Nuheara’s IQbuds are an assistive hearing device that is capable of playing high fidelity music while offering enhanced hearing and background noise cancellation. These almost $300 earbuds span the gap between $5000 professionally fitted hearing aids and Apple’s $159 Airpods Both Airpods and IQbuds will play music from your smartphone or other devices. Both are entirely wireless. Both come with their own charging cases. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
The IQbuds are part of a product category known as PSAP’s, for Personal Sound Amplification Products. They are being promoted by the consumer electronics industry as a reasonably priced alternative to professional hearing aids, which can run $4000 or more, and are largely out of reach for millions who have some hearing impairment.
At the heart of the Nuheara system is a technology the company calls SINC for Super Intelligent Noise Cancellation. This is not the kind of noise cancellation you get in the Sony MDR-1000X (which we reviewed here) or the Bose QC 30 wireless headphones. Those will completely block out ambient sound, which is great for airplanes, but maybe not so great when you need some situational awareness, like when you’re on the street, or riding a bike. The IQbuds give you a variety of custom sound settings to fit your lifestyle and environment including Music, Driving, Home, Office, Plane, Restaurant, Street, and Workout. In each case the setting controls the amount of ambient noise, allowing you to focus on the sound that’s important. It will allow the user to enjoy a conversation in a restaurant while reducing the sound level from those further away.
Nuheara says you can use the IQbuds to listen to high-fidelity sound. Our conclusion is that the sound quality is good, but not superb. Like many hearing instruments, the bass tends to get lost and the highs can be a little tinny. In addition to streaming music from an iPhone and a Galaxy S8, we also used a Sony Hi-Res Walkman, and found reasonably good reproduction on the hi-res files. There is an equalizer for the music settings in the app that will allow you to do some tweaking. When it came to the Walkman, we paired using Bluetooth but without the app. That gave us music playback but not much else (we were surprised it worked at all).
You’ll find all these settings in the free app for Apple and Android, along with volume and balance controls. Setting it all up is a two-step process. You need to pair both the IQbuds and the app. You pair the IQbuds simply by holding down the control surface on the left-hand earpiece. That’s also how you control the sound profiles. You can pre-select up to four favorite profiles that you can tap through without going back to the app. You can also activate Siri and Google Voice. Using the right-hand earpiece you can control music playback, though you cannot skip tracks or go back.
You charge the IQbuds in a USB powered charging case. The IQbuds will provide 4 hours of music playback or 8 hours of speech processing. The case is capable of three full charges. Each charging cycle takes an hour. So, just going on the one charge, that will give you enough juice to get through a workout, a meal, but not necessarily a cross-country plane flight.
The IQbuds come with eight different sets of ear tips so you’ll probably be able to find a great fit. The buds themselves have a ton of technology packed inside, so they are not small. I happen to have small ears and found that because of the shape of my ear(not the ear canal) the fit was a bit on the snug side, though most reviewers have found them quite comfortable.
All said the Nuheara IQbuds are an innovative product that provides both a good music experience and an enhanced hearing experience at a price ($299) that’s pretty reasonable for all the features it provides.