Wireless earbuds seem to be everywhere. Most offer the same primary feature: play music in your ears. Nuheara is different; it wants to improve your hearing. And that’s what made this earbud set life-changing for me, despite some frustrations.
Not Just Another Set of Earbuds
At first glance, you’d probably think the Nuheara IQbuds were like any other truly wireless earbud set out there. They look relatively similar to a lot of different wireless earbuds, right down to the charging case.
But these are different. The main goal of Nuheara’s IQbuds isn’t listening to music or podcasts from your phone, although they can do that. Instead, they want to improve your hearing. These aren’t hearing aids, and they shouldn’t be confused with hearing aids. Instead, as the name implies, they’re more of a hearing boost. If you have minor troubles with hearing, that boost may be everything you need to improve quality of life.
The IQbuds have a set of microphones on each bud that brings in the outside world, even if you’re listening to music or a phone call. As you wear them, the earbuds use artificial intelligence to filter sound, cut out background noise, and emphasize voices. Or you can “turn off the world” which will cut off the microphones and most of the outside sound through a combination of noise canceling and noise isolation (especially if you use the included Comply tips).
Not All Hearing Issues Call for Hearing Aids
My hearing capability is technically average, and I’d pass any standard hearing test that relies on tones and sounds to determine what I can hear. As I’m in my mid-30’s, I’ve lost some ability to identify higher tones. Hearing aids are often $5000 for a pair, and my hearing is not so damaged that I need them—or could justify the expense. But hearing tests don’t tell the whole story.
If a person’s voice is deep, I can’t understand them. At all. In restaurants and other places with lots of background noise, I find myself asking people to repeat themselves multiple times. I hear the sound of voices, but it’s a slur of vowels with no consonants, and I struggle.
My hearing trouble has affected my jobs and relationships. Most of the time I’m fine, but in those instances, when I can’t understand people, it’s incredibly frustrating for everyone involved. And that’s what Nuheara promises to help. To give you the boost you need when you need it, to understand people.
App Setup Includes a Hearing Test
The first time you try the IQbuds Boost set, you’ll be prompted to take a hearing test (called EarID). The test is similar to hearing tests you would take with an audiologist to customize hearing aids to your needs. You’ll listen to high and low pitched sounds at different volumes and tap the screen to confirm when you hear them. Your results are shown in rings, with gaps indicating levels of hearing loss.
Another benefit to the test is knowing the eartips you selected are the right fit. Nuheara generously includes eight pairs of silicone tips and three pairs of Comply foam tips. I have tiny ears, and even the extra small silicone tips were too tight for me. But I found the Comply foam tips comfortable, and they add noise isolation, which improves the performance of the earbuds.
When the test finishes, the app presents you with a fancy graph for results to give you an idea of what sort of hearing loss you have if any. Nuheara says it then customizes the performance of the boost technology to suit your hearing specifically.
The app also lets you choose hearing profiles for different scenarios. You can select from restaurant, home, office, driving, and more. You pick five to load to your tap settings so you can switch between them without pulling out your phone. And you can customize each profile, including how much “world sound” they let you hear, how much background noise the earbuds cut out, and even EQ controls.
The Music Sounds Great; The World Sounds Better
Let’s start talking about how the Bluetooth aspect of Nuheara’s earbuds sound. If you purchased this set for listening to music, podcasts, and streaming video, you would not be disappointed. They’re easily among the best sounding earbuds I’ve ever used.
IQbuds have fantastic bass for a set so small, and the balance of all the sound is nearly perfect. From Spotify to Netflix, the soundscape was nothing short of excellent. The main shortcoming they have is Bluetooth range. While the Taotronics earbuds we recently reviewed have a range of several rooms, Nuheara’s offering cut out little more than a room away.
But you wouldn’t want to buy these primarily for their Bluetooth capability; the point is how they improve your hearing. To get a sense of how the world sounds with Nuheara earbuds in, the first thing you should do is stick your fingers in your ears and try talking. That’s more or less how you’ll sound to yourself: uncomfortably loud and trying to compensate. After an adjustment period, you get used to it.
Now for a second test put plastics cups over your ears. The soft and tinny echoey background noise is a good approximation of everything else you’ll hear with Nuheara. There’s no getting around the fact that a device is filtering the sounds you hear. You lose something in the process, and it’s noticeable.
As bad as all that sounds, I can’t say this with enough emphasis. I don’t care. I don’t care that people sound different than they usually do. I don’t care that I lose some timbre from the world around me. I just don’t care. Because the only thing that matters to me is this: I finally understand people.
