad: Amplification is less than more traditional sound amplifiers, and the charging contacts make the earbuds slightly uncomfortable after a few hours of continuing use.
The Sound Worthy: Hearing test (called “Ear ID”) built into the app helps personalize the IQbuds, and the one touch ambient on/off (called “World On/Off”) is fantastic for changing environments.
Before we get started let's first clarify exactly which product we're reviewing. Nuheara has 3 main products:
We're testing the IQbuds Boost, which are wireless earbuds that also have amplification features, which Nuheara calls “hearing buds.”
The IQbuds Boost come in one color: all black.
They're sleek and look very similar to regular earbuds, just slightly larger in order to house the additional electronics required to be completely wireless.
There really isn't much to say here. I think they're some of the better looking hearables, but until batteries can be improved all wireless earbuds are going to look similar.
They come with 3 sizes of comply tips, small, medium, and large, and 3 sizes of traditional silicone tips.
Comply tips are made of foam and are squishier than traditional silicone earbud tips, so when you put them in your ear they expand giving you a more airtight seal. This can be helpful for a better acoustic fit, as well as be more comfortable for the wearer if they are using them for any extended time.
The only downside of the comply tips is that the material will break down faster and you will likely need to replace the comply tips more frequently than you would traditional earbuds.
I was wearing the second smallest round silicone earbud tip and was able to get a tight fit.
I pulled up and back on my ear when inserting, and also played with the angle of the Boost to find a comfortable fit in the concha (outer ear).
While it was comfortable to wear for a short time, I was not able to wear them for longer than 2 hours at a time without some discomfort, with about 3 hours being my absolute maximum.
Most of the discomfort (for me at least) was coming from the rechargeable contacts. After a bit it felt like it was digging into my ear.
Nuheara points out that you could technically wear these for hearing amplification for 8 hours (5 hours with Bluetooth streaming) without charging, but I doubt most people would be able to wear them for more than a few hours at a time.
Sound Quality and Amplification
One of the first things you'll do when you get the Boost is pair them to your phone via the IQbuds app, and then set them up via a hearing test.
Nuheara accomplishes the hearing test in their app through something called “EarID”, which will then customize the gain settings for the specific user based on a NAL-NL2 prescriptive formula, which is what a lot of today's hearing aids use.
Whether or not the IQBuds meet those prescriptive targets is going to be dependent on the wearer's actual hearing loss, as well as the size and shape of their specific ear canal. This is something an Audiologist would verify with hearing aids when they perform real-ear measurements.
During the hearing test, you will be tested at 6 different frequencies in each ear: 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, 3000 Hz, 4000 Hz, and 6000 Hz.
We personally found some difficulty in meeting the correct targets at high frequencies, but as mentioned above this will vary slightly for everyone.
With regards to amplification the Boost fall a bit short when measured up against other personal sound amplifiers (PSAPs).
Nuheara lists the overall gain at +12 dB and the attenuation at 30 dB. If you compare this with some of the top of the line PSAPs you'll notice they often have gains of 35 dB +/- 5dB.
So, you can see the Boost lag behind a bit.
However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. While 12 dB of gain isn't a lot, if you're buying a device for 40 dB gain then you're putting yourself at a greater risk of further hearing damage, and you likely need to see an audiologist about hearing aids anyways.
There are two microphone ports on the IQbuds Boost which allows for directionality features with some of the programs, such as the restaurant program.
In this program the default directionality is “focus” which allows the IQbuds Boost to focus on sounds in front of you. This can be helpful in noisy environments. In all the other programs, you have the ability to turn this focus feature ON but it does not default ON.
The touch controls on each earbud are easy to use because you're not searching for a button when starting music streaming or changing programs, but they are very sensitive and I found myself switching in and out of different settings when I was inserting them in my ears.
The streaming feature from other Bluetooth devices such as a smartphone is nice, and you have the ability to adjust the balance between real-world sounds (sounds in your environment) and streaming sounds.
At the end of the day we believe the IQbuds are some of the better options for alternatives to hearing aids, and have the following use cases:
- people who need help hearing better in specific situations, such as a noisy restaurant
- people who have a mild hearing loss and are not quit ready for traditional hearing aids
- people who have normal hearing and want a pair of high-quality wireless earbuds for streaming music and phone calls