Nuheara is one of the last startups standing from the first generation of hearables. Wareable fave Bragi Dash is no more, following Doppler Labs and the Here One into the truly wireless wasteland.
Earbuds without cables are now everywhere, but most keep things simple as far as what they promise to do. They'll stream music without wires and that's about it. Nuheara has sought to do more and it wants to offer wearers of its buds the ability to have greater control over the way they hear the world around them.
Essential reading: Apple AirPods Pro review
It introduced its augmenting audio smarts to the Nuheara IQbuds three years ago. Its successor, the IQbuds 2 Max seeks to improve those smarts along with refining the design and adding a very desirable feature in the form of active noise cancellation.
At Â£350 though, getting those buds in your ears do not come cheap. That's more money you'd need to spend on a pair of AirPods Pro or a pair of new Google Pixel Buds. So it needs to be something special to justify that big financial outlay.
We've been living with the IQbuds 2 Max to see if its augmenting audio skills impress and it offers the sound performance to justify grabbing a pair. Here's our full verdict on the Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max.
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Design and fit
Nuheara IQbuds (left) and Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max (right)
Put the new IQbuds next to the first generation and there are some pretty major differences as far as looks are concerned.
There's still that raindrop-style design, but it now comes in all-black and a more attractive matted finish. Think Jabra Elite Sport, but with a bit more body. They certainly look nicer and feel nicer to wear, but they are by no means svelte options to go for.
In terms of fit, we didn't have any issues of these ever falling out. There's 3 pairs of silicone ear tips and the same number of Comply foam ones that should hopefully offer a fit for everyone and something that should be comfortable for most.
If you wanted to hit the gym with them, they do feature a sweat and resistant design and it survived some fast paced outdoor runs and sweaty indoor Zwift sessions. They didn't budge or have us fiddling around to adjust the fit.
Like its predecessor, the outside of the buds still host touch sensitive controls, and it's all about the taps. You can assign what functions those taps, double taps and long taps control in the companion smartphone app (Android and iOS). From the left bud, you can choose to skip tracks, adjust volume or tap into your phone's smart assistant.
The controls on the right earbud also offer similar customization as well letting you switch between the different augmented audio profiles. Up to four of those profiles are available at one time from the earbuds.
Nuheara has changed things up in the case department for something that might not be as big as the first one, but is still not the most compact case you can drop a pair of truly wireless earbuds into these days.
Thankfully, the buds sit more securely in place this time and it does at least offer a more attractive place for those buds to live in when they need a charge or are not in use.
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Ear ID
Nuheara has designs on offering something that could have appeal to anyone that might suffer from mild to moderate issues with their hearing. Its buds won't replace a hearing aid and that's not really the goal here. It does though want to offer better control over hearing in various environments and scenarios for those who might not want to wear or invest in a hearing aid.
One way it's doing this is by offering the ability to create a unique hearing profile, using an assessment that evaluates your hearing. It's called Ear ID and has been clinically validated to be a reliable audiometry assessment procedure to identify a user's hearing thresholds.
That test requires ten minutes of your time and a quiet room to complete it. With the buds in, it will first measure surrounding noise, check you eartips are offering a good seal and fit. Then it'll take you through a test where you'll need to tap a button on your phone screen when you hear a series of low and high pitched sounds. After that, you'll be asked a final few pretty straightforward questions and then it will build your profile.
A more complete profile indicates a stronger hearing and ours was thankfully very complete. To make use of that new hearing profile, you'll need to make sure you're using one of Nuheara's World profiles and this ties into this idea of augmenting sound, which we will dive into next.
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Audio augmenting
Like the first IQbuds, the 2 Max offers hearing profiles that are built for a series of different environments you might encounter on a daily or regular basis. There are six in total and they are: Street, home, office, restaurant, driving and plane.
The idea is when you pick the right profile for the setting, the buds will augment sounds to amplify the things you are most interested in hearing.
So, if you're in the office, that profile will ensure you have can have clearer interaction with people around you. If you decide you want to sit in a restaurant with them on, it will reduce background chatter, so you can hear people on your table better.
Hit the workout profile and you'll still be very aware of your surroundings in the gym. When you factor in the creation of the Ear ID profile, that assessment will enhance the effectiveness of these profiles.
There's more too. For each of those profiles, you have the ability to manually adjust volume and push the emphasis on hearing speech over ambient noise in SINC mode. You can tinker with the equalizer to filter bass and treble and there's also an impressive Focus mode that lets you control where you can prioritise hearing sounds in front of you as opposed from all around you. It's quite impressive how effective this feature works.
We thought its augmenting audio features worked well on the whole on the first IQbuds, and it's more of the same again. Taking some time to play around with settings available can produce some satisfying control of what you hear and how you hear. That addition of a Focus mode has real benefits if you are trying to speak to someone in front of you in a busy environment.
Granted, you're doing that with a not so discreet-looking pair of buds in your ears. They don't work just using independent buds either. You and the person you're talking to are going to have to get on board with seeing those ears blocked up to make best use of the impressive augmenting audio features.
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Sound quality
When you're not trying to augment the audio world, you can just use these to listen to your music, podcasts and audiobooks via Bluetooth streaming. Powering performance are 9.2mm drivers and while there's equalizer settings for hearing other worldly sounds, these don't extend to music streaming.
What you get as far as a sound profile is something that does offer have a good amount of power with a greater emphasis on treble performance, giving you more in terms of clarity in words and voices. There's enough in the way of bass to ensure they offer decent warmth too. Is it best in class? We'd say no, but it's definitely not a terrible experience. Some might expect a little more in the way of balance for something that costs this much though.
On a more positive note, there's now active noise cancellation, which wasn't available on the first generation Buds. It performs well, particularly indoors, and can be enabled within each of Nuheara's World sound profiles. It did a pretty solid job for us as far as blocking out the world and it's good to see that Nuheara has decided to throw this desirable feature into the mix.
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Battery life
When it comes to staying power, the IQbuds 2 Max don't break from the norm. Each bud hosts a 120mAh battery, which deliver 5 hours of streaming time and 8 hours if you're using that Ear ID profile only and not using them to stream music.
If you're doing a mix of both, then you'll get something in between those two numbers. Those numbers seem to be in line with what we experienced in our time with them. That listening time is a little more than what you'd get from Apple's AirPods Pro.
The 820mAh charging case when fully charged should deliver 3 recharges before you need to grab the microUSB cable to power that up too. Each bud takes 90 minutes to fully charge and there's no quick-charge tech like we've seen from some earbud makers. So they're not the snappiest to power back up.