I tested the earbuds in two mildly loud restaurants. Usually, I spend a lot of my time straining to hear people in this setting, and more often than I like to admit, pretending I understood something I didn’t. But with Nuheara I didn’t have any issues. At first, I could hear too much, but the app let me dial down the background noises and focus on just the voices closes to me. The earbuds are large, especially in my tiny ears, and they stick out like a sore thumb. But the servers on both occasions didn’t mention them, and they didn’t lead to any trouble getting service.
In an SUV with a large engine, the driving mode profile cut out nearly all the loud engine noise, and I could understand everyone around me with ease. I thought the vehicle might be quieter than I had first believed, so I took out the earbuds. As soon as I did the engine rumble hit my ears, and I lost track of what my son in the backseat was saying.
At home, an environment I usually hear well enough in, I found myself asking my family to repeat themselves less. Even in my best case scenario, Nuheara improved the quality of my hearing, my understanding. Words made sense to me every time. I say without hesitation that for me wearing IQbuds is nothing short of life-changing. And I find myself wearing them all the time, and happier for it.
IQbuds Aren’t Without Flaws
IQbuds aren’t a perfect experience, though. A few things are frustrating about the overall experience, and I hope they address some of those issues in future models.
Comfort can be a problem. Nuheara earbuds use noise isolation to work well, which means a very tight fit. Even with the Comply foam tips, I rarely could wear the earbuds for more than two or three hours before the pain became unbearable. That fact prevented me from thoroughly testing battery life, which is said to be around five hours. However, my wife tried the earbuds with eartips that fit her, and she thought they were fine.
Nuheara wants you always to use both earbuds. It’s possible to use just the left earbud, but that disables the tap controls and when you have to control behavior through the app. Until you open the app and “turn the world on” you won’t hear anything through the single bud. If your hearing issue in the right ear only, Nuheara won’t be helpful in single bud mode. You’ll have to wear both. And without tap controls, it’s challenging to change hearing profiles or pause music, so I always used both earbuds.
The hearing assistance technology doesn’t work in every scenario. I wore them while shopping with my family and realized that I was missing even more of what they were saying than usual. The earbuds were detrimental, not helpful, in that case. To be fair, Nuheara doesn’t offer a “retail environment” profile, as it does for restaurants, offices, and driving.
And frankly, I hate the charging case. In our TaoTronics review, we praise the use of magnets to suck the earbuds into their charging cavities. The Nuheara case doesn’t have this. And for some reason, the earbuds don’t sink into the case; they lay flush with it.
Three times out of five, I don’t get them into the hole properly, and I only realize this upon close the case. Indicator lights show you if both earbuds are charging, and I saw just one light more times than I could count. Microphone feedback squeal from the earbuds became a telltale sign that I messed up charging again.
Even more frustrating, the lid has a magnet that’s a little too powerful. Between that magnet, and having to be careful that my fingers aren’t on the hinge of the slim case, I have trouble just opening the case. That I have to typically open, close, realize one or both buds aren’t charging, open, and close again, leaves me annoyed to no end. Dealing with the case is the worst part of owning Nuheara IQbuds, by far.
They’re Expensive for Bluetooth Headphones, Cheap for Hearing Aids
The subject of the price of the IQbuds is complicated. The simple fact of the matter is, the Nuheara IQbud Boost set is $500. There’s no getting around the fact that $500 is a lot of money. But whether or not you consider IQbuds expensive depends on what you compare them too.
Compared to other truly wireless earbuds, $500 is enormously expensive—even Apple’s AirPods clock in at $160 to $200. But that comparison isn’t fair; these aren’t just wireless earbuds. They’re somewhere between truly wireless earbuds and hearing aids.
If you compare them to hearing aids, the price suddenly seems less expensive. On average, hearing aids are about $5000 for a pair. Some of the cheaper models are around $4000. So IQbuds are by far a less expensive option. But they aren’t full hearing aids either, and won’t accomplish everything a hearing aid would, nor are they as unobtrusive.
If You Have Mild Hearing Problems You Should Consider Nuheara
Ultimately the success of a product comes down to two questions: Does it deliver on a promise, and will you continue to use it? I can’t say that it will improve everybody’s hearing. And if you suspect you have hearing loss, you should consult a hearing specialist.
But for me, the IQbuds Boost deliver a clearer sounding world. I understand people where I didn’t before. I don’t wonder what I missed, what I misunderstood, and I don’t feel the frustration of asking someone to repeat themselves two or three times in a row.
The IQbuds are empowering in a way no other product in my home can match. And because of that, despite that I have other wireless earbuds with cases that don’t frustrate me and offer a better single bud experience, I find myself reaching for the Nuheara product first. And I don’t want to stop using them. Having heard the world better than I can remember, I think they are worth the price of entry.
Here’s What We Like
- Gives you better hearing
- Music sounds great
- Cheaper than hearing aids
And What We Don't
- Case charging is super frustrating
- Limited support for single earbud mode
- More expensive than other truly wireless earbuds